(The) One of Them - An Activity Based Working Case Study in Japan

(The) One of Them offices in Tokyo, Japan This case study was originally published by Tech Research Asia in 2014 and written independently of any sponsorships or funding. Images courtesy of The One of Them.

Executive Summary

This Tech Research Asia end user case study analyses the results of the adoption of activity based working (ABW) by one of Japan’s rising digital media and games creation firms: (The) One of Them. It provides an overview of the company’s ABW project, the technology used to underpin the work style, and the business results achieved. Advice for IT and business leaders considering a flexible working strategy is also offered.

Key Findings

The ABW work style benefits small, fast-growing organisations, offering them an effective workplace platform for growth.

Adopting progressive agile workplace strategies in Japan offers considerable competitive advantage, especially in the recruitment area of talent management.

Having a strategy for addressing the challenge of locating employees in an ABW office is important to ensuring process efficiency and communication.


For Technology and Service Buyers:

Consider ABW for your organisation. There is a growing body of evidence that points to a broad array of benefits from ABW that IT and business leaders from organisations of all sizes and types cannot ignore. Consider engaging a third party to help assess your workplace strategy and help set a new vision.

Ignore technology and change management at your own peril with any ABW project. Technology is the pivotal force in enabling an anywhere, anytime work style and IT failures can severely impact project success.

The Dashboard

Name: (The) One of Them
Size: 50 employees in Tokyo, Japan
Industry: Media Creation and Game Applications
Countries: Japan
Project snapshot: Adoption of activity based working in Japan
Results: (The) One of Them expects to optimise its benefits from adopting ABW in 1.5-2 years. The company's representatives also rated the contribution of its adoption of ABW to talent management, productivity and innovation ten out of ten.
Future: The adoption of ABW-like offices is low in Japan at present but will increase steadily as more companies realise the benefits available to them. The main adopting industries will continue to be services or technology related in the near term.

The When, Who and What

In April 2012 up and coming digital media and games application creator, (The) One of Them, moved its 50 employees out of a rented work space and into an activity based working (ABW) office in downtown Shinjuku, a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. The company is one of the many small emerging Japanese digital creators seeking to grow quickly and establish itself in the highly competitive and fast moving online and mobile industry. Its smartphone games GotchaWarriors, Sushi Panic, and Turtle Farm on the Sea are used by millions globally.

The Why

The decision to move into an ABW office was led by the company CEO, who wanted to establish a “Tanoshii” (or fun) office in a similar vein to well-known Silicon Valley IT companies such as Google. The need for a stimulating and enjoyable office environment was considered to be critical to fostering the creativity and innovation needed for successful product development. Further, with several successful games developers in Japan, there is fierce competition to recruit top engineering, programming and developer talent. As a result, (The) One of Them needed an office that would attract talent.

The How

(The) One of Them employed the services of a domestic interior design company called Signal Inc to establish its workplace vision and conduct the fit out. The office includes a variety of spaces including enclosed meeting rooms, café seating spaces, a large versatile open plan area, a town hall space (which doubles as individual workspaces when not used for company meetings), an enclosed quiet space, and personal concentration spaces called "Manga Kissa" (manga café), which are similar in design to the many internet and comic book cafes in Japan. Each employee is given a locker to store their belongings and then chooses the most appropriate space from which to work depending on the task at hand. The company officially supports all forms of mobile working along with telework – although representatives believe employees are now more likely to come into the office than in the past.

As the company had a lot of “nomad” workers – a common term for mobile workers lacking an official office in Japan – prior to moving into the ABW offices the changes to the technology environment to enable ABW were incremental and deployed internally; (The) One of Them maintains management of its own IT. It deployed new audio visual components (projectors, displays and audio systems) and ubiquitous WiFi throughout. Each employee is given a laptop (MacBook Air - not BYOD) and can dock at any desk with several also having large monitors. The company also has a clean desk policy and has most processes conducted digitally. For collaboration and productivity the company uses Skype, ChatWork and Google Apps – these are also considered the top technologies to have helped enable ABW.

The Outcomes

(The) One of Them representatives believe the top opportunities from adopting ABW are growth, innovation, collaboration. In contrast, the major challenges are finding employees in the office. They believe the benefits from ABW will be optimised in 1.5 to 2 years The results in chart 1 shows the level of contribution (The) One of Them’s flexible working strategy makes to a common set of business goals. Representatives from (The) One of Them were asked to provide a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is an outstanding contribution, and 1 is a very low contribution). Each business goal is listed below along with the score and reasoning where provided by (The) One of Them.
(The) One of Them perceived outcomes from ABW

Growth – 8. The company has grown from 30 employees to 50 since moving into the ABW offices. The environment is also perceived to have helped with creativity and productivity – two key metrics for the firm.

Cost management – 6. (The) One of Them representatives believe that while they achieved real estate savings and understand their end user computing environment costs after adopting ABW, the free seating component can make it a challenge for the company to understand its cost per employee per project as managers don’t always have a direct line of site on employees.

Risk Management – 6. The company believes the ABW work style allows them to gradually improve risk management as they are able to accommodate headcount fluctuations and also attract new employees away from competitors.

Talent Management – 10. The ABW office has proven to be an attractive place for recruitment. Since moving into the office the company says it received a “big boost” in the number of people applying to work for them within 6 months whereas previously the company struggled to attract talented engineers and programmers.

Client Engagement – 8. The company believes the new offices allow employees to collaborate with clients as many enjoy touring the office and learning about the firm’s journey.

CSR – 3. (The) One of Them experienced no significant impact on its CSR efforts or obligations as a result of adopting ABW.

Productivity and Innovation – 10. Various spaces have allowed employees to choose the space best for each task and this allows either better collaboration or better concentration. Employee sentiment is perceived to have risen also. Innovation is critical to a games maker and office supports this.

The Next Steps for (The) One of Them

Continued growth, talent management and innovation are three major goals for (The) One of Them this year. Specifically, the company is now looking to grow its headcount again (to 80 people) and is evaluating how to support the additional employees in its current ABW office (including whether to establish some allocated seating areas). It has no major IT projects planned.


For Technology and Service Buyers looking to adopt a flexible working strategy:

Take stock and assess your current culture and performance trajectory: Conduct a utilisation study and undertake stakeholder interviews or surveys including front line employees. Ensure this is done independently to ensure data captured is valid and provides reliable insights. Consider employing a third party to help with this step, but make sure skills and knowledge transfer is built into any agreements so the organisation can continue to assess its workplace needs going forward without relying on 3rd parties heavily.

Define your vision for your ideal environment and culture through multi-party collaboration: Input from both front-line workers and the executive branch will help ensure the vision is representative. Tour current high performance workplaces to understand what is possible. Seek out the expertise of vendors and partners that have adopted themselves and have multiple reference customers.

Explore a pilot program: You don’t need a huge investment to trial a high performance workplace and many flexible work styles can be trialled using existing offices and technology. However, look at existing research on flexible working and the outcomes being achieved to safeguard against expectations that are inflated or set too low.

Align all stakeholders – internal and external – to the vision and set out your project responsibilities and timeline. Consider the essentials such as security, cost, and compliance and ensure that these are not compromised. Ensure the project management does not result in siloed components pursuing their targets independently of the broader vision. The best results are always those that bring together the four elements.

Plan for how you will reinvent again to engage customers and employees. Work styles and spaces of today will change again – will you have the capacity and agility to stay ahead?