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Telecommuting and Data Protection Spur Workplace Innovations (March 22, 2005)

An office with free seating (Jiji)
The stereotypical office is an orderly place where workers are seemingly glued to their desks staring at computer screens or papers. That image, however, may soon be a thing of the past, as more and more businesses, particularly in the information technology sector, have been transforming their offices by eliminating fixed seating arrangements and allowing their employees to work from outside the company. Meanwhile, concerns about data security are causing some firms to switch from traditional personal computers to terminals that do not store data.

Working from Home
A pioneer in this trend is Kokuyo Office System Co., a member of the Kokuyo Group. When the company moved its head office in 2003, it decided to implement a radical mobilization plan. Laptop computers weighing less than 1 kg were distributed to employees, and half of the new office was turned into a free seating area for sales representatives, who spend much of their time out of the office. The other half is taken up by fixed seating for employees who work in-house. This enabled the firm to make big savings on office space and furniture, as well as on the costs of modeling the office interior and installing wiring.

Sun Microsystems, a major manufacturer of computer networking hardware and software, has not only abolished fixed-seating offices for its 1,500 employees but has even done away with the company president's office. Working hours and meeting rooms are reserved and arranged through a computer network. The company expects that the system will not only give its employees more freedom and flexibility but also cut about ¥500 million ($4.76 million at ¥105 to the dollar) in costs, mostly office-related expenses.

Meanwhile, IBM Japan has abolished fixed seating offices for 5,000 of its sales staff at its office in Tokyo's Chuo Ward. The firm's integrated management system allows employees to monitor the development of company affairs, deal with customers' needs, and hold meetings via an Internet conferencing system and wireless Net connections among workers who are physically outside the company. IBM Japan also plans to promote the system, dubbed the "on-demand work style," among its clients.

These IT companies are motivated to abolish fixed-seating office arrangements largely out of a desire to improve efficiency and to showcase their own forward-thinking technologies. But another major concern is security. Large concentrations of hardware, software, and data can be vulnerable to natural disasters or terrorist attacks, causing untold harm to a company's operations. This worry is not restricted to IT firms. More and more security-conscious companies in various fields are expected to shift away from the traditional office arrangements in the coming years.

No Computers, No Leaks
Data protection is a growing concern for many firms. After April 1, 2005, when the Law Concerning the Protection of Personal Information comes fully into force, companies will be obliged to prevent information on individuals from being leaked and to maintain strict data management.

For companies worried about data security, personal computers are a particular headache, as the data they hold can easily be copied or transmitted elsewhere. It is no surprise, then, that an increasing number of companies are abandoning personal computers along with their traditional office arrangements.

Such has been the case at Sun Microsystems. Under a unique system called Sun Ray, employees work on terminals capable only of accessing other computers and networks and displaying information on their screens. There are no internal hard drives, so data cannot be removed, and terminals do not require their own software. In addition to the security benefits, the terminals are also cheaper to operate than traditional PCs.

Hitachi Ltd. is among the companies planning to do away with PCs, switching instead to a system of terminals that hold no data. Hitachi feels that this system will ensure the security of confidential information on its customers and product development.

These revolutionary changes in the way that offices work are likely to transform not only working styles but also the ways that employees communicate and relate with each other.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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