SGS Japan

*This article is based on the interview conducted in March 2015; some details may differ at present.

Global Certification Organization's Improvements Create More Work-Friendly Environment

SGS (headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland) is the world's largest inspection and certification organization. It provides certification, inspection, testing, and verification services in countries worldwide. In today's environment, where ensuring product quality and safety and corporate risk management are essential to companies' continued existence, inspection, and certification organizations like SGS play a significant role. Demand for its services is growing even stronger as companies become more global. In keeping with this, the company has expanded its organization and stepped up recruitment in Japan as a result of the growth of its Japanese division, SGS Japan. What's more, since it could no longer expand any further due to the physical limitations of its old office, SGS Japan relocated to a new head office. In this case study, SGS Japan employees provide us with an overview of this little-known certification organization and explain how they created a more work-friendly environment through the process of moving office.

Project Managers

Nobuharu Suzuki

President & Representative Director
SGS Japan


Yuji Takeuchi

Manager, Certification Services Division
SGS Japan


Yusuke Sasaki

Manager, Functional Safety Group
Consumer Testing Services Division
SGS Japan


Kozo Makita

HSE/IT Manager
SGS Japan

case_sgs_05_linetouka (1).jpg

Collaboration Area within Third-floor Office Space

Brief Memo
  1. Certification organizations do more than just review compliance and give their stamp of approval
  2. Playing a crucial role in companies' long-term success by ensuring product quality and safety and enhancing their value
  3. Making sure to have enough space based on a multi-year recruitment plan
  4. Aiming to establish an office environment that facilitates constant communication
  5. Increasing productivity by improving the working environment

Certification organizations do more than just review compliance and give their stamp of approval

From the perspective of companies, increasing product value is an important driver of market development. Certification organizations such as SGS exist in order to help companies obtain customers' trust in their products. SGS has 165 offices around the world, with over 80,000 employees working for it. The subject of this case study, SGS Japan, was opened in 1922 as the organization's Japanese division.

Nobuharu Suzuki: "There are a number of certification organizations worldwide which operate on a global level, and as one of them, our company is engaged in certification work adapted to the different standards in each country. Certification by a third party proves that a product meets the standards and serves as a kind of seal of approval. In addition to this, there is a trend toward companies increasing the value of their brand by promoting their high level of reliability and product quality, which is obtained by applying their own or the industry's standards and rules to their entire supply chain. This trend is expected to grow in future."

Nobuharu Suzuki: "We have a number of competitors, but most of them only do work in the area of certification. At our company, certification is just one of ten business areas in which we work. We perform a broad range of tasks, including inspection, testing, and analysis, in practically every industry. For example, we perform testing and analysis to verify whether various goods intended for consumers meet specifications based on standards and regulations, then submit a report after conducting the tests. As a testing organization, we prove that standards are being met."

Yuji Takeuchi: "In the case of certification, there are two patterns: proving compliance with international standards such as ISO, and proving compliance with the norms of the country, the industry, or the company itself. In order to handle either scenario, it's necessary to know the standards and norms of individual countries. These regulations and norms are also sometimes revised. In order to stay up to date with this kind of information, SGS's global network, which is the biggest in the world, is extremely important."

Yusuke Sasaki: "In addition to the certification business, SGS's global network supports customers in the area of risk management from a variety of perspectives. One example of this is auditing suppliers and inspecting and testing various types of imported and exported manufacturing equipment and products, electrical and electronic products, foodstuffs, textiles, toys, and so on for large-scale overseas plant projects. SGS also helps to improve the technological competitiveness of Japanese companies. We give technical advice, provide certification, and formulate certification norms and standards to ensure safety in Japan's most important industrial fields, such as automatic steering for cars, robots, and medical equipment, which are becoming highly complex and sophisticated. With the advance of technological innovation, SGS's sphere of activity is expanding every day."

Playing a crucial role in companies' long-term success by ensuring product quality and safety and enhancing their value

Takeuchi: "Recently, there have been a number of incidents that have raised concerns about food safety, and the market has become especially sensitive to this in Japan, where consumers have a greater interest in this issue than they did in the past. We examine and certify the entire supply chain, from the farms where produce is sourced to production, distribution, and retail facilities. We provide consumers with peace of mind and safety based on various standards."

Suzuki: "When we talk about the details of our business, the word 'safety' comes up often. The phrase 'managing and reducing risk' is a good way of expressing the substance of what we do."

Due to the importance of quality and safety, which are essential to companies' long-term survival, companies' needs in this area are growing year by year. SGS, therefore, needs a lot of employees and is constantly recruiting new personnel.

Making sure to have enough space based on a multi-year recruitment plan

SGS Japan's previous office was a high-rise building located in Yokohama's Minato Mirai district. But with the number of employees continuing to grow, the company, realizing that it could not add more floor space within the building, decided to consider relocating its head office.

Makita: "Right before the move, the office was cramped and visibly cluttered. What's more, there were few meeting rooms, and there weren't enough spaces where people could gather in groups."

Suzuki: "When you consider our future management strategy, we will continue to be active in recruiting personnel and expanding our workforce. As a result, we thought we should try to secure an office with a lot of floor space, based on our multi-year recruitment plan."

In July 2014, the company began a preliminary survey of potential destinations for relocation.

Makita: "We promptly received information about various buildings from the office brokerage, Sanko Estate. However, it was quite difficult to find candidate buildings that met our conditions. We, therefore, modified our approach and decided to concentrate on a group of buildings where one of our divisions was already leasing space. When we looked into the vacancy situation, we found that we would be able to secure a large floor space there. We then carefully negotiated the conditions."

Suzuki: "The division that was already leasing space there is a chemical laboratory that conducts testing and analysis. There was a lot of time-consuming back and forth between the lab and the head office, which was one of the issues that we wanted to resolve. Besides the physical distance, there was also a psychological distance, and interaction between employees was limited."

The new offices, while not centrally located, are also located within the city of Yokohama, not far from each other. They also offered significant cost benefits. Location-wise, there were no problems.

In September 2014, the leases were signed, and then the discussion of the interior design began. A number of companies were asked to submit bids for the work, and in October, a contractor was chosen.

Makita: "There was only a limited amount of time until we moved in, so we proceeded with a top-down approach to planning rather than creating a large relocation project team drawn from departments across the company."

Suzuki: "In order to obtain office design ideas, we asked two companies with state-of-the-art offices to let us visit them, and we reviewed a considerable amount of material with examples of cutting-edge offices. We also referred to the State-of-the-Art Office Case Studies on Sanko Estate's website."

Aiming to establish an office environment that facilitates constant communication

Sasaki: "My immediate impression after the move was that the new office was indeed much bigger. In my section, we had run out of space because the number of employees had rapidly increased. Now, we have plenty of space and, naturally, it's become easier to move around within the office, so everyone has a smile on their face, and communication has improved. I think this is not just because the new office is more spacious; it's also more relaxing."

Makita: "The old office had become compartmentalized by the department, which created a situation where horizontal collaboration was difficult. With that issue in mind, one of the concepts of the new office was 'creating circulation.' We aimed to establish an environment that would facilitate constant communication."

In order to achieve this, spaces were set up here and there in the new office that was furnished with tables and chairs which did not have fixed positions, so that casual meetings could be held there. As was hoped, communication within the company has become more dynamic. A "refreshment corner" has also been set up. This space provides an environment where people from different departments can easily gather and which can be used not just for eating but also for holding meetings or taking a break.

Takeuchi: "In the old office, people who brought lunch boxes with them had trouble finding a space to eat and had to search for a vacant meeting room or table, but now that we've set up the refreshment corner, they're able to take their time and relax while enjoying their lunch. It also makes it possible to interact with employees from other departments, and I've noticed that communication has improved throughout the company."

Suzuki: "In addition, we decided to use glass for most of the meeting room walls, so that you can tell whether someone is using the room. This feature is also symbolic of our internal transparency."

Below, we explain some of the office's benefits.

3rd Floor

Office Area


The issue of cluttered space has been improved. To achieve this, the partitions that had been used previously were all removed. This measure was also taken in order to reinforce the company's rule that employees should tidy up their documents. President Suzuki's philosophy is that "improving work processes starts with organizing your desk."

Hot Desks


Since employees in the sales and inspection departments are often out of the office, SGS Japan introduced hot desks (i.e., desks not assigned to particular employees) for the first time. Round tables are used to facilitate spontaneous communication among colleagues who don't have the chance to interact with each other every day.

Standing Tables


These are tables inside rooms at which employees have to stand because the chairs have been removed. They are used for holding brief, efficient meetings that get right to the point.

Refreshment Corner


This area has been set up at the midway point of the office's north and south sides. People are free to use it not just for eating lunch but also for taking a break. Employees are also drawn here by the various new vending machines, including an "Office Glico" machine selling snacks and sweets.

Meeting Rooms


Each room's design is accented with a different color, but all the walls are a standard white so that images can be projected onto them.

Collaboration Areas


These are meeting areas located next to the windows. They feature areas for people who want to concentrate on their work and family restaurant-style areas for use by groups. In order to clearly demarcate these areas, the carpeting here is a different color.

5th Floor

Training Rooms


Training room and lobby

Customers are often invited to take part in training, which takes places in these two rooms that can accommodate 36 people. There is a movable partition in the middle. If it is removed in order to connect the two rooms, up to 72 people can be seated. If it's a standing-style meeting, the space is big enough to hold all the company's employees, which provides SGS Japan with an in-house venue where the entire company can assemble, with no need to use an external facility. There is also an adjacent waiting area for the use of training participants.

Administrative Office Area

This is an office area protected by security. It serves as a management area, including the administrative department, HR department, etc. It also houses the president's office and an executive meeting room, which are enclosed in transparent glass.

Increasing productivity by improving the working environment

Finally, let us look at the improvements in the new office in a little more detail.

To begin with, based on difficulties experienced at the old office, the company added some new features to its meeting rooms.


Display Panel on the Meeting Room Door

Makita: "Until now, employees were always scrambling to reserve a meeting room, because there were so few of them. As a result, they were wasting time on making arrangements to use a room. We, therefore, set up a system that makes it possible to make and confirm meeting room reservations using your computer. The system is also linked to display panels on the meeting room doors, which makes it possible to make a reservation directly via the display panel if a room is empty. It no longer requires any effort to make and confirm reservations."

Suzuki: "We've made it possible to call internal five-digit extensions via smartphone from anywhere in Japan. That means less time is wasted dealing with two phones--a smartphone and a landline. We've eliminated landlines entirely for some employees who are often out of the office."

The next issue that needs to be addressed is document management.

Makita: "In the case of our company, since we have quite a lot of important documents such as contracts and inspection materials, no matter what we do, we end up having to keep many hard copies. However, if we continue storing these separately, we will never be able to manage them efficiently as a company, and we will keep needing more and more storage space. We will, therefore, make it possible to reduce our storage space and facilitate information acquisition by combining all our storage areas in one location. And as a secondary effect, we're aiming for this to create new interaction among employees, who will all go to the same place to retrieve documents."

Suzuki: "The first thing is to improve the areas that you can see. Then you eliminate areas that can't be seen. I believe that creates a healthy office environment and leads to improved creativity and productivity."