In Japan, where pets outnumber children, WeWork Cos. is adapting to the lay of the land.
The office-sharing company’s push into the country includes opening a dog-friendly office by June with plans to later offer on-site childcare at other locations. The four properties the company has announced in central Tokyo, which will start opening from February, will also have special rooms for mothers.
“Not only dogs, and not that there’s a parallel, but people in the future will need to bring their kids to the office,” WeWork’s Japan head, Chris Hill, said in an interview. “Part of our global vision is to create workspaces that are conducive to having more mothers and women enter the workforce.”
While pets are already a feature at the startup’s locations from London to New York, they’re unheard of in Japan, where offices tend to be cramped, quiet, and overrun with paper documents.
But it is the focus on childcare that strikes a deeper nerve in a country struggling to provide enough daycare. Facing a labor shortage exacerbated by an aging and shrinking population, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to boost female participation in the workforce. Yet one of the biggest barriers facing new mothers is a lack of facilities.
“We will put funds in place to resolve the urgent problem of childcare waiting lists,” Abe said in November. Recent increases in supply of care facilities are still falling short of demand, particularly in large cities, as the government urges companies to provide more such facilities for workers.
So far that includes Tokyo employees of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and local companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Line Corp., who provide on-site daycare at some of their offices.
WeWork’s first location is opening in Ark Hills in southwest Tokyo on February 1, and Hill expects it to be at full capacity. That will be followed by a site near Tokyo station it created in partnership with Mitsubishi Estate Co. By April, it plans to open an office in the ritzy Ginza area and an entire building in the Shinbashi district, where SoftBank Group Corp. has its headquarters. SoftBank is an investor in WeWork and a partner in the U.S. company’s Japanese expansion.
“Having dogs in offices is something we’ve tried to do everywhere in the world, and we’ve been able to do it successfully,” said Hill. “No one’s ever gotten bitten.”