Japanese companies are continuing to reduce the use of teleworking after the government downgraded COVID-19 to a lower-risk disease category in May, despite workers' strong demand for remote working, a recent survey showed.

The ratio of workers using the telework system dropped to 22.2 percent, the lowest level since the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country, according to the survey released earlier in the week by Persol Research and Consulting Co., a private think tank.

The think tank collected responses in mid-July from 24,644 workers at companies with 10 or more employees.

In its initial survey conducted in April 2020, when Japan's first COVID state of emergency was declared, the ratio was 27.9 percent, rising as high as 28.5 percent in February 2022.

Photo taken on Sept. 30, 2022, shows Central Japan Railway Co. rental teleworking booths in a waiting room at Nagoya Station for shinkansen bullet train passengers. (Kyodo)

Despite the declining trend, 81.9 percent of those who engage in telework said they want to continue working remotely. The survey stopped short of providing reasons for their desire to keep the work style.

Japan's accelerated shift to teleworking during the pandemic was largely due to the government-led drive to reduce the flow of people and slow the spread of infections.

Although the country's downgrading of COVID-19's legal status on par with the seasonal flu accelerated the trend of employees returning to in-office work, Japanese companies have been reluctant to promote telework compared with companies of other major economies.

Labor market experts have pointed to various reasons for the limited spread of telework in Japan, including persistent concerns about a lack of face-to-face communication, the rigid and hierarchical work culture and slower digital transition in society.

The trend of having workers move away from working remotely is more apparent among companies that saw telework as a temporary measure to prevent coronavirus infection at the workplace rather than work-style reform, said Yuji Kobayashi, a researcher at Persol Research and Consulting.

"Considering workers' demand for telework, what is needed now is offering a flexible work style, not returning completely to in-office work," he said.