Beyond the emergency, smart working is set to become the standard response to the second wave of Covid-19. Previously a necessity, it is now becoming an ever-more widespread business model. This is especially true among those larger companies which have to manage locations and employees spread across Italy. As the data from ISTAT (Italy's national statistics bureau) show, the phenomenon is prominent in Italy: at the height of the pandemic, 31.4% of workers were able to work from home and 25.1% are still doing so.
Among SMEs, the same figures drop to 21.6% and 16.2% respectively. The prevalent sectors are IT, education, professional activities and services. Other examples are Fincantieri (as a manufacturing company, just 500 out of its 4,500-strong workforce worked remotely), TIM (which provided all its employees working remotely with a laptop and 30% towards the costs of their broadband connection), and Unicredit (which in its individual contracts no longer requires employees to work from home or from a company hub, they just need to be in Italy). All companies are taking care to balance safety, efficiency and innovation. But there will also be an impact on business models, real estate and operating costs.
Mars Italia is well acquainted with the topic. Famous for its eponymous chocolate bars, the company is often cited as the pioneer of smart working in Italy. Introduced ten years ago, this organisation model is now part of the company culture – to such a degree that Mars Italia does not have employees, it has associates. Back in 2009, they did away with clocking in and introduced flexible working hours. Associates have their laptops and iPhones, and the company pays for their connections and data traffic costs. There is no difference between working from home or in the office.
Office space was a (hot) topic at consultancy firm PwC. Having recently moved into the CityLife Tower in Milan, by the third week of April just 20 of its 1,200 employees were in the office. To keep them all connected, PwC increased its use of virtual tools and boosted its technology infrastructure to keep pace with the over 4-4,300 simultaneous connections to its VPN.
In Italy government and unions have begun talks to revise Law 81 of 2017 with a set of rules valid for everyone. In the meantime, companies have been making their own arrangements.
In the food industry, Barilla is a noteworthy example. Back in 2013, the company already ran a trial which allowed around 1,000 employees to work remotely one day a week. This has now been extended to the whole week. At Amazon Italia, employees themselves decide when to go to the office. Should they decide to do that, then they need to remember to register so that office capacity does not exceed 30%. Similar restrictions are in place from Pirelli to Luxottica, who allow just half of their employees to be in the office and even suggest that they get themselves tested before returning.
At Eni, smart working has become permanent. Currently just 15% of their staff have returned to the office out of a total of 15,000 employees. The goal is to reach a maximum of 65%, allowing those who can to work remotely. A similar solution has been adopted by Enel where 14,800 employees are smart working (almost half its 30,000-strong workforce), which could be in prolonged mode (for those who work remotely and occasionally for those who need to be in the office or visit clients) or on an alternating basis (bi-weekly, weekly etc).
Italian companies have made their own arrangements based on best practices and on the legal requirements which extended the simplified agreement until January 2021 (when the state of emergency expires).
From Spain and France to Germany, new laws are being discussed to regulate remote work.
In the meantime, in Europe talks have begun around the right to disconnect. In other words, the possibility to ‘log off’ and to redefine the boundaries between work and private life in front of a monitor. Currently leading the way on the labour market are single agreements, though attempts are being made to redefine the law for the whole of Europe.
In Italy government and unions have begun talks to revise Law 81 of 2017 with a set of rules valid for everyone, which also includes the right to disconnect and the provision of digital tools. The Cinque Stelle (Five Star Movement) has submitted a bill to parliament.
In Spain, for instance, trabajo a distancia has just been regulated: it does not apply to occasional workers (defined as those who perform their job during 30% of their day over a period of three months), is a voluntary scheme (both for employer and employee), and can be rescinded at any time. While in France, the focus on télétravail immediately went hand in hand with the spike in infections. An Odoxa survey published by France Info showed that the French were rather reluctant to work remotely again as a measure to curb the pandemic. At the beginning of October, just one in seven was doing so - a period during which 26% of infections were occurring at work.
Finally, in Germany there are moves to introduce legislation which makes remote working compulsory. After all, according to the latest data from the German labour ministry, 40% of workers would welcome the opportunity to work from home from time to time. However, just 12% of employers can provide this possibility. This gave rise to the idea for a law which allows for a minimum of 24 days agile working for those sectors and roles where it is feasible.