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Webinar Recap: The Impact of COVID-19 on Conducting Public Affairs in Japan

More than a month has passed since the Japanese government started lifting the state of emergency. However, while teleworking and flextime were first introduced as emergency measures, these practices have now become firmly entrenched across many businesses. As the threat of the second wave of infections looms, Japanese and global organizations are shifting towards embracing the “new normal” of coexistence with the virus, including fundamental changes to how we work and do business.

Public affairs is no exception. The outbreak has forced us to reconsider how we operate in a world without physical contact. The increased use of digital tools is changing the way we communicate to stakeholders and society as a whole.

APCO’s Tokyo team was fortunate to have leading experts in the field share their insights on conducting public affairs in the COVID-19 era. The virtual panel discussion highlighted opportunities for taking stakeholder engagement online and shed light on the opportunity for the public and private sectors to work together on turning this crisis into an opportunity to improve society. Below are the key takeaways:

Digital engagement can enhance traditional stakeholder outreach

With physical contact reduced to a minimum, maintaining and establishing relationships was considered a critical issue, especially for a culture that values face-to-face communication. However, the past few months have shown that taking existing stakeholder engagement online is not only practical in times of mass social distancing, but can also strengthen and augment traditional ways of outreach and relationship-building. While many still shy away from the camera during online meetings and have yet to accommodate to conducting business in the virtual realm, the much-needed digitization of Japanese corporate culture has been kickstarted by the pandemic and it will only be a matter of time until such practices become normalized.

Virtual meetings can indeed open ways for new forms of building relationships. They can help us overcome physical distances and reach out to stakeholders in different locations. Yuko Kidoguchi, operating officer and head of communications, Bayer Holding Ltd., exemplified this by noting how virtual communications enabled her to better connect to local government stakeholders outside of Tokyo.

Face to face meetings will not go away

Nonetheless, while online modes of communication have prevailed over face-to-face communication in the past few months, all participants agreed that physical meetings will not be rendered obsolete. As summarised by Yoshitaka Sugihara, director of public policy, Netflix Japan, “the integration of virtual and reality is essential.”

Taking calls from home can offer a glimpse into one’s private life and at times reveals the humanness of an otherwise distant and reserved interlocutor. Yet to be able to make such online engagement meaningful, Yoshitaka Sugihara argued that it will still be crucial to secure relationships on a day to day basis. As we transition into the “new normal” that will utilize both virtual and physical communication, how we interact offline will become increasingly important.

This is an opportunity for the private and public sectors to work closer together

The current pandemic environment has accelerated structural and policy changes from the government, but to transform society, change must also be made in the culture and mindset of people. As House of Representative member Karen Makishima (Chief Secretary, Special Committee for the Promotion of Digital Society and Inter-party Diet Members’ League for Digital Society Promotion) noted, moving forwards, the private sector will play a crucial role in policy proposals.

Along with the incorporation of offline and online communication tools, it will become important for private sector actors to frame their respective agendas with respect to the COVID-19 context, in order to appeal to governments, but also to position existing social issues more effectively in the post COVID-19 societal context.

Below watch highlights from the conversation as the panelists share how to best adjust your public affairs work to this new reality.

How are you going to put some of these tips for communications in a time of remote work into action?

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