Embodying Mercari’s Culture: Behind the Scenes of “Your Choice,” Mercari’s New Work Style Policy
On September 1, 2021, Mercari announced “Your Choice,” a new work style policy that focuses on accommodating employees’ diverse ways of working.
With “Your Choice,” each employee can select the work style that maximizes performance and value for both themselves and their organization. The policy gives employees the freedom to decide whether to work remotely or in the office, what kind of environment to work in, and other working conditions.
Mercari quickly switched to full remote work as COVID-19 began to spread in Japan and trialed a number of different work style policies in the months that followed. A year and a half later, Your Choice was finally officially announced. What happened during that time, and what discussions within the company led up to this announcement?
To find out more, we talked to some of the core members of this project: Tatsuya Mochizuki and Takuya Uchikoshi from the People Experience Team, Mayu Nakatogawa from the Workplace Team, and Ryo Saimaru from the Branding Team (at the time).
As we sat down to start the interview, we couldn’t help but notice a sense of nervousness in the air…
*Face masks were temporarily removed for photos
Featured in this article
Takuya Uchikoshi (@utti)
After entering a social insurance consultant office as a new graduate, Uchikoshi joined a social networking game startup, where he worked on building payroll functions, developing the organization for a second startup phase, and managing the corporate division. In 2018, he joined Mercari, Inc., where he is responsible for system planning, payroll matters across Mercari Group, and ensuring work styles and culture are understood throughout the company.
Tatsuya Mochizuki (@mochizuki)
After working at a foreign financial institution, an entertainment company, and a tech startup, Mochizuki joined Mercari in December 2017. As the manager of the People Experience Team, he is responsible for enhancing the employee experience in Mercari Group by formulating HR strategies, planning HR systems, and other HR/payroll tasks. Currently, he is the owner of Mercari’s new normal work style project. In addition to the new work style policy (Your Choice) and Culture Doc updates, he also helped to add financial support for egg freezing to Mercari’s benefits system Merci Box.
Mayu Nakatogawa (@mayun)
Nakatogawa worked in office design at an interior design agency before moving to JCB as an in-house facility manager. She joined Mercari in 2018 after finding herself drawn to the Culture & Communication (now Workplace) Team’s vision of creating an office workplace that enables employees to embody the company culture. She now drives projects related to everything from office operations to office construction.
Ryo Saimaru (@saimaru)
After graduating university, Saimaru joined Smiles Co., Ltd. (Soup Stock Tokyo), where he was involved in store management and internal branding. After that, he moved to CINRA, Inc., where he worked on corporate hiring PR and company-owned media production as an editor. He joined Mercari in 2018. In Mercari, he is mainly responsible for PR and branding related to hiring and the company organization across Mercari Group. He took advantage of Your Choice to return to his hometown of Fukushima and currently works fully remotely.
The long road to “Your Choice”
ーFirst, congratulations on launching Your Choice! I was going to say you must feel so accomplished, but…you don’t look as happy as I thought you would? (laughs)
@saimaru: Well… Yesterday (the day before the interview), the project team got together again, and we were talking about how the official launch is only the beginning of the work to be done… (laughs)
@mochizuki: With Your Choice, we wanted to leverage the benefits of both in-office work and remote work, rather than choosing one or the other. I think we were able to do that well. But this is really just the beginning, so rather than celebrating the launch, our meeting yesterday turned into a bit of a pep rally to get ourselves ready for all the work that’s yet to come.
@mochizuki trying to put on a smile after being told he looked stressed
@mayun: These days, all the discussion seems to be focused on whether companies allow remote work, but I think that there are benefits of working from the office, too. Many people within Mercari have been talking about how onboarding and team building are better done in person, for example. We want all Mercari members to talk it over and choose what style works best for them.
@saimaru: Before COVID-19, Mercari pretty much required all employees to work from the office, because we wanted everyone to experience our values and culture through being in the office and communicating with other members in person. But as Mercari grew, so did the diversity among employees, and with the pandemic, we realized it was about time to look into new work styles to accommodate more choices.
The project members remain determined to see this project through even after launch
ーI’m sure there was a lot of discussion before the policy was announced. How did you end up deciding on what became Your Choice?
@mochizuki: We switched to working from home (WFH) in February 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and set WFH as a general rule through the end of June 2020. In July, the number of new cases calmed down a bit, so we began a trial run of a new work style policy in line with Mercari’s culture. That was the start of this project.
@utti: After that, the number of cases began to fluctuate again, but calmed down once more in October 2020. We reopened the office in November and implemented a trial run of a policy to give members more work style choices. We had already figured out the benefits of WFH from the trials so far, and we wanted to test the benefits of working from the office. Unfortunately, the number of cases went up again after that, so we weren’t able to continue the trial for as long as we were hoping, but we did identify some benefits of in-office work.
Through this trial, we also received many opinions from employees about how they wanted to work. I remember thinking at the time that taking those opinions and making a decision right away would be somewhat missing the point, though. Shintaro (Shintaro Yamada, Mercari’s CEO) even told us, “Don’t rush this. Take as much time as you need to rationally assess the situation and decide on the best work style. There are a number of different trials happening across Mercari Group, so it’s fine to wait until we see all of the results and decide then, even if it takes until the end of 2021.”
It was clear to us that we needed to determine what we were going to base our work style policy decisions on. To do that, we decided to review Mercari’s shared values and company culture to reground ourselves. That was around February to May of 2021.
Takuya Uchikoshi (@utti)
@mochizuki: We held multiple surveys and open-door sessions (opportunities for everyone in the company to give their opinions), but everyone had different views, and we realized it would be difficult to make a uniform set of rules that everyone would be satisfied with. Rather than taking individual preferences into account, we wanted to come up with a work style policy that would maximize the degree to which members demonstrate Mercari’s shared values and perspectives, like our mission, values, and culture. So first, we started by aligning our understanding of those shared ideas.
ーSo before defining Mercari’s work style policy, you turned your attention to defining the shared values and perspectives that would form the base for the policy.
@utti: That’s right. While we were doing that, @tatsuo (Mercari CHRO), @mochizuki, and I were talking about how we wanted to announce our future work style policy within the company around July or August, assuming that Japan’s vaccination rate would reach a level that we could consider the start of “post-COVID.” That was in June 2021.
@mochizuki: We thought that for HR, this would be the best time to decide on the policy given the state of the pandemic, what other companies were doing, and the results of our work style trials, so we proposed this idea to the execs. There were many employees that wanted us to come to a decision earlier, even as early as 2020, but we were determined to wait for the perfect time, because we thought the timing would be just as important as the policy itself.
ーBut you did more than just formulating the policy, right?
@mochizuki: In the end, we took some time at an exec offsite to hold a discussion regarding the work style policy with the execs and VPs from each company, and we came to a decision there.
@utti: The reaction we got at the offsite was that after about a year of WFH, many of our worries at the beginning turned out to be no big deal, and even the issues that remained with WFH could probably be solved with a little creativity and technology.
@mochizuki: The point that was discussed the most was, did we lose anything by going fully remote? Is there anything that we can’t fix by just having in-person offsites once in a while? We had very good discussions about points like the vague uneasiness people were feeling about not being able to see other people in person or have chance meetings.
Tatsuya Mochizuki (@mochizuki)
ーAnd that’s how you formulated the policy. The key idea behind Your Choice is that it leaves the decision up to each individual. When did you come up with that?
@mochizuki: Our first proposal was to set the Group’s overarching policy to be a hybrid work style and have the details, like how often members are expected to work from the office, determined on a company/division basis. A hybrid work style combining the benefits of in-office work and remote work has many advantages, but there’s one major disadvantage: we would have to handle special cases of people needing to work fully remote. We thought about having VPs be in charge of approving those exceptions for their division.
@utti: But the response was basically “why do we need to approve it in the first place?” (laughs) Each individual is responsible for their own performance and value, so shouldn’t they be responsible for making this decision for themselves? That’s how we got the idea for Your Choice.
@mochizuki: Through the discussion, we came to the conclusion that as long as everyone has the same understanding of Mercari’s mission, values, and culture, we should let employees make the final call on their own work style, even if that means they’ll be working fully remote. I thought our original proposal was pretty Go Bold already, but once the execs started talking about not needing approval and just trusting each team and individual to do what’s best for them, I was seriously impressed. They went even bolder than I could have imagined. (laughs)
@utti: We were talking on Slack while the execs were discussing, and we were just in awe of what was happening. We knew it was going to be big.
@mochizuki: On a side note, the name itself came from @kudotaka (VP of Customer Service) saying that this sounded like an “employee’s choice” policy. We started with that, and after asking around for opinions and advice, we decided to go with “Your Choice.”
Defining the values and culture that make Your Choice possible
ーYou mentioned that employees should make their own choice because they’re responsible for their own performance and value. How did the perception of performance and value change with the COVID-19 pandemic?
@saimaru: After switching to WFH as a general rule in February 2020, we felt that as time went on, members were struggling more and more to ensure the kind of communication and management that everyone needs to embody Mercari’s values. In the surveys we put out, we asked members to tell us whether they felt like they were embodying Mercari’s values in their actions, and some people were answering “no” or “not really.” The overall score wasn’t particularly low, but we could tell that there was room for improvement.
We also asked whether members felt that their sense of unity and belonging to the organization had changed compared to working at the office, and the percentage of members answering that it had changed for the worse was increasing over time. Again, the overall score wasn’t that bad, but we knew that we had to do something, or else it would just keep getting worse.
Ryo Saimaru (@saimaru)
ーSo even after Your Choice launches, you need to keep working on communication and management to bring out everyone’s best performance and value. Can you give us some examples?
@mochizuki: I think that one key to success is going to be onboarding. More and more diverse talent will be joining Mercari as we grow. How can teams help new members adjust to the company and go above and beyond their best performance? How can teams work together to perform well? These are really important questions.
@utti: Right now, our onboarding is constantly changing as we work to find and incorporate the best methods to overcome the difficulty of doing it all online. With Your Choice, it will probably get even more complex and difficult. Rather than leaving it all to the onboarding team, we hope to get team managers involved and work All for One to onboard new members smoothly.
ーYou updated Mercari’s Culture Doc to go along with the announcement of Your Choice. Was this also an important step for the new work style policy to function?
@saimaru: Like I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, almost all Mercari employees worked from the office before COVID-19. We wanted everyone to experience the sense of unity gained by being in the same place, as well as the company vibes and culture that come from it. Thinking back on it now, we were probably placing too much importance on “vibes” without any real understanding of what those actually were.
But in 2018–2019, we reached a stage where more and more members with a wide variety of nationalities, languages, cultures, and backgrounds started joining Mercari. The implicit understanding we were relying on before stopped working, and it was harder and harder to maintain a shared understanding of our culture. We created version 1 of the Culture Doc to put that high-context culture into words.
ーWere employees’ understanding and embodiment of the culture affected by the pandemic?
@utti: Not in a way that was glaringly obvious. But we were concerned that we might start losing our culture as the organization continues to expand in the future. We also felt that our sense of values as a whole had changed significantly due to the pandemic, so we thought it was the right time to update the Culture Doc and create a stronger sense of unity in the organization through our culture.
ーOkay, so that’s why you decided to update the Culture Doc. But what does culture have to do with Your Choice?
@saimaru: When trying to embody the values or perform at your best, there are times when you aren’t sure what to do, right? When everyone comes from different backgrounds, it’s even harder to agree on just one answer. The more diverse the organization, the more important a role our shared set of values (= our culture) plays in helping us make these decisions so we can perform at our best.
@mayun: To give an example, our New Normal survey showed a clear divide between members who wanted to work in the office and members who didn’t. There were cases where the decision to come or not come to the office made it difficult for teams to have constructive communication, even for work purposes. If we had a clear culture to refer to in situations like that, those communication issues probably could have been avoided.
Mayu Nakatogawa (@mayun)
@saimaru: We had put our culture into words with the Culture Doc before, but between the pandemic and the growing diversity of our employees, we needed to revise it to keep it relevant. That update became the Culture Doc (version 3) that we published on our website. Although I should point out that the Culture Doc isn’t meant to be a set of rules everyone has to follow; we leave interpretation of it up to our employees, just as we do with the values. That’s why it doesn’t say “you should” or “you must” anywhere. What’s most important is the explanation of why these things matter, and how we can tie them into discussions. We intentionally left room for interpretation in writing this.
ーHow do you plan to increase understanding and embodiment of the culture throughout the company?
@saimaru: We want to create opportunities for employees to think about it themselves, rather than arbitrarily imposing it on everyone. Ideally, everyone would think about our culture and embody it on their own. I know some companies have teams and even officer positions dedicated to promoting culture. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, of course, but I want Mercari to be an organization where all employees carry the culture themselves. We aren’t the kind of company where you can just pass things off to other people and expect they’ll get done, which is exactly why I want to leave it in the hands of each individual. I think that’s the best way to represent Mercari in our culture.
@utti: When we updated the Culture Doc, we added a “Foundations” section to elaborate on the key approaches and mindsets that form the foundation for our organization. This includes topics like sustainability and well-being for performance. Mercari has always valued creating a circular economy and supporting the mental and physical well-being of our employees, but we hope to promote these topics even more now that they’re written in the Culture Doc.
We also published the Culture Doc on our website, and we want to promote it outside the company so that people can read it and think, “This sounds great. I want to work at Mercari!”.
Facing the pressure as a team
ーNext, I’d like to ask you all to tell us about some challenges you faced in the process.
@mochizuki: You mean failures, right? (laughs)
ーThey weren’t all failures, were they? (laughs) Success stories are fine too!
@mayun: We had a hard time designing the New Normal survey we put out after the pandemic started. We had questions asking employees how often they wanted to work in the office, if they felt a change in sense of belonging to the organization, how they felt their performance had changed… But some members started speculating that we were trying to get rid of WFH. We were trying to gather opinions from a neutral standpoint, but some people thought we were just looking for evidence that working from the office was better. I think we didn’t do a very good job of communicating our intentions to everyone.
@saimaru: For me, it would be the amount of discussions we had with the execs, VPs (on the business side), managers, and members. It was a struggle, but I’m glad we did it. I think we probably talked with more than 800 people in total. “Culture” is kind of an abstract topic, but we focused a lot of resources on it, and a lot of people were involved in the member interviews we created for it.
Interviews with employees about Mercari’s culture
@utti: There was a lot of pressure in the decision-making process, too. We were trying to decide which work style was best for Mercari. But in-office work, remote work, and hybrid work all have their pros and cons, and we had to get all the evidence and information we could to make our decision. We knew this decision would have a major effect on everyone’s lives, so we had to get it right. But that took time, and people were getting impatient seeing other companies make their decisions while Mercari was still running trials. @mochizuki handled most of that. (laughs)
ーWas there anything in particular you did to handle that pressure?
@mochizuki: This was one of Mercari Group’s OKRs for more than a year, so we were feeling that pressure for a long time. (laughs) The main project members held meetings every day. But I’m also really thankful to the execs for encouraging us and giving us the freedom to make this a big project involving the whole company. Their support really helped us get through it. And I swear I’m not just saying that to get a promotion or anything. (laughs)
@saimaru: We had a tough time identifying the culture issues, because it’s not something you can really measure in numbers. You couldn’t tell that anything was wrong by looking at the data; it was really just a feeling. So we knew that something needed to be done, and we proposed things like company events to the execs, but no matter what we suggested, we couldn’t really find anything that felt like it would be the right solution. That was a big struggle for us. (laughs) But that discussion helped us dig deep into our company culture and understand it much better.
ーIt sounds like you went through a lot in the last year and a half… We’re just about out of time, but can I ask each of you to give a few last words to all of our readers?
@mochizuki: I think Mercari is about to enter a phase that’s going to be more fun than ever before. I want all employees to feel that no matter how hard the work gets, they’re excited to work together with everyone in the company.
@utti: I hope that we can work All for One to make Your Choice a success, so that we’ll look back on this a few years down the line and know that we made the right choice at the right time.
@mayun: Through this project, I realized that the perfect office is actually an office that continues to change and adapt to our culture. I’d like to have open discussions with all Mercari employees about the best kind of office to support Your Choice, and I think it’s important to build an environment and relationships where we can have these discussions at any time to help those changes.
@saimaru: I think of Your Choice as the best solution for Mercari as it is now, rather than a perfect answer, and I’m sure it will evolve to meet our needs in the future. Through everyone’s individual choices, I think we can all understand Mercari’s culture better, and with a lot of trial and error, I want to help this become a policy that embodies Mercari even more. I believe that that’s going to be key to achieving our mission.
We couldn’t interview everyone, but there were many more members involved in putting together Your Choice. Congratulations on the launch!
We’re looking for more people to help make Mercari a comfortable work environment for all. If you’re interested, check it out!