Digital workplace

It’s easy to say “smart working”

What is the difference between agile working, smart working, remote working? These terms all refer to ways of working that do not require the physical presence of the employee in the office, but how do they work? We at Hermes encourage all forms of ‘agile working’, so let’s try to shed some light on the differences and advantages of each of these modes.

The pre-pandemic situation in Italy

There is probably no need to emphasise how much, from 2020 onwards, ‘smart working’ (understood here as an omni inclusive term for all the various nuances of working away from the company headquarters) has changed and disrupted the lives of workers and companies, garnering a plebiscite of consensus and – against all odds – often productivity increases of even 15-20%.

What perhaps not everyone knows, however, is that the wave of change was already coming well before the 2020 crisis, as witnessed by the EU Laws created ad hoc as early as 2017 Law no. 81/2017) and even earlier as far back as 2004 (Law on Teleworking), due to the need to regulate these new types of completely remote or hybrid labour relations.

Needless to say also that not all jobs are suitable for the new remote modes, but at the peak of the pandemic crisis, there were more than 4.5 million smartworkers and according to some surveys, more than 90% of the companies that have implemented such measures plan to maintain this organisational model regardless of the needs related to the health emergency.

In fact, Smart Working has proven to be an organisational model capable of bringing considerable benefits across the board, increasing both the productivity of individual resources and rewarding them with a better quality of life and an optimal work-life balance.

No more commuting, goodbye to hours spent in traffic and looking for parking, and considerable cost savings have in fact led to an increase in the average salary, to the extent that many used to spend up to 15/20% of their pay packet on expenses that they no longer have to incur.

Not to mention the priceless advantage of switching off the PC and being immediately available and ready to tackle the myriad tasks of daily life.

Especially those who have small children, elderly people to look after, or simply pets, have seen an increase in their quality of life that they would perhaps never have imagined before, such as the luxury of getting off work at 6 p.m., being at the supermarket next door at 6.10 p.m., and having completed the shopping ‘task’ at 6.30 p.m.

Until recently, having such freedom was a dream for many, because at best leaving the office at 6 p.m. meant a long journey on the metro or even worse by car, arriving home around 7 p.m. and doing all the rest of the chores more than an hour behind schedule, which makes all the difference in the world when you are on a tight schedule.

The same thing in the morning, where you had to rush out of bed to avoid the rush hour earlier in the day, with the biting cold of the morning and your eyes still half closed, whereas now you can set the alarm clock just a few minutes before the start of the working day without fear.

Introducing the concept of Smart Work, where possible, means precisely trying to give people (because that’s what we are talking about, people and not cold numbers) back their daily lives. As the best US-made motivational phrases go: ‘A happy employee is a loyal and productive employee’, with all the benefits the company can reap.” Some examples of these benefits:

  • If there is a continuous turnover, how much does it cost in terms of time and resources to keep up with the selection of new resources?
  • How much does it cost to redo the training each time to train the new recruits?
  • How much is it worth to have a loyal employee, with a high commitment to the company’s mission and vision, ready to give 110% and always do his best because he really cares about the good of the company?

The problem is that even today the very concept of Smart Working is still unclear, because it is added to the older concept of Teleworking and is confused with that of Agile Working, which for many may be a synonym, but as we shall see is not entirely so.

Smart working does not only mean “being able to work from home”

From a regulatory point of view, smart working, as defined in Italian Law No. 81/2017, is based on organisational flexibility to follow up on a will of the parties who agree on the modalities of working remotely through suitable tools such as PCs, tablets and even the simple smartphone.

It is important to emphasise that remote workers must be guaranteed complete equality of treatment – both economically and in terms of protections, sickness, etc. – with respect to the contracts of their colleagues who instead continue to work at headquarters according to the traditional way.

In the beginning there was Remote Working, the ‘grandfather’ of Smart Working and Agile Working

Although at first glance it may seem like one big category, the main difference between these 3 is the degree of freedom and autonomy of the remote worker.

In remote working (or home working), the worker does nothing more than perform the same and exact tasks that he would have done in the office or at the company headquarters, but in a detached location, which often coincides with his home.

There are, however, some well-defined limits, starting with the workstation, which must be fully compliant and may also be subject to controls by the National Institute for Social Security – often provided by the employer – up to the hours, which determine the first main and substantial difference.

Remote working in Italy is strictly regulated by Presidential Decree No 70 of 8 March 1999 (for the public sector) and by the Interconfederal Agreement of 20 January 2004 (for the private sector), and depending on the case may be classified as:

  • ‍Home working: when the worker has his workstation at home;‍
  • Mobile working: when the worker needs to carry out the work activity on the move and in different places all the time;‍
  • Remote working: when the worker is authorised to work at one of several “satellite” locations other than the central location;‍
  • Office-to-office teleworking: where the worker is part of a work group with members scattered throughout the world and with whom he/she collaborates via an Internet connection;‍
  • Digital working: when the enterprise operates entirely (or almost entirely) online.

The home worker may therefore perform his work remotely, but he must strictly observe the company timetable as if he were on the premises without exception, indicating precisely the place where the activity is to be performed, which must be one and the same, as a substitute for the company one.

Consider, for example, the case of a call center operator, who must clock in and start his shift absolutely at X hour, end at Y hour and has a lunch break of a few minutes fixed by contract.

In the meantime, he can also be monitored remotely by means of tracking systems. In fact, there is special software that, for example, takes a screenshot and a photo via a webcam every few minutes, in a random manner to allow the employer to carry out spot checks on the actual presence and productivity of his employees.

It is therefore clear that home working only shares the benefits in terms of cost and time savings due to the lack of travel, but does not even come close to the philosophy behind a truly smart or agile working methodology.

Smart Working and Agile Working, the evolution of Home Working

Smart Working and Agile Working thus represent an attempt to improve the concept of Home Working, combining simple remote working with a new managerial vision, which is based on flexibility (in terms of the times, places and tools used for performance) and the empowerment of individuals (thus with an approach based on achieving objectives).

The very concept of ‘smart’ and ‘agile’ implies a new philosophy that cares more about substance than form. Companies that embrace this change send a clear message to their employees that it is no longer important ‘when’ or ‘where’ you work, as long as you are able to play your part and achieve personal and team goals.

‍In Agile Working, another variable also comes into play, which is ‘how much’ to work, because in fact the resource is left not only with the autonomy to manage the distribution of the workload, but also to manage the amount of work, as long as he or she is then able to keep to the schedule of tasks and the project on which he or she is working.

It should be pointed out that while home working is set up to be carried out solely and rigidly in the designated location, Smart and Agile working is more flexible and liquid as a way of working.

Usually in the job contracts that envisage Smart Working, it is indicated by default that a part – albeit minimal – of the monthly amount of hours must be carried out at the company’s premises, while those who work according to the Agile methodology leave a little more room for the individual’s freedom, because in fact it is indicated that it is necessary and obligatory to go in person to the office only for essential events or meetings considered decisive, leaving full freedom for the rest of the planned activities.

‍In this sense, Agile working takes a step beyond the Smart concept, because it is firmly based on the ability of individuals to be disciplined, aware and self-managing as members within a team.

It is no coincidence that one of the most successful frameworks related to the concept of Agile methodology is SCRUM, a term derived from Rugby, which is probably the team sport par excellence and evokes precisely the image of a united team advancing towards the goal (the final objective).

In Italy, the regulatory effort to try to better frame this type of relationship has taken the form of various updates, starting with Law No. 81 of 22 May 2017 (known precisely as the “Law on Agile Work”) and then continued with the various Decrees that have regulated, defined and incentivised the use of working arrangements that do not oblige the physical presence of the worker unless strictly necessary.

Among the fixed points indicated by the law are the need for a written agreement agreed between employer and employee to define the validity and terms of performance of work outside company premises, the duration of the agreement, respect for rest time and the right to disconnection, and more.

In fact, it is fundamental to ensure equal economic and regulatory treatment (Smart Working is an advantage for both the worker and the company) and obviously all the protections related to health and safety.

Now that Smart Working is no longer a necessity dictated by emergency reasons, what is the future ahead?

In the next article, we will take an in-depth look at the evolution and state of the art with respect to the adoption of new ‘smart’ working models, highlighting above all the characteristics, advantages and benefits of the Agile philosophy and how, if exploited properly, it can improve both the lives of individual talents and the performance of the entire work team.

Iscriviti alla newsletter di Hermes, segui le esperienze dei talenti con le ali e scopri come trarne vantaggi per la tua azienda.