The COVID-19 emergency that we are facing today has provided the opportunity for many workers and entrepreneurs to imagine the possibility of a different way of organising work.
Smart Working as a Measure to Prevent Contagion
In fact “Smart Working” (or as they refer to it in Italy – “Agile Work” which is governed by Articles 18 to 23 of Law No. 81/2017) has recently been mentioned in various Decrees issued by the Italian Government during the COVID-19 emergency phase of the pandemic. It has been mentioned as a method of being able to continue to carry out the work performance, as a preference and even at times as compulsory, as a remote service which has proved to be a solution (perhaps the only one possible) to reconcile the limitations due to the lockdown of travel and workplaces with the need to ensure business continuity.
According to a recent report from the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) – 90% of large enterprises (with over 250 employees) and 73% of medium-sized enterprises (between 50 and 249 employees) introduced or extended the possibility for their employees to engage in Smart Working during the emergency period – which is of course still ongoing.
Even Italian small businesses (10-49 employees) saw an increased use of Smart Working by 37.2% – while micro-enterprises (2-9 employees) allowed an estimated 18.3% of their employees to use this innovative working method.
That said, it should be noted that what many have found themselves experiencing, often in an improvised (and forced) way, are basically measures for the prevention of contagion through a form of “Remote Working” (or “Teleworking”). This method of working lacks the characteristics of Smart Working in Italy.
True Smart Working
True Smart Working is, in fact, characterised by the substantial freedom of choice on the part of the employee regarding the times and places of the work performance, as well as by the fact that the activity must be oriented and assessed on the basis of the achievement of production objectives, agreed with by the entrepreneur / employer (and not simply by making the worker available during office hours or by working an 8 hour day).
Therefore it is evident that the development and diffusion of Smart Working beyond the parameters of the current pandemic emergency, will require a radical change in the way the working relationship is established. Therefore, there is a need to overcome the previous model and to introduce new ways of thinking in order to manage remote working groups in addition to identifying specific, measurable, realistic and defined objectives over a certain time period.
The Need for Radical Organisational Change
The introduction of proper Smart Working, as the “new normal” work model, requires the preparation of radical organisational changes, and even more changes to work processes, procedures, and business planning.
This is why, in order to start to move in this direction, it will first be necessary for employers to review their methods for measuring the work performance.
In this line of thought, companies could start by defining what concrete results are – in addition to precise performance indicators as a way of monitoring increases in productivity, profitability, quality, efficiency and innovation. For example, the volume of production compared to employees could be measured – or the turnover per employee, the gross operating margin per product, compliance with delivery times or reduction in processing times – as by way of example. This would entail the need for a radical change by employers, also in reference to methods of control and verification of the work activity.
Another point to consider is that the remuneration system would also require a radical revision. On this front it would tend in the direction of a reduction in fixed remuneration in favour of an increase in the variable components of remuneration to be linked to the achievement of the objectives.
Furthermore, it would also be essential to provide, through agreements (individual and / or collective), a reward system for productivity (which also makes use of the tax relief provided for in Italy). In parallel, a sanctioning system would also need to be established which would allow, in case of failure to achieve the results (and in any case of minimum productivity levels) by workers, the possibility of not only revoking Smart Working (in addition, of course, the non-recognition of the premium) but also allow for the application of disciplinary sanctions – including dismissal for poor performance (which would become easier to apply). However, it should be taken into consideration that this last point could be a real obstacle and a possible point of confrontation with Italian trade unions, in particular in reference to civil servants.
Hence, the introduction of Smart Working will require a profound rethinking of the organisation of times, spaces and ways of working in addition to the foundations on which the relationship between an employee and their employer is based.
Advantages and Risks
Knowing how to seize the current opportunity, brought about by the COVID pandemic, to test Smart Working in order to achieve such a reorganisation of work would allow employers to capitalise on the evident advantages that this system entails. For example, a better reconciliation between private life and working life for employees while at the same time benefiting from the reduction of costs and / or the increase in productivity.
Of course, in addition to these possible advantages, there are also potential risks for workers which may emerge – such as workaholics, burnout syndrome and a sense of loneliness. Great attention and care will therefore be needed in redesigning the organisational positions. This will include looking at the content, responsibilities and planning of work activities as well as moves towards less centralisation, less hierarchy in addition to having more roles and mechanisms of horizontal management systems.
In conclusion, the real challenge, which lies in the background with respect to the issue of the sudden pandemic which inspired the use of Smart Working, is to be able to complete a real cultural revolution that introduces a new way of implementing the working relationship between the employee and the employer – in addition to how work is organised.
Are we truly ready to face this challenge?
To read the original article, in Italian, click here.
Written by Angelo Quarto, Partner at LABLAW – Studio Legale
LABLAW will continue to provide you with updates as the situation unfolds in order to ensure you can manage your workforce, and hence. Please do not hesitate to contact us on + 39 02 30 31 11 or at email@example.com if you have any questions. For more information on these articles or any other issues involving labour and employment matters in Italy, please contact Michela Bani (Partner) of LabLaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.lablaw.com.
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