In the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), people have been requested to work from home with information and communication technology (ICT) tools, i.e. telework. This paper investigates which factors (infection of COVID-19, individual characteristics, task characteristics, and working environments) are associated with telework use in Japan. Using the unique panel survey on telework, our estimation finds that although telework use remains low in Japan, educated, high ICT-skilled, younger, and female workers who engage in less teamwork and less routine tasks tend to use telework. Working environments such as the richness of IT communication tools, digitalized offices, and flexible-hour working systems are all positively correlated with telework use.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) virus commenced its worldwide spread in February 2020. In the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been requested to work from home and refrain from commuting. Telework, i.e., working at home with information and communication technology (ICT) tools, has attracted considerable attention as an effective countermeasure against infection. However, some impediments hamper the use of telework for some workers. Telework is unsuitable for some workers (e.g., old uneducated workers) (Adams-Prassl et al., 2020) as well as some occupations (e.g., manual laborers and medical service workers) (Dingel and Neiman, 2021). Telework tends to reduce workers’ performance due to less face-to-face communication (Bartik et al., 2020). For a variety of reasons, some countries such as Japan have observed a low percentage of telework utilization.
A further reason for lower telework use is the government's infection controls. Unlike many other developed countries, Japan has seen a lower percentage of infections in the total population (on a cumulative basis, 6.1% in Japan, 24.6% in the US, 29.1% in Germany, 32.6% in the UK, and 43.8% in France, as of April 28, 2022).1 Japan has taken a unique approach to infection controls. In particular, lockdown was request-based and did not involve any legal restrictions, sanctions, and punishments, which originates from the Constitution of Japan.2 The Prime Minister, the government's COVID-19 subcommittee, and local governments just asked for the cooperation of all people. Such a request-based lockdown might not greatly boost telework use. Therefore, it seems that many factors result in a low percentage of telework use in Japan.
Results and analyses
This paper investigates the association of COVID-19 infection, individual characteristics, task characteristics, and working environments. Using the unique panel survey on telework, we find that educated, highly ICT-skilled, younger, and female workers who engage in fewer teamwork tasks and whose workplace municipalities see a larger number of infections tend to use telework. Working environments are much more crucial. The richness of IT communication tools, digitalized office management, and flexible hours working systems could promote telework use and its continuation.
Our estimation results suggest that an individual's socioeconomic factors are not the sole factors for telework use. The working environment and digitalized offices are also crucial factors for telework, although we cannot determine the causal impact of these factors on telework use due to identification problems. Furthermore, digitalized office and working environments are particularly important for workers to keep teleworking for long hours and frequent use in the spread of COVID-19.