Vocabolario Lavoro Morning Future
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Trend 2 April Apr 2021 0623 2 April 2021

From smart working to soft skills: a new vocabulary for a changing workplace

These pandemic-pervading months revolutionised the lexicon of work, coining new terms and affording novel nuances to some words. Here are ten words that will leave their mark on the present and the future.

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These pandemic-pervaded months radically revolutionised work-related vocabularies that once seemed nearly intangible, coining new terms and even breathing new life into some words. We are currently looking at an utterly altered workplace lexicon: here are ten terms that will leave their mark on the present and the future.

1. Smartworking: literally working more intelligently and with greater agility, this term has become a household word in the lives of everyone forced to work from home because of the virus. Microsoft has published research indicating that the number of Italian companies using smartworking during these months has risen from 15 percent in 2019 to 77 percent in 2020. A metamorphosis from afar: According to the Milan Polytechnic Observatory, the share of smartworking workers has almost quadrupled from 2013 to 2019, rising from 150,000 to 570,000. For many, this shift may mean that there's no turning back: Smartworking will be permanent for 5.35 million Italians, who will work remotely for a few days a week, mainly in large companies and public administration. Yet what we have seen over these months in most cases is not really smart work, built on objectives to be achieved independently. Rather, we're talking about forced homeworking due to a health emergency.

2. Homeworking: For many, working remotely has simply meant working from home. This paradigm shift for many has led to the development of parallel, equally relevant phenomena such as south working and near working, working from the south (a typically Italian phenomenon) and working in coworking spaces not far from home. Home working (or teleworking) has in fact forced many employees to remain in their homes, which have quickly been transformed into new offices. But once the emergency is over, this sort of remote work will have to be managed and regulated.

3. Distance: During the lockdown months, the whole meaning of distance inevitably changed, and by a lot. All distances have shrunk and thinned thanks to digital tools and experience in teleworking/smartworking. Videocalls are now everyday occurrences. And everybody has benefited, from the workers who have been able to keep their jobs to the companies that have been able to continue producing. However, this has inevitably changed the working spaces of both employees and companies, many of which have opted to move away from their large city offices because they have fewer workers to accommodate. While offices will continue to exist in the future, they will only be places to carry out some work activities, such as briefing meetings, onboarding new hires or negotiations.

4. Time: Much like distance, the concept of time also changed considerably during the months of the pandemic. The flexibility demands of companies have imposed highly pliable hours that go beyond what used to be standard office hours. Research from the San Donato Group reveals that smartworking days last 1 to 3 hours longer, resulting in more meetings, more on-call time and also more stress. Such an approach has often resulted in working hours encroaching on private life, leading to increased burnout cases.

5. Flexibility: The meaning of this term is inextricably linked to the concepts of smartworking and homeworking. The term has been in the labour lexicon since the 1990s, particularly regarding the concepts of pay and protection, but it now covers the entire organisation of work. Flexibility nowadays is mainly tied in with working arrangements and working hours, which many analysts and entrepreneurs predict will become increasingly hybrid. Work will increasingly be partially on-site and partially remote. Offices, in turn, will become places to meet only occasionally.

6. Soft skill: This term has a longstanding place in the labour dictionary, and yet the lockdown has added new meanings. Recruitment in companies is no longer done by looking only at the hard skills of candidates, but also at their soft skills needed to cope with unforeseen events and sudden changes. The set of required soft skills has changed. Diversity and varied experiences are among the first details a recruiter looks out for, in search of new people who can adapt to different situations, especially in times of pandemic and smartworking, without losing skills such as empathy and interpersonal skills. Even from a distance.

7. Empathy: The advent of the pandemic has altered human relations amongst co-workers. Companies increasingly need leaders and figures capable of building better relationships at human and professional levels. This is where empathy comes in, i.e. the ability to understand others beyond normal business communication. While building empathy from a distance is no easy task, it is nevertheless a necessary step to cultivating better working relationships and thus happier and more productive employees.

8. Reskilling: The world of work is changing and so are its demands. This makes it essential to continually refresh oneself and keep up with the times. Reskilling means developing skills that enable an employee to take a different path, a real re-qualification path applied to people and skills. An essential process for workers and companies themselves: while workers can see effective progress in their working environment, the latter have the opportunity to retain their employees while avoiding the risk of losing them to competitors.

9. Upskilling: Not to be confused with reskilling. Upskilling lets employees upgrade their own skills so that they can do their work more efficiently and effectively. Younger generations expect continuous upskilling from companies to see a real leap in quality within the working environment. Companies also benefit from such an arrangement: with workers who are better trained in the latest trends, the company will also be more competitive.

10. Productivity: This has always been a thorny issue for the Italian business world, given the constant decline in all indices. The lockdown, however, seems to have reversed that course. This is shown by the study 'What 12,000 Employees Have to Say about the Future of Remote Work' involving workers in the UK, Germany and Italy before and after the pandemic, which found that 75% of employees found themselves more productive in individual jobs during the lockdown, while the percentage dropped to 51% in group jobs. This is a major challenge for managers in the post-pandemic phase, when some workers will return to work and others will stay at home.

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