Smart working, apocalyptic and integrated. Towards a new work culture

9-06-2020 | News

smart working

The impact of the emergency COVID-19 it was overwhelming on many aspects of sociality, from the way people interact, to travel, to the way they communicate. But it was particularly so on the organization of work. Changes that until a few weeks before the outbreak of the pandemic would have taken years to reach maturity have accelerated suddenly.

Before the health emergency it smart working it concerned, according to estimates of the Milan Polytechnic Observatory, 570 million workers, the 20% more than the previous year. Figures that grew steadily, but at insignificant rates. It was mainly the large companies that applied it (58%), while the percentage of adoption in SMEs (12%) and public administrations (16%) remained low. Even for smart workers, the use of remote work remained a minority, limited on average to one day a week and mainly reserved for individual work activities.

Agile or "forced" work?

The lockdown has in fact upset this panorama: in the short span of two months the number of Italians who have resorted to remote work has jumped to 8 million. Time optimization, greater work flexibility, better home-office balance. There are many workers who find more advantages than disadvantages in this new condition: second an investigation conducted by the CGIL in collaboration with the Di Vittorio Foundation, people's 60% would like to continue the smart working experience once the emergency is behind them, while only 20% would not want to continue working in this mode.

At the same time, it is widely believed that the current adoption, in an emergency, of remote work is nothing but a forced experiment. Many people were unable to exercise any choice because they were in fact bound to work from home, often without the conditions of autonomy necessary to trigger a more virtuous change. The negative aspects are not lacking: sense of isolation, difficulty in disconnecting and maintaining a balance between private and professional life. For this reason, calls have come from many quarters for a regulation of agile work. The Minister of Labor and Social Policy Nunzia Catalfo in an interview published on Il Sole 24 Ore he said that "in the future, smart working will have to be encouraged and above all adapted in order to balance the request for hourly and organizational flexibility of companies with the legitimate needs of reconciling the work-life balance of employees".

A cultural change

The truth is that, in order for it to unfold its full potential, the change produced by smart working must be deeper than a simple switch at an organizational level: it will be necessary to move from a management oriented towards presence and control to one oriented towards trust, to cooperation, to flexibility and to delegation. As Professor Mariano Corso observes, scientific manager of the PoliMi Smart Working and Cloud Transformation Observatories, companies will have to act on different levers: organizational policies, of course, but also digital technologies, physical layout of the workspaces and leadership style more linked to the culture of workers and their way of experiencing work.

However, it seems difficult to think of going back. The new perspective is that of an increasingly hybrid panorama: the Minister of Public Administration Fabiana Dadone, for example, has announced that it wants to keep between 30 and 40 percent of civil servants in smart working also in the post-Covid. "We abandon the fetish of the tag, the controversy over the wily, and we start to work towards objectives, with daily, weekly, monthly deadlines" he explained speaking of the future of the PA, which the minister imagines "more flexible, dynamic, digitized".

Twitter and Microsoft on opposite sides

In the world there is no shortage of countries that have seized the tragic opportunity of the pandemic to draw positive cues from it and press on the accelerator of change. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern launched the proposal for a four-day working week and other flexible work options, not only to help workers balance work and personal life, but also as an incentive to develop domestic tourism.

According to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at least the half the employees the company in Menlo Park could work remotely by 2030. For this reason, starting from July it announced that it would actively select people for remote work and take measures to start opening remote work also to current employees. It has gone much further Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who has informed company employees that they can freely decide whether to continue working from home even after Covid-19.

Instead, those who spoke out against the current were Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. According to Nadella, if you were to move to work only from home it would be a big problem: "What would happen to people's mental health?" Nadella wondered. "What would happen to connections and group relationship building? At this stage where we are all working remotely, I feel that maybe we are burning part of the share capital that we have built ».

In order for Nadella's gloomy revisions not to take place, it is perhaps necessary that the new organizational methods of the work be sustainable, also from a social point of view. This is an opportunity for experimentation not to be missed in order to reset our habits and consolidate new ways of working that will be valuable, if planned and regulated, in the near future.

Andrea Fasulo

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