According to a recent PwC study (Smart working and coworking, towards a new model of work)), whereas around 570,000 Italians were smart working in 2019, during the Covid-19 emergency and resulting lockdown agile, flexible work has become a widely used standard. In other words, necessity has brought about a paradigm shift. But before it can come fully into force, it has to be validated.
While Italy was under a state of emergency, the use of smart working was and is still possible in a simplified form, in other words irrespective of any formal agreement. As it still needs to be regulated, the Ministry of Labour has started discussions with employer organisations and trade unions to define a set of standards. So, during this period of transition as Italy awaits new regulations on agile work, companies are already making moves to define a sustainable framework based on the lessons learned pre- and post-lockdown.
From Eni to Enel, from Vodafone to Fastweb, from Google to Microsoft, smart working models abound. "We currently have about 500 smart workers out of a total of 4,500 employees. Clearly, smart working is not possible for everyone in a manufacturing company like ours," explains Carlo Giordani, Deputy Director of Human Resources and Industrial Relations at Fincantieri. The Trieste-based shipbuilder found itself dealing with the emergency while still making every effort to fulfil the orders in progress. “At the height of the emergency, up to 1,700 employees were smart working. It was such a positive experience that on July 17, we signed a 12-month agreement with Union representatives to make it an integral part of the way we work. It is still in the trial phase that will be extended to those workers who are not directly involved in production, or who can access our systems via their laptops or desktops. This voluntary scheme will involve around 2,000 employees based on a schedule which sets a daily maximum of 20% of any office’s staff. In other words, we are giving our employees the chance to smart work one day per week, which could increase to two depending on the nature of their work or if there are times when it is more convenient for them because of a long commute or child care needs,” Giordani explains.
Over the long term, this solution gives employees a better work-life balance and is a way of rationalizing costs and making savings: on energy bills or canteens, and in the foreseeable future, also on office space and real estate. This all depends on convincing decision-makers that this is a valid way forward.
One of the hurdles to the widespread adoption of smart working is the resistance of managers (in 50% of cases). "In recent months, we have organized three workshops together with Milan Polytechnic’s Business School to train managers in working remotely in times of Covid", explains Giordani. "The goal was to train directors and management in a style of leadership that has the capacity to maintain efficiency levels even remotely. However, there are limits for manufacturing companies: with a large number of production workers it is difficult to imagine a widespread adoption of smart working, which could be perceived as a privilege for a certain category rather than a simple way of organizing work. The pandemic helped us clear up this misconception."
In recent months, we have organized three workshops together with Milan Polytechnic’s Business School to train managers in working remotely in times of Covid
But it’s worth the effort. PwC also estimates that productivity increased by 4% among those employees who were smart working and on average they also requested five days less leave, while the impact on GDP could be as high as +1.2%. However, these numbers need to be backed up by companies. Especially where technology is concerned.
"All our employees have been provided with laptops and we will also contribute 30% of the cost for broadband connections and distribute around 10,000 WiFi devices for mobile connection," says Paolo Chiriotti, Head of Planning, Compensation and Recruiting at TIM. “This investment in technology goes hand in hand with a reorganisation of our workplaces. We have undertaken major renovation work to make TIM's offices more comfortable by the end of the year, making our workspaces more flexible and versatile which will enable us to manage the various business activities so that people can come together safely. This is also thanks to new IT devices, technologies and faster connections to support the business."
The telecommunications company has currently introduced smart working for 80% of its employees in Italy (around 36,000) but is already preparing for the second phase: "Starting in mid-October we have a transition period until the end of the year when employees will be able to choose whether to continue with agile work from home or return to the office on a regular basis. We reached an agreement with the trade unions in early August whereby from January, colleagues who work in teams and in shifts (such as customer care) will be able to join the agile work scheme, alternating a week from the office, where we have implemented desk sharing, with a week working from home. On the other hand, those colleagues who work mainly by objectives with a large degree of autonomy and flexible hours will have the opportunity to spend three days in the office and work two days from home. This latter group will also be allowed an additional twelve days of remote work, which they are free to organise based on their personal needs. Another key part of the agreement is the right to switch off, which will allow employees who are smart working to define when they take their breaks according to an agreed set of criteria.”
Smart working is not a revolution, but an evolution in the way we work: from management to employees, the whole organisation is involved
Like TIM, Unicredit is also preparing the second phase for its 27-28,000 employees who are able to smart work. "We are still in emergency mode, which is regulated by government rulings and allows for a simplified form of smart working. In other words, this is still an exceptional phase that all companies are going through. In contrast, in normal circumstances the national collective agreement allows Unicredit Italia Group employees to spend 10 days per month smart working or about two days a week for those workers who have an individual contract", says Emanuele Recchia, Head of Labour Policies, Industrial Relations and Welfare at UniCredit.
Since June, those individual contracts which allow for smart working no longer require workers to be in their own homes or in a company hub – they just have to be in Italy and have a good connection. The bank takes care of everything else, providing laptops and a VPN license for a secure connection. This is an essential package since "there is no turning back from smart working. It’s not a revolution, but an evolution in the way we work: from management to employees, the whole organisation is involved", Recchia confirms.
But how do you make sure productivity stays at required levels? "We do not check whether our employees are connected or not when they are smart working. Strictly controlling our resources clashes with the very concept of agile work. However, we do have a whole host of systems to check productivity and the achievement of sales targets, which were already in place before the lockdown," is Recchia’s reply. Monitoring and regular customer satisfaction surveys are also part and parcel of the system - essential to allow everyone to give their best. Even remotely.