Japanese tech startups testing cash incentives for office return

Bonuses for bums on seats is a new one for us at Vulture Towers

A pair of Japanese tech startups are taking a new approach to the challenge of bringing reluctant employees back into the office by sweetening the pot with small bonuses for in-person working. 

Citing mental health concerns said to come from the isolation of working from home, Osaka-based Agileware, a project management software company, and Nagoya-headquartered privacy tech firm Acompany have both started offering limited allowances for employees who shift their mostly remote work to a hybrid model, though the payments aren't large.

Agileware says it is offering employees ¥2,000 (roughly $13 or £11) for every day they show up to the workplace, while Acompany has decided to award developers and those who "handle other tasks" ¥1,000 for showing up after lunch for a half day of in-office work, Nikkei Asia reports

Agileware is also offering employees an extra ¥500 ($3.30, £2.66) to go out to lunch with their colleagues, though both bonuses are reportedly limited to 10 days a month and require four hours to be spent in the office. That's a cool $168 (£133) if employees take full advantage of the monthly deal - not a lot, but it might pay for meals out while giving employees a bit of face time together and, perhaps, a mental health boost.

"We thought that it was necessary for employees to meet face-to-face and have opportunities to sense each other's work troubles and health conditions," Agileware CEO Mitsuyoshi Kawabata told Nikkei. 

Meanwhile, in the western world

Companies in the US and Europe haven't taken such an employee-focused approach to post-pandemic return-to-office initiatives, with many large tech companies simply issuing mandates with little in the way of positive reinforcement.

Amazon has threatened employees with stifled career advancement if they don't start conforming to in-office work mandates after requiring employees to be on-prem three days a week starting this past May; IBM has made similar threats. Meta, meanwhile, has imposed similar in-office work requirements on its employees over a perceived loss of productivity among remote workers.

Even Zoom, thrust into the limelight during COVID remote work mandates, has decided anyone living within 80km (50 miles) of an office would have to start coming in two days a week, and opened a new office - excuse us, "engagement hub" - to ensure workers in London were within the radius of requirement.

Although justifications for return-to-office mandates vary, one oft-repeated mantra (whether it's the real reason or not) is that workers are more innovative when together, and of course managers like to be able to see that workers are working.

The narrative surrounding remote work has changed several times over the past three years: Even up to the present reports on the effectiveness of remote workers vary. It's easy to find studies that say remote workers are more productive, with increased hours worked and less distraction. 

On the flip side, other studies claim remote workers are less productive, but not necessarily due to slacking off - collaborating remotely means writing more emails, slower responses from folks who might traditionally be a cubicle away, and less feedback and mentoring that could improve performance. 

Teams of employees, like developers working on the same project, are simply more productive when they're working side-by-side, such studies and their advocates argue. That said, mandating a return to the office hasn't gone over well with workers, who've roundly rejected such requirements and said they'd prefer a gentler approach than "come back or else." 

We have to ask: Would a small cash allowance motivate El Reg readers to return to the in-person fold, or is there little your employer could do to make you want to ditch the sweats for slacks?

Tell us in the comments. ®

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