By Tom Bateman and Rocky Swift
KAWASAKI, Japan (Reuters) - Japan's armies of "salarymen" were famous for spending endless hours at the office. Now one tech giant is trying to make the experience more cuddly by allowing in pets.
Fujitsu Ltd, which makes everything from air conditioners to super computers, opened an experimental "dog office" in July at one of its buildings in Kawasaki, near Tokyo.
After teleworking throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Yuka Hatagaki was one Fujitsu employee lured back to the office a few times each month along with her five-year-old Maltese-poodle cross, Noel.
"Communicating got more difficult as remote working became a norm," Hatagaki told Reuters. "So I thought here would be a great place to be able to come and communicate with other people with the help of our dogs."
The scheme is something more akin to Silicon Valley than corporate Japan, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a rapid shift in work patterns. Teleworking in Japan increased from 10% to 28% between December 2019 and May 2020, though still lower than many major economies, based on OECD data.
Advertising company Dentsu Group Inc and logistics provider Nippon Express Co are among companies that have mulled selling their central Tokyo headquarters to save money as more workers worked form home.
But after more than two years of the pandemic and as infections subside, there are signs the pendulum is swinging back towards in-office work. In particular, teleworking among people in their 20s and 30s has fallen rapidly, according to surveys from researcher Japan Productivity Center.
Fujitsu's dog office, separated from standard working areas and operating on a trial basis until the end of the year, has workstations for three staffers and space for up to six dogs at a time. It also features stain-proof carpets and a range of pet supplies.
But while 30-year-old Hatagaki was drawn back to the office by the promise of working with her dog, Fujitsu says the purpose of the project is not to get workers back inside the building. Fujitsu and financial services firm Nomura Holdings Inc were among companies saying they would make working from home a permanent option even after the pandemic.
"Ever since COVID, working life and our personal lives have gone through enormous changes," said Mitsuya Akamatsu, Fujitsu's head of work style strategy. "We are always thinking about what kind of changes are needed."
"We can't say whether we will stick with this style of working alongside pets long-term because it's still a trial, but personally I think it would be good to see it spread across our society," he added.
Another dog office user, Mayumi Inoue, became a pet owner during the pandemic. She said coming in to work also offered some upsides for her dog, a six-month-old Pomeranian named Toramaru.
"Compared to being at home, your dog gets to meet up with its dog friends and with people, so there's a good incentive for them as well," Inoue said.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)