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A Comparison of the Policy, Social and Cultural Contexts for Telecommuting in Japan and the United States

UCD-ITS-RP-94-44

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Suggested Citation:
Mokhtarian, Patricia L. and K. Sato (1994) A Comparison of the Policy, Social and Cultural Contexts for Telecommuting in Japan and the United States. Social Science Computer Review 12 (4), 641 - 658

Active experimentation with teleommuting in both the United States and Japan is among the most extensive in the world. However, policy, social, and cultural distinctions result in some important differences in the way telecommuting is adopted by each country. This paper presents a comparison of the policy, social, and cultural contexts for telecommuting in Japan and the United States. An overview of various types of telecommuting and remote office arrangements is provided, illustrating the diversity of Japanese experimentation with the remote-work concept. Reasons for interest in telecommuting are compared, including commute stress, urban growth management, air quality and energy concerns, employee recruitment and retention, savings on office-space costs, and disaster response. Cultural barriers to the adoption of telecommuting in Japan are discussed, including the lack of formal job definition, the preference for face-to-face communication, the importance of the group, limitations of home-based telecommuting and others. Operational issues potentially supporting or inhibiting the adoption of telecommuting are also described, including technology, marketing, and training.

For the purposes of this paper, the authors define telecommuting as an employee's working from home—or from a location closer to home than is the primary office—during regular work hours, instead of commuting to the primary office, but with real-time communications linkages to the primary office. It can be full time, but is more often part time, and may or may not require computers or sophisticated technology. A number of researchers have pointed out the difficulties in defining telecommuting, and neither the above definition nor any other appears to satisfy everyone. In this paper, however, the authors do not consider self-employed, "moonlighting" (holding a second job), or overtime home workers to be telecommuters, although they have some characteristics in common with telecommuters.