dwango: workplace innovation in one of Japan’s new digital manufacturers

Kabuki-za Theatre 2013 1125

This Tech Research Asia end user case study analyses the results of dwango's workplace strategy and new office in Tokyo.

The When, Who and What

dwango is one of the several emerging success stories of Japan’s burgeoning digital economy. It offers some of the country’s most popular online games and entertainment portals. Since 2010 the company has doubled its subscriber base to over 40 million members and achieved more than 140 million page views per day. The average customer spends just under two hours a day on its services and is most likely to be male and under 40. In the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2014, dwango moved into a new agile office sporting several unique features in the famous Ginza district of Tokyo.

The Why

Prior to the move dwango was located in an office near Meiji-za, a famous theatre. With significant business growth driven by the exceptionally fast pace of the online entertainment and gaming world in Japan, dwango needed more office space to accommodate a growing headcount and to adopt a workstyle that allowed expedited sharing of information to support the many new projects and campaigns it was involved in. dwango also wanted to locate its headquarters closer to the Akhibara region, a hub for many of its customers.

The How

dwango’s new agile office towers over the famed Kabukiza theatre in Ginza. Employees are spread across four floors of a newly fitted out space with a feature staircase connecting all floors to encourage wellbeing and a sense of connectedness. Because the company is heavily project oriented, it set up spaces that allow teams to come together quickly. This involves removing set seating for a portion of the workforce (PR, marketing, some engineering teams, and so forth) to allow them to gather in an activity based working (ABW) environment. Engineers, meanwhile, are able to “own” a desk with multiple monitors on many and with personalised decorations reminiscent of a Google or Atlassian approach. The company also has community or café spaces and a stylish reception area with views out of Tokyo from an array of meeting spaces.

In stark contrast to these two progressive approaches to work styles for some of the company, the back office staff remain in a cubicle environment and the company doesn’t have many remote or teleworkers. In fact, representatives TRA spoke with said it prefers employees to gather at the office and the feedback they have is the office is a fun destination.

One unique feature of the office is the presence of a child care facility that dwango established itself. Although the ratio of female to male employees is heavily weighted in the latter’s favour, the child care facility is part of a strong push by many firms to encourage mothers to return to work.

But, in what is actually illegal in many Western countries today and appears incongruous to a healthy, high performing workplace, dwango offers employees a smoking room in the middle of the office (which is still not uncommon in Japan).

In terms of technology, employees are not provided with any land line telephones, instead relying on smartphones. Ubiquitous wifi is offered throughout the building and while some engineers and back office staff use desktop computers, the remainder are provided with laptops. The chat application Line is used heavily as is Cyborz for scheduling. There is no datacentre in the building, with all infrastructure housed in a nearby colocation facility.

Notably, Softbank’s Pepper robot can be found slumped over in its characteristic dormant position in a play area for staff. Like many other Japanese companies dwango engineers have been testing Pepper’s potential and playing with the software development kit (SDK) to produce its own applications. They also have a Segway in the office.

The Outcomes

A representative from dwango’s communications’ department was asked to rate the new office’s contribution to a common set of business goals on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is no impact and 10 is a very positive outcome. The following are the results and should be viewed as the perception of one individual, and not necessarily reflective of the company’s overall position:

Growth – 9. The company continues to grow quickly but is now able to gather staff together more quickly for projects and empower them with information.

Cost management: 8. The speed to establishing project teams along with a reduction in time of adds, moves and changes to employee seating is considered one success of the move.

Risk management: 8. The representative believes the company has strengthened its information security as part of the new workplace strategy.

Client engagement: 8. The new office is closer to clients and provides a boost to the brand image. The company often hosts clients at the office and provides them with tours around the spaces.

Talent management: 5. While the company has increased its headcount and is more free, the contribution to talent management was rated as neutral.

CSR: 6. The new building has higher energy efficiency than the previous older office and uses LED lighting.

Innovation and productivity: both 9. Although the perception is that they were just as innovative in the previous office, dwango has been able to increase its speed to innovation in the new building.

The Next Steps for dwango

dwango engineers and leadership are investigating the use of artificial intelligence at the moment and considering how they may implement it for success in future. The immediate future focus, however, is on continuing to offer employees a stimulating environment to work and re-affirm its place an influential source of entertainment in the digital economy.