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‘True balance’: Japan’s quiet telework revolution

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Japan had been slow to embrace teleworking, but since the pandemic forced a re-evaluation, many have come to enjoy their newfound freedom
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Posted far from home for his job at Japanese conglomerate Hitachi, father of two Tsutomu Kojima was “really lonely” until he began working remotely during the pandemic for the first time.

Covid-19 has upended office routines worldwide, but in Japan — where punishing hours and reliance on paper files, ink stamps and fax machines has long been the norm — some say the shake-up was sorely needed.

Pre-pandemic, just nine percent of the Japanese workforce had ever teleworked, compared with 32 percent in the United States and 22 percent in Germany, according to Tokyo-based consultancy firm Nomura Research Institute.

But a quiet revolution in the country’s rigid business culture is underway, with firms working to digitise operations and offer more flexibility to staff who were once expected to stay late, go drinking with the boss and accept far-flung transfers.

Kojima used to live alone in accommodation provided by Hitachi near Tokyo, an hour and a half by bullet train from his family in Nagoya.

Back then he would return only twice a month, but now the 44-year-old works exclusively from home, and says he is more productive and closer to his teenage daughters.

“I have more time to help them with their studies. My youngest told me she hopes things stay like this,” he told AFP.

“I used to feel really lonely” in Tokyo, Kojima said, but he has since realised that “true balance means not giving up on family”.

– Old habits –

Nearly a third of jobs in Japan were done remotely during the first Covid wave in spring 2020, the Japan Productivity Center says, even though the government never imposed strict stay-at-home orders.

The rate has since fallen to 20 percent, but that is still far higher than before the pandemic, according to quarterly surveys by the non-profit organisation.

To encourage telework, the government and some companies made efforts to phase out personalised ink stamps used to certify documents, as well as the ubiquitous fax machine.

Often in Japan, “business has to be done in person, on paper”, habits dating back to the 1970s and 80s, when the Japanese economy was booming, said Hiroshi Ono, a professor at Hitotsubashi University specialising in human resources.

“One of the things Covid has done is bring those barriers down: work doesn’t have to be done at the office, men can work at home,” he told AFP.

Companies are realising that new ways of working can be more efficient, he added.

“Before Covid, it was so important for employees to show that they’re working hard, instead of actually producing results.”

– ‘New balance’ –

Reflecting trends elsewhere, people are also fleeing the big city.

A record number of company headquarters moved out of Tokyo last year, according to Teikoku Databank, while the capital’s population decreased for the first time in 26 years.

Among those who have upped sticks are Kazuki and Shizuka Kimura, who left their cramped Tokyo apartment for a custom-built house near the sea.

The couple now mostly do their jobs in communication and marketing remotely from Fujisawa, southwest of the capital, having struggled to both work from home in Tokyo.

“It was really Covid that made us take this decision,” said Kazuki Kimura, who used to seek out other places to do meetings — at his parents’ home or in cafes, remote-work boxes set up in train stations, and even karaoke booths.

“Sometimes you could hear singing from the booth next door,” which made it difficult to concentrate, recalls the 33-year-old, who is now learning to surf.

Shizuka Kimura, 29, thinks “more and more people are now prioritising their wellbeing, rather than their job”, but questions how quickly things will change on a wider scale.

This is a concern shared by Hiromi Murata, an expert at Recruit Works Institute, who says smaller companies may be slower to adapt to new work styles than big firms like Hitachi, Panasonic or telecoms giant NTT.

Remote work can also pose a problem for training new recruits, because “you learn on the job”, Murata said.

“Before, it was so important to meet in the office… each business must find a new balance, in their own way and time.”

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5 tips for brainstorming with ChatGPT

How to avoid inaccuracy and leverage the full creative reign of ChatGPT

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ChatGPT recruited a staggering 100 million users by January 2023. As software with one of the fastest-growing user bases, we imagine even higher numbers this year. 

It’s not hard to see why. 

Amazon sellers use it to optimize product listings that bring in more sales. Programmers use it to write code. Writers use it to get their creative juices flowing. 

And occasionally, a lawyer might use it to prepare a court filing, only to fail miserably when the judge notices numerous fake cases and citations. 

Which brings us to the fact that ChatGPT was never infallible. It’s best used as a brainstorming tool with a skeptical lens on every output. 

Here are five tips for how businesses can avoid inaccuracy and leverage the full creative reign of generative AI when brainstorming.

  1. Use it as a base

Hootsuite’s marketing VP Billy Jones talked about using ChatGPT as a jumping-off point for his marketing strategy. He shares an example of how he used it to create audience personas for his advertising tactics. 

Would he ask ChatGPT to create audience personas for Hootsuite’s products? Nope, that would present too many gaps where the platform could plug in false assumptions. Instead, Jones asks for demographic data on social media managers in the US — a request easy enough for ChatGPT to gather data on. From there he pairs the output with his own research to create audience personas. 

  1. Ask open-ended questions

You don’t need ChatGPT to tell you yes or no — even if you learn something new, that doesn’t really get your creative juices flowing. Consider the difference: 

  • Does history repeat itself? 
  • What are some examples of history repeating itself in politics in the last decade?

Open-ended questions give you much more opportunity to get inspired and ask questions you may not have thought of. 

  1. Edit your questions as you go

ChatGPT has a wealth of data at its virtual fingertips to examine and interpret before spitting out an answer. Meaning you can narrow down the data for a more focused response with multiple prompts that further tweak its answers. 

For example, you might ask ChatGPT about book recommendations for your book club. Once you get an answer, you could narrow it down by adding another requirement, like specific years of release, topic categories, or mentions by reputable reviewers. Adding context to what you’re looking for will give more nuanced answers.

  1. Gain inspiration from past success

Have an idea you’re unsure about? Ask ChatGPT about successes with a particular strategy or within a particular industry. 

The platform can scour through endless news releases, reports, statistics, and content to find you relatable cases all over the world. Adding the word “adapt” into a prompt can help utilize strategies that have worked in the past and apply them to your question. 

As an example, the prompt, “Adapt sales techniques to effectively navigate virtual selling environments,” can generate new solutions by pulling from how old problems were solved. 

  1. Trust, but verify

You wouldn’t publish the drawing board of a brainstorm session. Similarly, don’t take anything ChatGPT says as truth until you verify it with your own research. 

The University of Waterloo notes that blending curiosity and critical thinking with ChatGPT can help to think through ideas and new angles. But, once the brainstorming is done, it’s time to turn to real research for confirmation.

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Inflation of goods vs. gold: How these costs have changed over time

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SD Bullion charted the changes in gold prices compared to U.S. inflation, using data from the World Gold Council and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Gold has historically played an essential role as a store of value in economies worldwide.

The U.S. dollar used to be backed by gold, meaning money was exchangeable for an amount of the metal. This is known as the gold standard, which the U.S. started to abandon in 1933 during the Great Depression. With the rise of modern monetary policy, other countries followed suit and switched to the fiat currency used now, which is money backed by a government, not a physical asset.

Nowadays, gold is valued as a commodity to invest in, and many people see it as a hedge against high inflation and a safe-haven asset during times of recession or political tensions. Historically, the price tends to increase when inflation becomes high.

Since there is a limited global supply of gold, the metal, known for its luster and corrosion resistance, has earned a reputation as an asset with enduring value. Investors often seek out gold and other tangible commodities to offset the dollar’s weaker buying power when prices of goods and services rise.

While gold has indeed kept its value over time, its link with inflation hasn’t always held up, particularly in recent decades. Gold prices change for many reasons and can be volatile in the short term. Still, many people look to gold as one way to diversify long-term investments.

SD Bullion charted the changes in gold prices compared to U.S. inflation over the last decade, using data from the World Gold Council and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


A dual line chart showing the fluctuations in gold prices compared to steadily increasing U.S. inflation.

SD Bullion

A decade of gold prices

When fiat currencies lose value quickly during inflation, gold has historically become more appealing to investors. However, parts of the past decade followed a somewhat unusual pattern. While inflation increased over those 10 years, the price of gold was in decline in the mid-2010s.

A significant reason behind that drop in gold prices—in contrast with rising inflation—was the 2013 gold crash, when the metal’s price fell 15% in two trading days. Weak sales of gold during the Lunar New Year, rumors of the Central Bank of Cyprus selling gold as part of a bailout, and noticeably high volumes of computerized trading were among the factors that influenced the slump before prices started upward again.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the high-risk atmosphere and low interest rates incentivized investors to switch to gold to safeguard their wealth. The rising demand for gold—partially in reaction to talk of government stimulus, inflation, and economic downturn—made the metal outperform other assets in 2020, the World Gold Council noted. That August, the price of gold hit $2,067.15 per ounce, a record high at the time.

In 2023, gold prices continued to reach new highs amid steep inflation, attributed largely to demand for the metal in emerging markets, according to the World Gold Council. The industry group forecasted that escalating conflict in the Middle East would add to inflation fears, likely raising the price of gold in 2024.

Story editing by Rose Shilling. Copy editing by Tim Bruns.

This story originally appeared on SD Bullion and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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The county receiving the most Small Business Administration loans in each state

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Flippa identified the county in each state where applicants were approved for the most Small Business Administration loan funds per capita in 2023.
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The Small Business Administration backed loans worth $27.5 billion through its primary lending program in 2023—rising well above pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels as government officials aim to stabilize the economy.

Many small businesses get their start and scale up with SBA loans, which increased lending to Black, Latino, and women entrepreneurs in the past few years in step with efforts to become more equitable.

Flippa found the county within each state where applicants were approved for the most SBA loan funds per capita in fiscal year 2023, which ended in September. The analysis was based on the SBA’s most common loan program, known as 7(a) loans. States are listed in alphabetical order.

SBA’s 7(a) program provides extra security to lenders when they loan money to small businesses that might otherwise be considered too risky to grant. Loans can be for up to $5 million, but in 2023, nearly 7 in 10 loans were for amounts of $350,000 or less. Small businesses can use these funds for real estate acquisitions or improvements, working capital, supplies and equipment, and for other business startup or acquisition purposes.

Barriers do still exist for eligibility, including income, credit history, and location, but SBA loans can be fruitful for founders who don’t qualify for conventional business financing. They can also provide protection against high and volatile interest rates, as SBA-backed loans have maximum interest rates that are predictable and often lower than other loans.

All but two of the #1 ranked counties had populations of less than 500,000—most smaller than 100,000. That’s not surprising, as the Census Bureau classifies about 99% of U.S. counties as small. Still, it signifies that these smaller communities are building successful entrepreneurial environments. In most cases, their small businesses are able to succeed beyond those within the major U.S. population centers—at least in terms of success in gaining SBA funding.

Read on to see whether your county was among those receiving the most SBA loans.


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Alabama: Cleburne County

– SBA loan funds approved: $5.6 million (About $375 per resident)
– Number of loans: 5

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Alaska: Sitka Borough

– SBA loan funds approved: $6.1 million (About $716 per resident)
– Number of loans: 4

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Arizona: La Paz County

– SBA loan funds approved: $3.1 million (About $185 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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Arkansas: Lawrence County

– SBA loan funds approved: $8.5 million (About $524 per resident)
– Number of loans: 3

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California: Madera County

– SBA loan funds approved: $29.0 million (About $186 per resident)
– Number of loans: 16

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Colorado: Summit County

– SBA loan funds approved: $20.6 million (About $662 per resident)
– Number of loans: 23

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Connecticut: Hartford County

– SBA loan funds approved: $95.6 million (About $106 per resident)
– Number of loans: 212

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Delaware: New Castle County

– SBA loan funds approved: $49.8 million (About $88 per resident)
– Number of loans: 121

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Florida: Gilchrist County

– SBA loan funds approved: $5.6 million (About $317 per resident)
– Number of loans: 2

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Georgia: McIntosh County

– SBA loan funds approved: $10.0 million (About $888 per resident)
– Number of loans: 3

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Hawaii: Kauai County

– SBA loan funds approved: $4.1 million (About $56 per resident)
– Number of loans: 8

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Idaho: Shoshone County

– SBA loan funds approved: $4.8 million (About $365 per resident)
– Number of loans: 4

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Illinois: Logan County

– SBA loan funds approved: $8.2 million (About $291 per resident)
– Number of loans: 2

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Indiana: Bartholomew County

– SBA loan funds approved: $16.4 million (About $201 per resident)
– Number of loans: 10

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Iowa: Chickasaw County

– SBA loan funds approved: $2.5 million (About $207 per resident)
– Number of loans: 6

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Kansas: Gove County

– SBA loan funds approved: $2.0 million (About $721 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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Kentucky: Owen County

– SBA loan funds approved: $5.1 million (About $456 per resident)
– Number of loans: 2

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Louisiana: Claiborne Parish

– SBA loan funds approved: $6.0 million (About $412 per resident)
– Number of loans: 5

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Maine: Knox County

– SBA loan funds approved: $5.3 million (About $132 per resident)
– Number of loans: 19

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Maryland: Allegany County

– SBA loan funds approved: $6.5 million (About $95 per resident)
– Number of loans: 9

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Massachusetts: Nantucket County

– SBA loan funds approved: $3.3 million (About $240 per resident)
– Number of loans: 8

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Michigan: Keweenaw County

– SBA loan funds approved: $4.3 million (About $2,101 per resident)
– Number of loans: 5

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Minnesota: Marshall County

– SBA loan funds approved: $5.1 million (About $559 per resident)
– Number of loans: 4

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Mississippi: Smith County

– SBA loan funds approved: $7.3 million (About $506 per resident)
– Number of loans: 14

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Missouri: Pettis County

– SBA loan funds approved: $17.4 million (About $406 per resident)
– Number of loans: 9

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Montana: Sweet Grass County

– SBA loan funds approved: $4.8 million (About $1,312 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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Nebraska: Nuckolls County

– SBA loan funds approved: $2.2 million (About $521 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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Nevada: Carson City

– SBA loan funds approved: $13.3 million (About $229 per resident)
– Number of loans: 15

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New Hampshire: Rockingham County

– SBA loan funds approved: $35.3 million (About $113 per resident)
– Number of loans: 117

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New Jersey: Cape May County

– SBA loan funds approved: $26.7 million (About $280 per resident)
– Number of loans: 27

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New Mexico: Torrance County

– SBA loan funds approved: $4.2 million (About $280 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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New York: Essex County

– SBA loan funds approved: $11.5 million (About $306 per resident)
– Number of loans: 8

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North Carolina: Dare County

– SBA loan funds approved: $13.3 million (About $362 per resident)
– Number of loans: 8

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North Dakota: Oliver County

– SBA loan funds approved: $384,000 (About $208 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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Ohio: Putnam County

– SBA loan funds approved: $7.4 million (About $214 per resident)
– Number of loans: 10

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Oklahoma: Craig County

– SBA loan funds approved: $4.4 million (About $311 per resident)
– Number of loans: 2

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Oregon: Wasco County

– SBA loan funds approved: $6.1 million (About $229 per resident)
– Number of loans: 7

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Pennsylvania: Jefferson County

– SBA loan funds approved: $6.8 million (About $153 per resident)
– Number of loans: 8

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Rhode Island: Kent County

– SBA loan funds approved: $14.9 million (About $88 per resident)
– Number of loans: 39

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South Carolina: Jasper County

– SBA loan funds approved: $5.5 million (About $192 per resident)
– Number of loans: 5

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South Dakota: Deuel County

– SBA loan funds approved: $1.5 million (About $341 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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Tennessee: Decatur County

– SBA loan funds approved: $3.0 million (About $262 per resident)
– Number of loans: 2

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Texas: Menard County

– SBA loan funds approved: $1.5 million (About $745 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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Utah: Piute County

– SBA loan funds approved: $1.4 million (About $746 per resident)
– Number of loans: 1

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Vermont: Windham County

– SBA loan funds approved: $9.2 million (About $201 per resident)
– Number of loans: 15

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Virginia: Richmond County

– SBA loan funds approved: $6.9 million (About $777 per resident)
– Number of loans: 22

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Washington: Columbia County

– SBA loan funds approved: $1.3 million (About $331 per resident)
– Number of loans: 3

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West Virginia: Marshall County

– SBA loan funds approved: $5.3 million (About $172 per resident)
– Number of loans: 3

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Wisconsin: Vilas County

– SBA loan funds approved: $13.6 million (About $597 per resident)
– Number of loans: 8

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Wyoming: Sheridan County

– SBA loan funds approved: $13.9 million (About $451 per resident)
– Number of loans: 7

Story editing by Ashleigh Graf. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Michael Flocker.

This story originally appeared on Flippa and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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