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Modernity based on tradition, or what work in Japan looks like

Modernity based on tradition, or what work in Japan looks like

The Land of the Rising Sun invites foreigners not only to come visit but also to move there as a step in their professional career. How difficult is it to adapt yourself to the local work model? How does it feel for a Polish professional to be relocated to Japan? What is it like to work in Japan? Which values are crucial for our partners?

We have asked Monika Godula - the head of the project management office (PMO) at Comarch Telco OSS for her opinion.

Let's start by explaining to the readers your role in Comarch. PMO manager and Project manager are names that sound very similar, but the scope of duties is quite different. So what is the difference between the functions of a project manager and a head of a project management office?

The Project Management Office is a unit that brings different Project Managers together. Generally speaking, a Project Manager is the person who handles a specific project, while a PMO Manager is the one who leads the team of different project managers in a given business unit.

Before we move to the Japanese working style, can you please let us know what products Comarch is currently implementing and developing in the "Land of the Rising Sun"? Telco OSS may still sound enigmatic to many people. 

Telco OSS (Operation Support System) is a group of Comarch products supporting the work of telecommunications operators. They allow for the management of hybrid networks, consisting of older and new generation components, virtualized infrastructure, programmable computer networks and self-organizing networks. By using one comprehensive OSS system that allows you to manage all kinds of domains and network technologies, you can gradually add new types of infrastructure as your business grows. The high degree of automation offered by our OSS architecture allows you to easily manage an increasingly complex telecommunications infrastructure.

It is worth mentioning that Comarch's presence in Japan is not limited to the solutions designed for the telecommunications sector only. We are also commercially present in this market with our IoT and Loyalty Management solutions.

When we think about Japan we normally associate it with pioneering technologies and state-of-the-art robots for the 21st century. However, the Poles who visit the country are often shocked by the numerous archaic rules that Japanese society is still governed by. Was it your case, too?

In my case it actually did not come as a surprise. I have been to Japan many times, both for private and business purposes. A lot has changed in recent years. Not so long ago, it was hard to find a place where you could pay with a card. Now it’s the norm.

I can see a huge difference between Japan in 2020 and Japan in 2022. Perhaps the Covid pandemic acted as the accelerator of digitization in many areas of everyday life. Nevertheless, there are still solutions that may surprise us. Let me give you an example: our partners were surprised that in Poland you can sign up for COVID-19 vaccination online, choosing any preparation and also where and when to get the shot. Here in Japan, the entire vaccination process was handled by, among others, the traditional postal system.

Japan is a country of contradictions. You can still come across a fax machine, and documents must be delivered in paper form and sealed with a personal stamp called “hanko” This commitment to traditional processes stands in contrast to the way the processes themselves apply to modern technologies. We are part of groundbreaking telecommunications projects, but we often have to process documents on paper.

Speaking of novelties and modern devices that Japan has always been so famous for, are they still leading products manufactured with the use of solutions that are still unheard of in other countries? Is this claim still valid today?  

Undoubtedly, the development of 5G technology in Japan and the launch of "network slicing" is an order of magnitude ahead of what is currently happening in the entire telecommunications industry. We are particularly proud that we can support our partners and clients in such innovative endeavors.

However, let’s not forget that we now live in the global economy. It is difficult to clearly indicate any country as a leader in technological development. Japan has its strengths, but others are not lagging behind. As a company, we work with clients in many corners of the world and we have a number of extremely interesting, innovative projects that - I am saying this with utmost confidence - are bringing us into a new technological era.

What invariably distinguishes both Japan and its workforce, compared to other countries, is the quality of the products delivered. From small everyday objects to advanced equipment, the Japanese pay special attention to the quality of their solutions and focus on continuous improvement. They also attach great importance to the ergonomics of the solutions used.

Every year new records are set when it comes to the number of foreign employees in Japan. Today there are nearly two million of them, but it is still not much for a country with a population of 127 million. So what is behind Comarch Japan's success? People, product, or maybe both? 

We have been building our presence in Japan for years. We didn’t just come here and had this huge success the next day. Our first success was undoubtedly being able to penetrate this hermetic market and we owe it first of all to our employees. A product that meets the customer's requirements is extremely important, but we have many significant competitors in this field and the product itself would not be enough.

The Japanese are full of appreciation for the work we put into customizing and tailoring our products and providing them with exactly the solutions they need, but what they appreciate above all is our amazing experts. Their creativity, independence, openness, courage and responsibility in making decisions have aroused genuine admiration many times. Another big plus is the fact that a few of our local employees are fluent in Japanese. 

Japan is a combination of tradition and modernity. At Comarch we are well aware that knowing and obeying certain customs is crucial in business. This is why we have organized meetings and training to make sure all of us are familiar with Japanese culture, business etiquette and customs of this distant country.

The world is slowly recovering after almost two years of lockdown. Many thought Comarch would not go through the restriction unscathed. However, not only did we manage to survive, but we are also constantly developing. How did the Japanese team manage to endure that difficult period for business? 

During the pandemic communication was, and still is, crucial. Apart from the formal communication within the team and with the client, it was the less official conversations and informal chats where we told ourselves openly what "hurt" that proved to be our lifeline. If it hadn’t been for those informal communication between the team members, the language difference and the cultural barrier might have effectively hindered, if not prevented us from building such cooperation and relations as we have today. And in Japan, business is built upon relationships.

Speaking of business, there officially is no fixed working schedule in Japan. It has not been legally established, although it is assumed to be 40 hours a week, i.e. 8 hours a day. In practice, however, due to the work culture in Japan as well as numerous after-hours meetings and business talks with colleagues, the real amount of time the Japanese spend at work is significantly longer - 80 hours a week on average. How difficult is it for a Pole to get used to such long working weeks and what does Polish-Japanese cooperation look like?

“When in Rome do as the Romans do”...

But speaking seriously, cooperation with Japanese companies ‘ similarly to South Korean ones, implies a great deal of cultural differences, which means both parties must be ready to compromise in certain aspects. Our client has modified some of their working hours to our reality and we have modified our working hours to their reality. The most important thing is not to lose sight of the goal that we pursue together.

When we work in Japan and host a client in Tokyo, dinners or informal meetings tend to extend into the late evening hours. However, it is in those dinners and after-work meetings that the communication barriers start blurring and we get to know each other better. You never know, someone might turn out to be the singer of a local rock band, someone else might love to sail, and yet another one might be a martial artist. Eating out and pubbing allows us to get to know the local culture or taste interesting dishes and it is an important aspect of networking and relationship-building in Japan.

According to the principles of Confucianism - adopted in a modified version in Japan -  the employer comes first and the family comes second (which is actually quite opposite to China where the family is the most important of all). Does such an approach make working in Japan much different from working in Europe?  

Instead of pondering on the employer and the family position I would draw more attention to the fact that - in contrast to the individualistic Western culture - Asian cultures, including Japanese, are collective cultures in which the welfare of the group is of the greatest importance. Work is not a one-sided relationship in which the average Japanese devotes himself/herself to the company. Equally strong emphasis is placed on the company's responsibility towards its employees and their families. And while some changes are already visible, a life-long relationship with one employer is still a common model. But are we so different? Until recently, the employer-employee relation in Poland was quite similar, wasn’t it?

Are there any cultural or technological elements that can exclude us Europeans in this society? Maybe the poor level of English among the Japanese?

I honestly can’t think of anything that could exclude us. The language barrier is a huge challenge but we are dealing with it quite well. The cultural barrier is much harder to overcome, but we are doing our best organizing workshops and sensitizing our team to cultural differences. 

When it comes to everyday aspects of living in Japan - we are doing just fine. There are signs both in Japanese and in English and the navigation apps work not only on the surface but also in the maze of underground corridors. The communication works very well. Every major station has bars and restaurants. Convenience stores where you can buy and heat up your food are usually within a walking distance. 

Comarch Telco OSS has its representatives in so many places of the world that there is virtually no obstacle we can’t overcome. As long as our partners and our team members have a common mission and we both want to make telecommunication network management easier there will be no barriers for us, only interesting cultural differences. 

To finish with, just one more quick question. Which direction are you planning to take now?

In the Telco OSS sector we have projects all over the world. The recent production launches have involved not only Japan, but also in Europe, the United States and the Middle East. Our sector is geographically diversified. I hope that in the coming years the list of operators who have chosen Comarch solutions will continue to grow, and that we will mark new points on the map of our global presence.

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