Kentaro Okuda is the chief executive at Nomura
Courtesy Nomura

Meditation is the art of consciously zoning in on the unconscious. Take breathing as an example. Only when you focus on inhaling and exhaling do you realize that you usually breathe unconsciously. Similarly, the pandemic made us realize that things we do unconsciously each day can no longer be taken for granted.

This is also true in the workplace. Before the pandemic, it was second nature to come into the office and meet people face to face. But that all changed as the safety of our people and clients became our top priority and we had to look for new ways of doing things. Through a process of trial and error, we realized that we could operate remotely. Of course, digital tools and the efforts of our people played a huge part in making this possible. Indeed, changes that would normally take years in Japan happened in just a few months. I would highlight three reasons why these reforms are here to stay.

First, to achieve sustainable growth in a rapidly shifting environment, it is critical to attract and retain diverse talent. As with many workers around the world, Japanese people are becoming more accustomed to working from home, overcoming challenges and finding the right work-life balance.

In the post-pandemic world, Nomura is aiming for a hybrid work style that combines time in the office and remote working. We have been looking at ways to maintain productivity while away from the office. We were encouraged to see how well people have adapted and succeeded when asked to work from home. Flexibility can also help alleviate stress related to childcare and other personal matters, and it opens up options for hiring, enabling access to a wider talent pool to create a more diverse organization.

Second, the way we interact with clients is changing. Many Japanese people, particularly the older generation, value face-to-face contact when discussing their personal finances. We understand these clients are not comfortable using apps and websites or even talking on the phone. Their desire for personal interaction may have even become stronger over the past 18 months. On the flip side, younger people are much more comfortable interacting online and the lack of in-person contact has been less of an issue for them.

For corporate clients, change occurs when we adapt to the new ways they want to do business. A good example is the spread of “Cool Biz”, a Japanese government campaign to help reduce electricity consumption by limiting the use of air conditioning, while encouraging a more relaxed dress code during the summer months. If your client dresses casually, then you do too, regardless of your own company’s policy. Similarly, if a client wants to meet online rather than in person, then you adapt accordingly. That then becomes the new normal.

Third, digital transformation will help us overcome some of the inconveniences of working online. Just look at how videoconferencing is advancing. In a voice-only situation, it is difficult to judge the reaction of the other party. Seeing the other person on screen makes a world of difference. It won’t be long before technological advances enable us to feel like we are in the same room. Increased connectivity should also help ease the loneliness and isolation that often affects people working from home.

Better technology alone is not enough. Educating employees about how to harness that technology to work more efficiently and boost their productivity is essential, and we have already launched a program to do so.

On an interpersonal level, other dynamics come into play. For new graduates and their mentors, and for managers who oversee a team, the connectivity they get from physically working alongside people is hard to replicate in a digital environment, especially for roles where learning and development is similar to an apprenticeship. Water cooler or coffee break moments, where impromptu ideas are shared between colleagues, are also hard to recreate online, but like many others we are exploring ways to do so.

Hybrid working gives people more freedom and changes how they spend their time—commuting time can be used for more productive or meaningful tasks. That said, when implementing new ways of working it is important to not apply a one-size-fits-all approach. Stay flexible and make incremental adjustments to find what works best for each region, country, or business. At Nomura, in order to realize our management vision of achieving sustainable growth by helping resolve social issues, we aim to create a work model that best reflects our values and corporate culture.

Kentaro Okuda is the chief executive at Nomura

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