Towards a conscious management of smart working
How to preserve the delicate balance between private and professional life when work breaks into the home through networked connections? This is a question deeply felt by many smart workers (or "agile workers"). A question all the more acute today, given the condition of "domestic isolation" in which these workers find themselves operating due to the spread of the Coronavirus.
On 11 March 2020, precisely as a result of the spread of the virus, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. The governments of the countries affected by the contagion, in order to protect the safety of the population, have prepared some restrictive regulations that impose first of all the "social distancing".
In this unexpected emergency situation, labour discipline has also entered a new regime. Where possible, in fact, governments have encouraged the adoption of smart working, i.e. a flexible way of working that makes it possible to carry out one's activities "at a distance", connecting to company networks through the use of dedicated technologies (the so-called ICT: Information and Communications Technology).
As a result of these provisions, there has been a growth trend in smart working, as shown by some statistics. In Italy, at the end of 2019, there were about 570 thousand smart workers. A few weeks after the beginning of the pandemic another 555 thousand were added to the calculation. The medium and long term forecasts tell us that 8 million could still follow. This sudden rise of smart working cannot be interpreted, however, as a revolution. It is, rather, the acceleration of a process that had already been underway for some years.
To understand the scope of this process we could start from a basic consideration: recent technological innovations and the widespread use of ICT have contributed, in recent decades, to generate a new social environment. An environment in which the shared space (and, therefore, also the work space) no longer necessarily coincides with a specific place (such as, for example, the workplace).
An eloquent expression of this change is the affirmation of the concept of the smart city: an immense virtual city in which social forums take the place of squares. However, it is precisely those physical places whose dispersion we see today that offer the basis for the development of well-characterized cultures and identities. It is precisely within these places that we develop a system of human relationships. It is precisely in relation to that system of relationships that we define our identity. When, therefore, those places become virtual, our character is also reshaped with consequent states of precariousness, disorientation and alienation.
This sense of alienation is all the more appreciable in work environments where it becomes a source of tension, particularly for smart workers. The latter, deprived of their places of reference (the so-called workplaces), are in fact seized with overwhelming apprehension. That of maintaining uninterrupted contact with their colleagues and employers, finding them in a state of hyper-connection. To this end they are induced to send (and at the same time to receive) media solicitations (e.g. e-mails, instant messages, videoconference requests). If in doing so they intend to demonstrate availability (as well as personality and professionalism), at the same time they also feed a state of concern (the so-called workplace telepressure), which can, in turn, generate falls in concentration, family tensions and loss of productivity. In the most extreme cases, dangerous mechanisms of "path dependence" can also be triggered. These mechanisms, linked to the improper use of technologies, can produce real behavioural traps reinforcing, through their daily repetition, incorrect and harmful organizational routines.
How to avoid these risks?
In this period of emergency, the adoption of appropriate strategies for the effective management of smart working takes absolute priority. Among these, researchers recommend finding the right balance in an adequate degree of connectivity, free of excesses, that allows an effective performance of work while ensuring a balance between professional and private sphere. Researchers therefore recommend that smart working be accompanied by a path of deeper technological awareness: a knowledge of the technologies used is in fact considered fundamental to avert these risks of loss of identity, alienation, dependence, stress. This means, in essence, adapting new technologies to us, incorporating them into our work routines. Not the other way around.
Demarco Daniele, Errichiello Luisa, Quando l’emergenza accende l’innovazione: ICT, smart working e le tensioni della connettività”, in "Spremute digitali", aprile 2020, in: https://www.spremutedigitali.com/ict-smart-working-connettivita/
Daniele Demarco (CNR-ISMed) indaga come l’innovazione tecnologica e la creazione di atmosfere virtuali stanno influenzando la percezione dello spazio e la percezione dell’esperienza.
Luisa Errichiello (CNR-ISMed) è esperta di processi di cambiamento organizzativo legati all’adozione dell’ICT e di modelli di lavoro a distanza, tra cui lo smart working.
Authors of numerous scientific and dissemination articles have published, among others:
Demarco D., 2018, I concetti di spazio e di luogo nell’immaginario occidentale contemporaneo. Per una definizione dell’esperienza nella surmodernità, in Laboratorio dell’ISPF. Rivista elettronica di testi saggi e strumenti, vol. XV, DOI: 10.12862/Lab18DMD, ISSN 1824 9817. http://www.ispf-lab.cnr.it/2018_DMD.pdf
Errichiello L. (2018), Smart working = meno controllo?, settembre su https://www.spremutedigitali.com/smart-working-e-controllo-organizzativo/
Errichiello, L. (2014). The Path Constitution of Technology Artifacts and Organizational Routines: A Morphogenetic Approach. In Academy of Management Proceedings, No. 1, p. 13557Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management.