Promoting workstyles not limited by location: the hidden potential of the "Cloud Postal Receiving Service" in resolving social issues
Developing free workstyles; "atena" solves the issue of how to receive post
The shape of office work was transformed last year.
Due to the risk of COVID-19 infections, there has been a rapid increase in the number of corporations having to switch to remote work. This is due to the increase in the number of businesspersons conducting meetings and negotiations from home.
According to Miwa Watanabe, who belongs to the Community Building Promotion Business Department of general real estate developer Tokyo Tatemono, "Due to the spread of remote work, there is now a greater degree of flexibility regarding workstyles. As a company that provides working environments, we think that offices can play an important role as 'gathering places' for originating innovation and creating new values. However, now that the inefficient workstyle of punching in has very much become unnecessary in the COVID-19 crisis, we felt that this was an issue that needed to be resolved, not only for ourselves but our customers too."
"One of the factors in this issue is the existence of postal items. No matter how much progress is made in remote work, so long as there are clients who post invoices, contract documents and so on, the trouble of physically checking such postal items will arise. In our company, too, even amidst the restrictions placed on commuting due to COVID-19, we have needed employees to come to work to check the post." (Ms. Watanabe)
In 2018, Ms. Watanabe launched "xBridge-Tokyo" - an incubation facility for startups - with a view to developing a hub of ongoing innovative creation in the area of Yaesu, Nihonbashi and Kyobashi on the east side of Tokyo Station, where there is a concentration of various companies ranging from major corporations to startups. Through attracting startups to the Yaesu, Nihonbashi and Kyobashi area, she has "prepared a place" for stimulating open innovation with established major corporations.
However, the situation has entirely changed as a result of COVID-19. With the act of "gathering" itself becoming a risk, the roles and functions of offices have come to be questioned.
"One of the office functions needed by startups was an 'address' to signify the location of the head office and use as a place for corporation registration. Conversely speaking, we thought that providing an office that can resolve the trouble of receiving incoming "postal items" was a good way of supporting more flexible workstyles. Accordingly, we feel that an office that can offer such a solution both during and after the COVID-19 crisis will constitute a certain type of value." (Ms. Watanabe)
The solution to this problem is "atena".
City-wide ease of working honed through utilizing the Cloud Postal Receiving Service
"Cloud Postal Receiving Service"
This concisely describes the atena business model that was launched by N Inc. in May, 2020.
In this service, atena receives incoming postal items on behalf of the client company, and scans and digitizes the surface. The client can confirm this data via the cloud from anywhere. If it wants to "see the contents", it can instruct the atena staff through the cloud screen to open the post and scan the contents for viewing or send the post to a designated location.
"Actually, we conceived this business before the COVID-19 crisis had even occurred." So says Naoki Shirahige, the joint founder of N Inc., which operates atena.
"Until the year before last, I lived in New Zealand while working for Japanese startups and as a freelancer at some time. Although my clients were Japanese companies, I could do my work remotely. However, contract documents and invoices are always sent to an address inside Japan. I knew many people who had family members or colleagues open their postal items and send them on to them in data format." (Mr. Shirahige)
After returning to Japan, I launched atena targeting mainly individual freelancers, etc. who work nomadically inside and outside of Japan. This coincided with the increase in remote work caused by the outbreak and spread of COVID-19, and this resulted in a great deal of attention.
"I had been intending to offer the service to corporate users in the future, however, they were not my initial targets due to a variety of factors including the development of functions, marketing, and the security level. I had initially hoped to provide services to corporate customers after around three years. However, as it turned out, we received more inquiries from corporate clients." (Mr. Shirahige)
Among those was Ms. Watanabe of Tokyo Tatemono. Initially, we talked about providing the atena service for residents of xBridge-Tokyo, however, the future possibilities gradually expanded as we furthered discussions. Coincidentally, Tokyo Tatemono was selected as the representative business operator for the Yaesu, Nihonbashi and Kyobashi area in the "Tokyo Innovation Ecosystem Formation Promotion Support Initiative for FY 2020", and the first step of this was to implement a demonstration test.
"Through having the atena,cloud postal receiving service spread over the entire Yaesu, Nihonbashi and Kyobashi area, the ease of working in the overall community is further enhanced. From the viewpoints of smart city and digital transformation, which will be needed from now on, this was a very interesting service. That led us to seek cooperation from Mr. Shirahige." (Ms. Watanabe)
This is how the first connection was made between Tokyo Tatemono and N Inc. More forceful support for this joint project materialized with the participation of Seiko Epson Corp..
Importance of products to act as a "bridge" or gateway between digital and analog
"We joined thanks to a WeWork online event on the theme of solving social issues, and we empathized with the vision of the "bridge between digital and analog" being aimed for by the atena business model. We ended up working together on service creation." (Mr. Hiroyuki Tsuneyasu, Seiko Epson Corp.)
By providing our resources while linking with other companies, we can realize innovative solutions and resolve new social issues.
For Seiko Epson Corp., which has been pushing forward with this thought in mind, we were convinced that "establishment of workstyles not limited by location" was a field in which we could really display synergy.
"That's because our strength originally lies in products and solutions such as printers and scanners that bridge the analog and digital fields. This proved to be the ideal opportunity to resolve the issue of flexible workstyles, which we had considered for a long time, and also to gain a foothold for cooperating further with N Inc. in the field of digital transformation."(Mr. Tsuneyasu)
In this demonstration test, Seiko Epson Corp. provided its premium model scanner, the "DS-32000". Endowed with a correction feature for ensuring that contents are beautifully reproduced even if they are scanned diagonally, this allowed us to realize fast and accurate work as intended. If you use the delicate (horizontal) paper feed mode, it is possible to clearly read contents without damage even if they are on various types of paper.
Mr. Shirahige speaks especially highly of the feature that responds to overlapping paper and ensures rollers are instantly stopped when paper starts to get jammed. "This sort of fine-tuned craftsmanship has enhanced work efficiency in a variety of areas." (Mr. Shirahige)
Ms. Watanabe of Tokyo Tatemono was also very receptive to the idea of increasing players from the viewpoint of open innovation.
"As more and more different organizations join, opportunities for creating innovation increase, and the breadth of such innovation also grows. Moreover, since we were also planning to apply for the "Tokyo Innovation Ecosystem Formation Promotion Support Initiative for FY 2020" implemented by Tokyo Metropolitan Government, we wanted Seiko Epson Corp. to participate from the viewpoint of supplementing the parts that we couldn't handle by ourselves. (Ms. Watanabe)
Towards a solution beyond digitization that supports data utilization and new workstyles
This is how the three companies joined forces to launch the project called the "Demonstration test for introducing the postal cloud service targeting large corporations and co-working spaces in the Yaesu, Nihonbashi and Kyobashi area".
The initiative is operated by atena, however, Tokyo Tatemono has also actively recruited participation and advertised the worldview and services envisaged by atena within its own organization and among co-working space users. It also created an original manual to ensure that introduction and deployment of the test proceeded smoothly.
The actual demonstration test was implemented over 18 days from November 27, 2020. Primarily targeting Tokyo Tatemono and six other companies utilizing xBridge-Tokyo, the test was well received.
Among the comments made by users, the following have been received: "We have been relieved of the stress of going into the company to pick up postal items"; "Having our post scanned is valuable because it allows us to reduce man-hours"; and "It's a big help having our post scanned so clearly".
"As we furthered the brainstorming with Seiko Epson Corp., we also became aware of the needs for remotely printing and viewing digitized postal items. This was a major viewpoint because, in addition to simply converting postal items into digital data, we consider it important to facilitate the 'utilization' of post by various parties. We hope to accelerate business growth based on this experience." (Mr. Shirahige)
For Seiko Epson Corp. too, this project promised great possibilities.
"Through participating in this project, the feedback of real experience we received from Tokyo Tatemono has been extremely valuable in showing us how we can help resolve social issues. At the same time, by stocking digitized postal items on the cloud, it is possible to read contents in paper and other analog modes whenever and wherever necessary. The project has also given us the opportunity to realize this convenience. We hope that this can pave the way to a solution for supporting so-called new workstyles such as remote work and workcations." (Mr. Akihisa Obara, Seiko Epson Corp.)
The chance meeting of three companies consequently gave rise to the project, initiating the formation of future innovation.
In any case, this project has been instrumental in making Tokyo an easier place to work.
It seems that our workstyles are about to become even more flexible.
Interview: February 2021
Written interview content and names of organization, affiliations, and titles, etc. are as of the time of the interview.