Making work more flexible

Telework is uncommon in Japan. Boehringer Ingelheim helps to modernize the country’s work environment – for the benefit of the company, and above all, its employees.

Japan is an economic powerhouse and often ranked as one of the most innovative countries globally. Its advanced technological infrastructure and strong electronics good industry accelerate digital transformation in almost all areas of life such as mobility, school, and work. And yet there are still areas in life in which the benefits of technological advance fall short of their true potential.

Telework or telecommuting, as some call it, is one of the most surprising examples: Compared to the United States and Europe, where working from outside the office is a common practice for many employees, only one out of six companies in Japan offered their employees to work from outside the office in 2017. The numbers are slowly increasing and the Japanese government is actively promoting working-style innovation, but for most of the Japanese employees, telework is still no common practice.

Boehringer Ingelheim Japan is one of the pioneers when it comes to telework. Already in October 2017, Boehringer Ingelheim Japan introduced telework as part of their work style reform, using “Design Your Day!” as the keyword. This is to have the employees design their day by themselves in order to enhance the quality of time spent both at work and in life.

Telework is a great benefit and makes life much easier.

Akiko Maruno

“We started the project with ‘Maximum Freedom to simplify’, allowing to challenge many restrictions in terms of working location, hours, and frequency for its office-work employees,” says Thorsten Poehl, Country Managing Director, Boehringer Ingelheim Japan. “Respecting the employees’ diverse ways of working and living becomes a plus not only for the employees but also for the company. This is because each employee’s perspective and diverse views are important and at a time where the future is less clearly visible we need engaged and empowered employees everywhere. I am convinced that the work style transformation at Boehringer Ingelheim Japan will offer new value to the company and contribute to the growth of sustainable business.”

Yasuhiro Wakui

Lives in the Tokyo area. It takes almost four hours for him to get to the office and back home.

Akiko Maruno is one of the employees who regularly use telework. The biologist who has been with the company since 1998 is working in the field of Regulatory Information Management. “The introduction of telework has had a significant impact on my professional and personal life. It gives me the freedom and the flexibility to work from outside the office if that is the best option for me. This is a great benefit and makes life much easier.”

As a mother of two, Akiko Maruno is living with her family in the suburbs of Kobe, the seventh-largest city in Japan and the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture. Kobe has a population of 1.5 million and the weekday rush hours are as intense and heavy as in the island’s other major cities. Maruno spends almost two hours commuting to work every day. If she works from home, she can save this time, play with her daughters and be socially committed. Maruno volunteers as a crossing guard once a month and guides pupils back from school to home. “That takes only half an hour, but as a full-time employee without the option of telework, it would be quite difficult,” says Maruno. “I am really proud that I can also contribute to society.”


The benefits of telework for employers and employees are hard to refute: Teleworkers seem to be more productive than their counterparts on-site, it enhances the employee’s morale and increases the retention rates. “With telework, we also seek to attract talents, especially those who want to combine family, childcare, and their career,” adds Kazuhito Kawahara, who is now leading the telework project for Boehringer Ingelheim Japan. “As a research-driven pharmaceutical company, we are dependent on highly-skilled professionals and telework is one of the things that can set us apart from other companies.”

I save a lot of time if I work from home.

Yasuhiro Wakui

Yasuhiro Wakui is another employee of Boehringer Ingelheim Japan who enjoys the flexibility of telework. He joined Boehringer Ingelheim in 2017 after almost two decades in the animal health industry. “It is the first time I can use telework and it significantly improves my recovery from work.” Wakui lives with his wife in the Tokyo area. It takes almost four hours for him to get to the office and back home. “I save a lot of time if I work from home, and I can spend much more time to communicate with my family in a non-tired condition. My wife and I are currently planning our new home and I am really energized by the private time we gain.”

The telework initiative of Boehringer Ingelheim Japan has also been recognized by other companies and politicians. The company won the “Flexible Commuting Promotion Award” from the Tokyo Metropolitan Office in October 2017 and the “Top Hundred Telework Pioneers” from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication in November 2018.