Photo/Illutration A company office in Fukuoka is nearly vacant on Feb. 4 after many of its staff started working from home. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

When I first heard the word "telework," I assumed it denoted some job involving a telephone.

Wrong. Teleworking means working out of one's home or anywhere other than the office of one's employer.

The prefix "tele" is Greek for "far" or "distant."

Thus, a telephone enables the user to speak with someone far away, and a television set provides viewers with images from distant sources.

Teleworking was something I never imagined myself doing. But there again, I was wrong.

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, I have been working out of my home for the past week. It's actually quite doable, since my current job does not require me to chase breaking news and report from the front line.

However, there have been some rough moments, particularly when I urgently needed to consult reference material that I didn't have at home.

I knew exactly where to get the needed item in the office--on the bookshelf next to my desk, or in the company's reference room and so on--but there was nothing I could do about the physical distance that kept them out of ready reach.

I have tried to make do by resorting to online research, but that has its limits. I have been acutely reminded anew of the value of print books.

I also realized, with a twinge, that chatting with my colleagues at work or over lunch in the company cafeteria has helped me immensely in coming up with ideas on what to write in this column.

When it became clear that racking my brains at home alone did no good, I phoned some of them and asked if they'd be good enough to chat with me for a while.

That, for me, was telework par excellence.

In recent years, the business community has come to positively reassess the value of casual conversations among coworkers.

On the understanding that new ideas will be born from exchanges with people in various departments, not a few companies have begun to upgrade their staff "cafes" to encourage mingling.

The pluses and minuses of the growing trend toward teleworking cannot be evaluated in simple black-and-white terms.

With the widespread school closings now, I imagine some people with school-age children are struggling to juggle their telework with family obligations such as getting the kids' meals ready and helping them with their homework.

Their experiences of difficulties and surprising successes may turn out to be an unexpected "legacy" of the coronavirus scare.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 6

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.