According to The Nikkei Asian Review, the new coronavirus is upending one of Japan's most basic business conventions -- the exchange of business cards.
A drastic reduction in the number of business meetings means fewer opportunities to swap cards, and more Japanese -- especially young people -- are turning to social media for their professional networking needs. Those trends have companies that cater to Japan's business card market scrambling to adapt.
Businesspeople are also trying to cope. A woman in her thirties working for a staffing agency in Tokyo has been struggling with the changes. Her workplace started remote working in April, so she has been unable to exchange cards with prospective clients on teleconferences.
"In teleconferences, I can catch the names of people speaking, but I often feel uncomfortable about not knowing their titles," she said. "It's hard to ask people's titles, so you don't know who has the decision-making power." When it is unclear who is in charge of a project, for example, she is uncertain about who is the point of contact, she said.
In 2018, 3 billion business cards traded hands in Japan, according to an estimate by Sansan, the largest provider of business card management software. Exchanging cards is an important custom, because it helps people figure out where they stand in relation to each other, and to know their roles in corporate hierarchy or government bureaucracy.
Teleworking makes this more difficult, and Sansan is working on a digital alternative to traditional card exchanges.
In May, the company added a new feature to "Eight," its personal business card management software. It allows participants in video conferences on platforms like Zoom to create QR codes that lead to their business card information. The other participants can read the code with their smartphones to access the information.
The company also modified its service for corporate clients, "Sansan," which is used by about 6,000 companies. Now users can access business card information through URLs.
Sansan had been working to digitize the information on business cards, but its approach has been to capture that information from physical cards using devices like smartphones or scanners and then upload it.
"Paper business cards have been the starting point for our services," said Yusuke Otsu, the company's chief product officer.
The number of business cards read through the firm's services in early May plunged by more than 60% from a year earlier.
Even after the pandemic, teleworking is likely here to stay. 63% of respondents in a mid-May survey by the Japan Productivity Center, a think tank, said they would continue teleworking even after the outbreak is brought under control.
Other companies are also racing to develop new services to fit the new business environment.
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