According to The Nikkei Asian Review, with the coronavirus pandemic set to transform Japanese offices, furniture and stationery maker Kokuyo is dealing with the blow to its traditional businesses by looking ahead to the contactless, digitally oriented offices of the future.
The company in July rolled out the Work Pod, a one-person booth that gives workers a closed space where they can focus on paperwork or online meetings, with a feature that automatically recirculates the air inside every 30 seconds.
Kokuyo has already received more than 100 inquiries from corporate customers about the new offering. While orders for new office furniture products normally start coming in only after the company begins marketing them, the Work Pod drew an enthusiastic response right after Kokuyo's initial press release.
The booth, designed with post-pandemic office life in mind, may represent a way forward for a company whose traditional businesses are unlikely to fare well under the new normal. Office furniture makes up more than 40% of Kokuyo's sales and has been a major earnings driver in recent years.
The company released an earnings forecast for 2020 last month that shows group net profit sinking 67% to 5 billion yen (US$ 47.6 million). President Hidekuni Kuroda contends that its business model will need to evolve in light of the pandemic.
"The office furniture and stationery businesses have been put in a tough position by the rise in telework and at-home schooling," he said. "We urgently need to pivot to products and services that support these new ways of life."
Though the nature of the office seems poised to change, people will still continue to work, whether at home, in shared offices or on "workations" in resort areas. Kokuyo sees this as an opportunity.
Companies have begun to consider shifting away from conventional offices, such as Fujitsu, which has said it will reduce its office footprint in Japan by 50% by the end of fiscal 2022. Kokuyo sees the office becoming not just a place where people come together to work, but "a space where ideas are generated," Kuroda said.
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