Smart working

Smart working: where are we at in Italy?

On the occasion of the Global Day of Parents, it seems proper to wonder if, and to which extent, projects aimed at improving the work-life balance are taking root in Italy.

Data collected by the Observatory on smart working of Politecnico Milano for 2017 show a generally positive picture, though there has not been a real boom of smart working since law no. 81/2017 came into force.

But let’s figure out what smart working means and what is its impact in figures.

The concept of smart working includes multiple aspects, such as flexibility of working hours and of the place of work, as well as corporate welfare measures aimed at helping working parents or workers involved in some kinds of parental assistance.

According to the data of the Observatory, in 2017 estimated smart workers were 305,000 and 36% of large companies launched structured smart working projects, compared to 30% in 2016.

As concerns SMEs, although 40% of interviewed companies declared that they were not interested in smart working, mainly due to its limited applicability in their organisations, actually 22% of them has smart working projects in place, but only 7% of them implemented such projects through structured initiatives.

In Public Administrations, only 5% of entities is applying structured projects, while 4% is following a more informal approach. Despite such low application of smart working in Public Administrations, interest shown is considerable: 48% of PA entities considers smart working as interesting, while further 8% has already planned initiatives for next year. Only 12% is not interested.

Smart Working is now a reality also in Italy. However, initiatives aimed at reorganizing work radically are still few, since there is still much resistance to change by companies and also by employees.

Yet, economic, social and environmental (in terms of less pollution due to a reduction in travels) benefits deriving from smart working would be remarkable.

Data collected by the Observatory also show that the application of a structured smart working model can lead to an increase in productivity equal to about 15% per each employee, which means Euro 13.7 billion of total benefits at country level. Therefore, an extended implementation of smart working could foster GDP growth by some decimals, thus contributing to the improvement of the country economic situation.

From the perspective of employees, one single day of remote working per week would allow them to save on average 40 hours per year, in terms of travels, and it would also reduce CO2 emissions by 135 kg per year.

Smart working has a positive impact also on the perception employees have of their company, their role and their involvement within the company. In fact, those who benefit from smart working are more satisfied with their job and develop higher digital skills compared to other workers.

Tools and forms of smart working

Obviously, technology is crucial to support the development of such new work patterns. Regardless of the existence of a smart working project, technologies that can support remote working are already widespread in large organisations.

Particularly, those include solutions to improve safety and remote data accessibility from different devices (95%), as well as mobile devices and mobile business apps (82%). Integrated social collaboration services are often available to support collaboration and knowledge sharing (61%), while workspace technologies, which allow a more flexible use of workplaces, thus favouring mobile working within the company premises, are less common (36%).

Besides new work organisation patterns, smart working also includes other benefits more focused on corporate welfare, such as healthcare, allowances for assistance to elderly or non-self-sufficient parents, allowances for children’s education, meal and transport services, meal vouchers and recreational services, and favourable conditions agreed with summer camps and toy libraries during the summer closing of schools, and also contractual welfare solutions, i.e. contributions to supplementary pension schemes and to health insurance funds offered equally to all employees or to those employees having a lower income.

Therefore, such solutions differ from so-called fringe benefits, which are meant only for some categories of employees and are usually related to the achievement of specific results.

A total change in the way of considering facilities and benefits is still far away, but the world of work is opening to different employees remuneration patterns, which are different from ordinary productivity bonuses or increases in salaries, while are more and more involving employees’ private life, which is becoming central for their health and for the productivity of the business.

Sources: Observatory on smart working of Politecnico Milano 2017; “Il futuro del lavoro” by Gianluca Spolverato ed. GueriniNext, June 2017