‘Just in house’: Coronavirus transforms how the world works

TOKYO — Even as many restaurants have been forced to close in France during the coronavirus lockdown there since mid-March, chefs are posting their precious recipes on the internet. That has allowed millions of people around the world, including those unfamiliar with French cuisine, to search for recipes on YouTube and Instagram and enjoy cooking them at home.

Keisuke Matsushima, a Japanese chef and owner of a Michelin-starred French restaurant in Nice in southern France, also released some recipes. Matsushima stresses that he does not expect any financial return. “I’m glad if people like my recipes and in some way they help people change their eating habits and lifestyles,” he said.

Matsushima posted recipes for low-sodium dishes. When eating salt, sugar and fat, the brain finds the food tasty and is more likely to release dopamine, which leads to satisfaction. “There are many ways for healthier, better-tasting cooking while curbing the intake of these ingredients,” Matsushima says.

In the aftermath of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, there was also much talk about mutual support and ties with others. But this time, the entire world is affected by the coronavirus and solidarity is being called for from individual homes.

According to a survey of about 4,000 companies in 99 countries conducted by U.S.-based consultancy Korn Ferry, 89% responded that they are introducing remote work to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But Japanese companies are lagging in promoting teleworking even as a tremendous segment of the world’s population shifts away from offices, factories and schools to carry on business, manufacturing and learning in the safety and comfort of home.

The coronavirus lockdowns mean many people around the world are unable to leave their towns and countries as they are forced to stay at home. Therefore, the most appropriate description for this phenomenon may be “just in house.”

The movement of goods is no different, for once cities and borders are shut down, the delivery of parts and products comes to a halt as well. In the world of supply chains, the smoothest and most efficient movement of goods is known as “just in time” — a system that allows companies to procure parts and other goods whenever needed without having to maintain costly inventories.

But in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, many pointed out the necessity of maintaining a certain amount of parts on hand, “just in case,” to keep car and appliance production going as those events disrupted global supply chains.

But this time, we are forced to get by with domestic inventories alone — at least for the time being. Some are insisting we even stop procuring parts and other necessities from China and elsewhere and instead shift to full “in-house” production.

Despite such calls, most supply chains are likely to return to what they were once the coronavirus crisis is over. But what about people? Multiple domestic surveys show that many now prefer working remotely over commuting to the office even after closures of cities and national borders are eventually lifted. Many people are actually pleased and surprised to find remote work easier than they thought.

Kazunari Uchida, a professor at Waseda University’s Graduate School in Tokyo, thinks teleworking will take hold in Japan. “Due to the coronavirus being such a major crisis, worker priorities will shift to health and family. Thus, changes to how and where they work are inevitable,” he said.

“Initially, working remotely will be about 30% less efficient than working in the office,” said Naohisa Fukuda, president of Japan Communications, which started the practice nine years ago. “But working in an unusual environment will help you find new things and become a positive as you get used to it.”

Fukuda says this based on his experience working with the late Steve Jobs as Apple’s vice president for nine years through 2002.

Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs, seen holding the new iPhone back in January 2007, had said that “innovation comes from people … calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea.”

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Jobs used to say that technical innovation comes from a phone call at 10:30 p.m. In Silicon Valley, many people start heading home at 4 p.m. and work again in their studies or home offices from 9 p.m. after spending time with their families. They tend to start discussing ideas over the phone or via chat after 10 p.m.

In short, technological innovation does not happen in a meeting room. “Synapses are connected and create sparks in human brains when relaxed,” Fukuda said.

These days, products designed for teleworking, including small high-definition cameras, are selling well in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district. Nikkei Business Daily reported on April 8 that more companies are offering free online business support and child monitoring services for those working from home. They are probably betting that the changed methods of working and lifestyles are here to stay.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2012 book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder,” the Japanese version of which was published in 2017, is seemingly being widely read again during the coronavirus crisis.

Taleb also famously wrote “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” back in 2007. A black swan means something totally unexpected and unprecedented. Taleb writes that people should take action to capitalize on an unpredictable event.

But human beings may be more able to cope with crisis and use it to their advantage than Taleb thinks. That is what those who are working from home around the world and consumption behavior in Akihabara tell us.

Looking back, the bubonic plague pandemic in the 14th century — which is said to have taken the lives of one-third of Europe’s population at the time — diminished the authority of churches and brought about the end of the Middle Ages, sparking the Renaissance.

Big industries often emerge from disasters. Now is the time for Japan Inc. to help advance “technological innovation from home.”

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