“When accounting functions are replaced by AI, these people with strong numerical and maths skills can be reskilled so that they can be redeployed”

New ways for the new normal

Randstad Japan helps businesses implement new strategies for the workplace


September 2020 Investing in Japan / Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Michael Holmes

Twelve months ago, no one could have predicted a pandemic would force a major shift in the way the world works. The change in the attitudes of both companies and jobseekers between last year and this has been profound. However, Netherlands-based human resources consultancy firm Randstad was quick to recognise that when faced with new challenges, you need new ways to address them.

“We had the best recruitment market that we’ve ever had in Japan in 2019 and the first quarter of 2020,” says Cameron Brett, managing director of Randstad Professionals and Engineers in Japan. “Now, there has been a decrease in demand from clients. On the candidate side, people who are currently employed are not looking to make a move. They have become more conservative.”

Hisako Kaneko, Randstad Japan’s chief human resources officer, believes that in adapting to the circumstances created by the coronavirus, Japanese firms are permanently changing for the better.

“Covid-19 has really given a strong push for companies to move from traditional membership-based employment, in which everything is centred around lifetime employment and seniority rules, to a system where focus is placed on the job, and the salary matches your performance,” she says.

As the scope and scale of the pandemic became clear, Randstad kicked off its global #newways initiative, which aims to support businesses in discovering and implementing new strategies and new ways of working.

“This #newways is a way for us to connect closely with our corporate clients in a meaningful way,” explains Kaneko. “The most important aspect of this is the sharing of valuable information with our clients and, in return, we can deepen our understanding about them. We deliver content based on five subjects: safety, efficiency, talent, the new normal, and thought leadership.”

As part of the #newways initiative, Randstad offers a comprehensive reskilling service to help companies adjust to our rapidly changing world. When a firm can equip its existing workforce with the new skills it requires, it can often be more efficient and cost-effective than searching for outside talent. And it’s a solution especially well-suited to these trying times.

“As an example, imagine you need data scientists,” Brett explains. “When accounting functions are replaced by AI, these people with strong numerical and maths skills can be reskilled so that they can be redeployed as data scientists. Their accounting job might disappear, but other jobs can be created.”

But the #newways initiative is about more than just retraining. At the outset of the Covid-19 crisis, Randstad introduced Ouchi Haken, or “home temping”, as a way to meet their clients’ new and changing needs.

The Ouchi Haken system allows for those roles that were previously considered to be solely office-based to be done from home. It provides the flexibility that temporary workers need with the safety of working remotely.

“This has been getting a lot of attention from clients such as call centre companies,” Kaneko states. “Call centres are busy environments, but in the current climate they cannot be crowded. By hiring call operators who can work from home, clients can expand their workforce without expanding floorspace.”

Despite the novelty of these processes, Randstad has reason to be confident in their efficacy. The recommendations that it makes to its clients are all actions that it has taken itself — with great success.

“As an organisation committed to providing services to HR professionals, we need to have our own house in order before we can start talking to our clients about what they should do,” says Brett. “We had to look at our own internal organisation and ask: How do we manage people? How do we look at physical workspaces?”

Even before the pandemic, Randstad Japan’s employees could take advantage of a flexible working system, with no core hours, where they choose the hours they work and are encouraged to achieve their goals in the manner that best suits them.

As a global firm, with a leading position in the market, Randstad Japan has a distinctive opportunity to serve society as a whole as it recovers from the hardships of 2020. In addition to providing content for candidates on topics such as mental health and stress management, it is sharing information and best practices with firms to help them improve employee experiences and corporate responsibility.

“I think we have a responsibility as an HR consultancy to support the return to growth of the economy,” Brett says. “We’re providing meaningful digital content on how to maintain engagement in the home, how to evaluate employees working at home, how to turn crisis-time decision-making into long term change. Hopefully, this activity will have a positive impact not only on our clients but on the wider recovery of societies.”

One of Randstad Japan’s priorities is to help reduce the inequality between men and women in the Japanese workforce. Long recognised as a weakness of Japan Inc., it has become even more pronounced over the past six months with the pandemic. By promoting diversity, Randstad is seeking to address this.

“Women have been more directly impacted by the Covid-19 situation than men, and this has created further disparity in a country that already had a really challenging situation for female professionals,” Brett says. “We’re trying to do anything that we can to level the playing field and to create a more equal work environment where women are given the same opportunities as men.”

Kaneko knows first-hand how Randstad’s own emphasis on diversity can open doors for women. After taking time out from her career to raise her child, then getting reskilled, she was offered a fulfilling second career at Randstad Japan. Now, she wants to help other women find a similar path.

“I want women to know that they don’t need to give up on their career just because it’s interrupted by life events,” she says. “They can be successful.”

While we are all going to have to get used to the new normal, companies have a host of options for new ways of working that can make the workplace, employees’ lives, and even society itself better. •

“clients can expand their workforce without expanding floorspace”