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Tiny capsule offices cater to commuters in Japan

By WANG XU in Tokyo | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-12-10 09:15

Telecube capsule offices have been installed near Tokyo Station. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Inspired by its capsule hotels, which once went viral by providing guests with a relatively affordable place for a hot shower and a good night's rest, Japan is now introducing capsule offices.

Beginning in January, capsule offices-enclosures of just 1.2 square meters that are soundproof and have a seat, desk and power sockets-could be found in the Tokyo, Shinjuku and Shinagawa stations of East Japan Railway Co, also known as JR East.

"At first, I didn't notice these phone booth-sized boxes and was wondering what do they do. Then I realized they could be really useful for people like me, who always wanted to get some work done quickly and privately while commuting between places," said Nana Komatsu, a saleswoman who lives in Saitama prefecture but works in Tokyo.

Users will have to reserve the booths ahead of time and unlock them via Quick Response codes.

According to Komatsu, the capsules provide enough sound insulation that one can "barely hear the bustling sounds of the train station".

"I think it is a better working environment compared with coffee shops, because coffee shops are usually crowded with people, and you have to buy something to use their tables," Komatsu said.

"Sometimes after waiting in a long line, more often than not you find there is simply no place for you to sit. Not to mention the chatting, people walking back and forth, which can be a huge distraction."

In January, JR East introduced the capsule offices, which can be used for free and up to 30 minutes at a time. But the landscape changed drastically in August, when one of Japan's largest real-estate developers, Mitsubishi Estate, joined the campaign.

Together with office furniture maker Okamura Corp, video-conferencing software vendor V-Cube Inc and Telecube Inc, Mitsubishi Estate introduced the Telecube and promised to install 1,000 such booths by 2023.

"If you're on the way back from a sales visit and happen to have 15 minutes of free time at a train station, you may want to access a quick workplace," said Telecube CEO Hiroyuki Mashita.

Unlike the capsules provided by JR East, Telecube is a chargeable service that costs 250 Japanese yen ($2.30) for 15 minutes, while corporate subscribers pay a monthly rate for a set number of hours.

"The companies' rollout of these booths is partly a response to government calls for telecommuting," said Hirotake Ran, a professor of East Asia studies at Musashino University in Tokyo. "They believe it could ease the transport congestion expected to accompany the millions of tourists drawn to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"However, whether it will be a successful business depends on whether telecommuting can reasonably replace onsite work and whether enough people will take up the option to reduce congestion effectively," added Ran. "Personally speaking, I'd like to see that telecommuting becomes a trend in Japan like it did in the United States."

Data from Fundera, an online small business lending aggregator in New York, shows that more than 3.7 million Americans, or 2.8 percent of the entire US workforce, currently work from home at least half the time, with two-thirds of managers reporting that employees who work from home increase their overall productivity.

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