With the spread of the Delta variant across Japan last month, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga asked the country’s business leaders to promote remote work in order to reduce the number of commuters by 70 percent, The Japan Times reported.

Figures released in July by the Tokyo-based nonprofit the Japan Productivity Center indicated that remote work had been adopted by only 20.4 percent of workers polled, an amount that has remained relatively unchanged over the past year, the daily reported.

“A lack of digital infrastructure and an archaic corporate culture that values long working hours and face-to-face meetings is slowing down the nation’s push toward working remotely,” the newspaper commented.

Though the country has experience five waves of the virus, it has mostly escaped the worst effects. Still, August case counts went up to 25,000 per day, overburdening hospitals, The Japan Times reported. Still, when it comes to remote work the government has recommended it only on a voluntary basis.

Some large firms have seen most of their workforce work remotely, but most small firms prefer traditional in-office work. According to the Trade Ministry, 99.7 percent of all businesses in Japan are small or midsize and employ about 70 percent of workers, the publication said.

In a survey conducted by the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry in May during the third state of emergency, 38.4 percent of Tokyo small and mid-size enterprises said they had offered remote work — 27.8 percent lower than during the previous state of emergency between January and March, the paper said.

The publication noted that the Japanese government has been pushing remote work for years in a bid to ease congested rush-hour commutes, offer workers a better work-life balance and encourage more women and elderly citizens to enter the workforce. In addition, remote work would attract young employees who are increasingly citing remote work as a priority, the newspaper said.

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