This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.
Nomikai — drinking parties among co-workers — is a big part of Japanese work culture. It’s where superiors and subordinates mingle at one big table, getting heavily buzzed, sharing personal stories, and making a fool of themselves for entertainment. It’s a chance for colleagues to get to know one another beyond professional work personas and forge camaraderie in the office. Or, it could just be an excuse to get pissed and do a bunch of crazy shit in front of your bosses.
While nomikai can take place at any time of the year, April is an especially popular month for it, as many companies welcome new employees for the new fiscal year. However, the coronavirus pandemic has seen Tokyo and six other prefectures put under a state of emergency until May 6. The government has asked companies to let employees work from home to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Working from home can take a toll on office morale and mingling among employees. To make sure workers don't miss out on an important bonding tradition, some Japanese companies are putting in extra effort to keep the spirit of nomikai alive online.
Gree, one of Japan’s largest mobile gaming companies, is subsidising online nomikai among its employees. Employees can get reimbursed for food and drinks consumed at home during the after-hours video drinking party. All they have to do is keep their receipts and and submit a screenshot of the online nomikai “as a confirmation of team-building,” Nikkei Asian Review reported.
This move is meant to encourage bonding among Gree’s 1,700 telecommuting employees while observing social distancing measures during the coronavirus outbreak, SoraNews24 reported.
The practice of subsidising employees’ after-hours nomikai isn’t exactly new to Gree — it has in the past paid for nomikai to promote interaction among co-workers. However, when employees began to work from home in mid-February, some of them shared that they no longer had the chance to socialise with their colleagues. This prompted the company to expand its subsidies for nomikai, offering employees and temporary staff a monthly budget of 3,000 yen ($27.80) for beverages and snacks even when they're at home. Non-alcoholic drinks are also eligible for subsidies, since the focus is more on the bonding than on the drinking.
Other Japanese companies like internet advertising agency Value Creation and online recruiter MyRefer are also offering similar benefits to employees.
Meanwhile, event organising company Linkbal combined online company bonding with the cherry blossom season by hosting an online hanami (cherry blossom viewing) party for over 30 employees. Participants, who each prepared food, drinks, and cherry blossom decorations for the event, were organised into groups of four to chat about life.
Japanese work culture is notoriously stressful. But amid the added anxieties about the coronavirus, it’s nice to see some companies paying extra attention to social networking in the office. And by that, we mean subsidised after-hours drinking parties.
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