December 7, 2020
For our latest trend report, which takes a closer look at recent developments in lifestyles, we spoke with family sociologist Dr. Junya Tsutsui, a professor in the College of Social Sciences at Ritsumeikan University. His insights into new lifestyle-related values and challenges that have emerged during the coronavirus pandemic provide a starting point to consider how the new normal will continue to take shape.
“More research remains to be done, but the future will likely see more and more people working remotely and spending a growing amount of time at home, with our households increasingly taking on the role of our workplaces.”
Dr. Junya Tsutsui
Rooted in the changes that are already occurring in our homes due to the impacts of COVID-19, the rest of our conversation focused on three key topics: Issues that individuals and families will need to tackle going forward; tips on finding the right solutions; and how companies should respond.
Dr. Junya Tsutsui – New lifestyle watchwords for 2021
1.) Adapting our home environment & the importance of open communication
A look at the existing research tells us that while many feel their connection to family members has been strengthened by spending more time at home together, in at least one survey a little over 10 percent of respondents said that things were no longer going well at home. I suspect that a loss of equilibrium within the family may be behind this result.
Managing personal space between family members
Until recently, it was easy to create time away from our families without even trying, simply by following the behavior patterns dictated by the commute to work, school, or other obligations. But when working from home starts to become the norm, our interpersonal environment shifts to the much narrower sphere defined by our own households.
Family members can see what each other are doing, which may increase tensions over issues like, for instance, the problem of dividing up housework and parenting tasks that are disproportionately shouldered by one person. Such stresses may well be the reason why some households are struggling to regain their balance.
The current situation calls for a new level of flexibility in adjusting the degree of personal space between family members to keep things harmonious within the household as a whole. All of us will need to learn better self-management, recognizing when it’s time to give our full attention to family matters and when the occasion calls for maintaining the right amount of distance by, say, getting out the house for a little while instead.
New habits: Speaking frankly
More so than many other countries, Japan has historically tended to favor a culture of unspoken intuition in which individuals keep their thoughts to themselves. As we spend more time at home and find ourselves obliged to negotiate with family members regarding schedules and responsibilities surrounding work, household chores, parenting, and time spent as a family, relying on the intuition of others to maintain smooth relations can balloon into a source of stress for everyone involved.
Work is making its way into our homes, and that means it’s important to be more proactive in discussing arrangements with family members and communicating our thoughts at home much like we do at our jobs.
Work is only possible in a well-functioning household
Although it’s difficult to say for certain, I believe that now many of us have started staying at home more, this trend is likely to become a permanent feature of our lives going forward. In turn, we can anticipate the rise of new value systems emphasizing the importance of nurturing a healthy, functioning family life in the long term, encompassing every aspect from intrafamilial relationships to housework, parenting, and the physical home itself.
In the old normal, the processes of work and everyday life were separate; it was possible to get by as long as each of these two halves functioned in isolation. All of that will change if our homes continue to replace our former offices. When a household is not functioning adequately, this will directly impact on work performance.
Residential property developers are also taking note of how homes are assuming an increasing number of roles. Whereas it used to be enough to provide an environment for life outside of work, the advent of working from home—even to a limited extent—opens up the likelihood of fundamental changes in residential design.
2.) When work meets home: “Breathing room” key to a satisfying private life
Japan can be a perfectionist culture, and while this has its positive aspects, one downside is the way it prevents streamlining. To give an example, when you aim for 100 percent customer satisfaction, it takes a huge amount of effort to please the last 10 percent of clients who require extra attention.
And though workplaces have begun moving towards more streamlined, labor-saving methods out of a desire to boost productivity, Japan still lags behind when it comes to applying a similar approach to daily life. But with families spending more and more time at home, it will be essential to find ways of securing greater flexibility and latitude in our personal as well as our work lives by choosing not to aim for 100 percent.
Breathing room = Time for ourselves as individuals
Double-income households are a common fixture of today’s society. So as long as we continue to pursue a 1970s-style ideal of almost hotel-like perfection in our home lives it will be difficult to take our feet off the gas and find the breathing room that we need. We have to be able to hold back from giving our all in order to create time for ourselves outside of work—time for our private lives. But it’s important to note that here the word “work” also includes housework, parenting, and time spent maintaining a healthy family life.
Ultimately it is only by setting aside free time to use as we please, away from both work and family, that each member of a household can enjoy much-needed psychological breathing room. The younger generation in particular is used to spending plenty of time on themselves, which is why so many young people now hesitate to start a household or family. Having breathing room means having the skill to manage time spent both inside and outside the family sphere. To get there, reducing the labor we put into all forms of work will be key.
When the present is changing, look to the future
And as important as day-to-day breathing room is in the here and now, it is just as important to secure this freedom and flexibility in the long term. With society shifting so rapidly, we can expect to see companies adapting their working practices and conditions, while some employees may switch jobs altogether. It’s not hard to imagine that more and more of us will primarily be working remotely.
As working styles diversify, it becomes risky to commit to a home and a lifestyle predicated on any particular way of working, because doing so means losing the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. The families of the future will do best when they take a long view of the situation and lay the groundwork for a flexible lifestyle with a comfortable margin for error.
The independence factor: Breathing room for singles versus spouses
Many in Japan share the view that it’s better not to start a family without the solid financial means to support one. For that reason, I predict that current uncertainties about the future caused by the COVID-19 crisis may act to drive up the unmarried population.
Singles who are interested in leading a communal lifestyle are faced with the need to be even more independent than married individuals. For instance, the share houses that seem to be gradually growing more common in Japan will not welcome lodgers who are in financial straits or require help from others to get by. As the unmarried demographic grows, there will likely be greater pressure on individuals to demonstrate independence both psychologically and financially.
3.) Companies on the cusp of change: Remote work helps address staffing ills
For companies that are feeling the pressure to revamp their business models in the wake of COVID-19, hiring and retaining talented employees is an urgent item on the agenda. With success hinging on offering an attractive work-life balance, remote work may be the most powerful solution available at present.
Building boundaries between work and private life
In the pre-coronavirus world, when commuting to the office was the norm, companies were able to ensure that staff focused exclusively on work for a fixed period of time per day. Now, with the shift to remote working, the boundaries between work and home are blurring. When employees clean their desks at the office, it counts as work; but does the same hold true when the home becomes the workplace? Is it against the rules to take time in the middle of the day to hang out the laundry? These are just some of the questions we need to consider.
Staff working remotely need time to take care of both their job and the roster of domestic and parenting tasks within their homes. Companies are likely to differ in their respective abilities to deal with this new reality. It should also be noted that while remote working allows companies to invest less in office overheads, systems are needed to redirect funds into the households that are now serving as employees’ workspaces. However, Japan currently lacks both the government mechanisms and the legal infrastructure to address this issue. Companies that manage to find good solutions will have an edge in the struggle to secure talent in the age of remote working.
The challenges above can also be thought of as an opportunity for businesses to show off their ingenuity and innovation, and I am keen to see what new developments arise in this area.
Corporate managers and leaders as trendsetters
The pressure to conform remains a strong motivator in Japan. When it comes to promoting the adoption of remote working or any other new work or lifestyle habit geared towards the new normal, companies can effectively take advantage of this social pressure by having managers and other senior figures in a company lead by example. A company’s place on the work-life balance scale tends to clearly reflect the behavior of its leadership, whose movements will doubtless be under close scrutiny in the coming months.
Appealing to customers with communications that demonstrate calm and adaptability
The days when it was standard practice to present consumers with a somewhat stereotyped vision of what a happy household looks like are nearing their end. As work and day-to-day life encompass an increasingly broad spectrum of options, the optimal lifestyle takes on a different form for each individual household.
I suspect that audiences will no longer accept messaging and advertisements that force a particular image of the ideal family on them; instead, corporate image-making efforts should focus on demonstrating businesses’ ability to take a relaxed, open approach, responding flexibly to the changes taking place in their customers’ lives.
Furthermore, while others have already noted that only slow progress is being made at boosting the number of women in management positions—something that needs to happen to develop more diverse perspectives—it is worth pointing out that gender equality will also be a critical consideration when engaging with Sustainable Development Goals.
Comments from the Dentsu PR Trend Report Editorial Team
Upgrading quality of life through conscious decisions to create space and possibilities
Our interview with Dr. Tsutsui hinted at the need for both individuals and companies to take the initiative in finding their own breathing room. This can be seen as a prerequisite to building a better life under the new normal.
Spotlight on the outsourcing market for housework, childcare, and other domestic tasks
As the number of double-income households grows and new developments like remote working lead to an increase in time spent at home, the volume of housework that needs doing also increases in tandem. In the search for a solution to this dilemma, there is likely to be continued interest in the trend of outsourcing domestic work and childcare—a practice that is already the norm in some countries around the world. From housework, to cooking, to shopping, the range of available outsourcing services looks set to expand.
The future may see a shift from the current emphasis on saving time by getting things done faster, to a preference for choosing not to do the tasks which can be left to someone else. In turn, we may start to think of the ideal lifestyle as a more expansive one that, thanks to minutes and hours saved elsewhere, leaves us with valuable time to spend with our families.
Male employees’ participation in the home: A new standard for corporate reputation? The importance of evidence-based messaging
The preconceived notion that men work outside the home and women take care of domestic tasks unfortunately remains deeply rooted in Japan. Yet as work styles change, with both women and men working more equally and spending more time at home due to factors like remote working, companies may find that their reputations are now being judged based partly on how well they support male employees in honoring their family and domestic commitments.
When selecting a business partner or employer, prospective customers and jobseekers will likely be influenced by their assessment of whether or not a company makes it easy for workers to maintain their homes, raise children, and care for older relatives, among other duties. More than ever before, businesses will be called upon to communicate about the specific actions they are taking to find the right balance for employees.
Preventing isolation among employees who live alone
If remote working becomes the norm, a growing number of employees who live alone will find themselves toiling quietly away at home, rarely talking to others with the exception of online meetings. With no family in the same household to have conversations or eat meals together with, this population may find it especially hard to activate the override switch that would allow them to take time for relaxation with a free conscience. There are concerns that this kind of lifestyle may lead to exhaustion from overwork and other pressures, as well as leaving these individuals feeling isolated and alone.
Given the circumstances, companies may soon recognize the importance of actively creating opportunities for casual exchange and water-cooler conversation among colleagues. This kind of proactive support from employers can help to ensure that each member of the remote workforce is able to maintain breathing room in the realms of everyday life and emotional health.
Trend Report Team
Information Design Division
Information Design Division
Information Design Division
With assistance from:
- Trend Report: Three key work culture challenges for 2021
- Trend Report: Generation Z says sayonara to labels
- COVID-19: Tips for success in online communications
- COVID-19: Three Communications Responses (Part I)
- COVID-19: Three Communications Responses (Part II)
- Six tips for doing PR in Japan