Smart working beyond the emergency
In recent weeks, the Government has introduced some simplified procedures for access to smart working (or agile work) provided for in the Prime Ministerial Decree of March 1, 2020 for employees, both public and private, active on the national territory. This is an attempt to counter the spread of the COVID-19 virus and, at the same time, to contain the economic repercussions resulting from the closure of offices.
With the outbreak of the pandemic, about 550 thousand workers were "forced" to work from home, helping to accelerate a growing trend of adoption of smart working recorded since its regulation (Law no. 81/2017). It is also estimated that eight million workers may be involved in various forms of agile work once the emergency is over.
How have companies and their employees reacted to this "forced" work at home?
Even if the data collected so far do not provide an exhaustive picture of the phenomenon, it immediately emerges that companies that had already planned to adopt smart working or started pilot projects, found themselves more prepared for the sudden transition to agile work, while the others had to be quickly "equipped" to ensure continuity in their activities.
For some of these realities and, in particular for Public Administrations and Small and Medium Enterprises, the experimentation of what is regulated as smart working represented an opportunity to evaluate the limits of existing cultural schemes, based on the visibility and presence of employees in the office. This is an emergency change, facilitated by the numerous technological solutions aimed at communication and collaboration in a digital environment, some of which are made available free of charge by companies as part of the initiative “Solidarietà Digitale” promoted by the Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitization. It emerges clearly, however, the need to rethink the adoption of smart working in a strategic way once back to normal, overcoming the contingent approach adopted to deal with the emergency.
Also from the workers' perspective, it would be appropriate to conduct an analysis of the benefits of smart working once the emergency is over and back to normal. In most cases, in fact, we are faced with a sort of "forced" domestic telework, rather than a real smart working: employees cannot decide which days to resort to agile work, they work exclusively at home and, generally, are required to respect pre-established working hours. In addition, although they are verifying the benefits of reducing the time and cost of home-work travel, the state of fear and emotional tension, combined with the prolonged ban on leaving their homes, do not allow an objective evaluation of the experience of working at a distance.
Economic and social research will play an essential role in understanding this phenomenon. What we can expect is that, once back to normal, the eco-system of enterprises will behave as a "complex adaptive system" moving towards "smart" organizational models in which vertical hierarchies and rigid bureaucracy are replaced by more horizontal and informal structures, in a process of change towards agile and irreversible work. In managing the process of change, investments in smart working enabling technologies will not be postponed. However, Human Resources will play a central role to support the necessary changes in management practices (e.g. leadership style) and workers' behaviour (e.g. job autonomy). Last but not least, where possible, it will be important to assess the re-design of workplaces to meet the specific needs of the smart worker (e.g. socialisation needs).
To find out more:
Errichiello L., Pianese T., Adottare lo smart working in azienda: alcune linee guida, in "Spremute digitali", 27 dicembre 2017, <http://www.spremutedigitali.com/adottare-lo-smart-working-in-azienda-linee-guida/>
Luisa Errichiello and Tommasina Pianese have been dealing for many years with organizational changes resulting from the implementation of remote working models, including smart working.
With an analytical process approach, the research combines the perspective of managers and workers to understand the mechanisms of change and the impacts produced at individual, group and organizational level.
They have published numerous articles on smart working in scientific and popular journals, including:
Errichiello L., Pianese T. (2019), Toward a theory on workplaces for smart workers, Facilities, 38 (3/4), pp. 298-315.
Errichiello L., Pianese T. (2018), Smart Work Centers as “creative workspaces” for remote employees, Journal of Experimental Innovation, vol. 2, pp. 14-21. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e453/29674c0b0908eba007b77f1688043511ef95.pdf
Errichiello L., Pianese T. (2016), Organizational Control in the Context of Remote Work Arrangements: a Conceptual Framework, in Widener S., Epstein M., Verbeeten F. (eds), Performance Measurement and Management Control: Contemporary Issues, vol. 31 Series “Studies in Managerial and Financial Accounting”, pp. 273-305, Emerald group Publishing.