Longer hours but more flexibility: How ‘smart working’ has changed Italy’s work culture

Remote working was widely embraced in Italy for the first time amid the pandemic. But along with the positives have come longer working hours and an inability to switch off from the job, a new study shows.

Working from home, often known as lavoro agile or ‘smart working‘ in Italian, was rare in Italy before the pandemic forced many companies to move their operations online.

With just a few thousand people working from home at the end of 2019, smart working has since “exploded” in Italy – raising new questions about how the nation’s working culture will look in future, according to a study carried out by the Italian Metalworkers’ Federation and the Catholic University of Milan.

READ ALSO: Will Italy really pay you to move to its ‘smart working’ villages?

“Agile work is challenging but allows a flexibility appreciated by workers – now we need more negotiation to get out of the emergency,” said the Federation’s secretary general, Roberto Benaglia.

The survey revealed that over half of respondents (59 percent) complained that their hours now extended beyond what was agreed in their contract, while almost two thirds (61 percent) said they couldn’t disconnect from work at the end of the day.

One in ten said they were suffering from loneliness and a quarter of respondents revealed the relationship with their colleagues is what they “miss a lot”.

Photo: Euan Cameron/Unsplash

Not having a clear divide between work and a personal life hasn’t all been negative, however.

On a scale of one to 10, people scored the flexibility of home working as an 8, with over a quarter (28 percent) saying they don’t want to return to the office at all.

Almost one in six (14 percent) rated smart working positively, because of the opportunity to spend more time with their children, while one in five (21 percent) claim to have had improved concentration.


Some 80 percent of the almost 5,000 respondents said they had never worked from home before the pandemic, but thought the shift in the way Italy is doing business had created new ideas for how to work in the future.

Over half (58 percent) said they would like to work in a hybrid model, spending some days in the office and some days remote working.

How this would work in practice is up for debate: “The experience of the pandemic must now give way to a sustainable and lasting model of agile working, which focuses on skills and generates both capacity for companies, and wellbeing and satisfaction for employees,” stated the Federation.

“These months have been a big test, there is no going back – the challenge is to promote and improve agile working by increasing the degree of control by workers, while maintaining good living conditions,” it added.

READ ALSO: ‘You might not want to stay here, it’s crazy’: What to expect when you work for an Italian company

The findings are based on employees mostly in the aerospace, ICT, software production and automotive sectors in companies based in large cities including Rome, Milan, Turin, Bologna, Genoa and Trieste.

Other emerging figures have also nodded towards a new way of working in Italy in the future.

In a study by Illimity Bank, flexibility came up again as a positive outcome of the ‘smart working’ trend, but the study also found that it had its impacts on mental health.

“After our experiences, we can now say that even psychologically, 100 percent remote working is not a sustainable method for too long,” said the bank’s HR manager Marco Russomando.

“Apart from the difficulty of separating private life and work, working all the time through a screen is not in our nature, which is also expressed through sharing, co-creation and training side by side,” he added.

Russomando said “the right balance” was needed, although how this will be implemented across all companies is unclear.

However, regardless of how employees and companies decide to operate in future, he pointed to results – rather than simply being present – as the real measure of success.

“At last we can experience a new way of working in which people are evaluated on the basis of objectives and not on the basis of the hours they spend in the office, as should be the case in the advanced service sector of a truly modern country,” he added.

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Digital nomad: What are the rules on working remotely from Italy?

Many jobs can now be done from anywhere with only a laptop and a decent wifi connection - but what are the rules if you want to work remotely in Italy for a company back in your home country?

Digital nomad: What are the rules on working remotely from Italy?

Remote work, or even just working from home, was almost unheard of in Italy just a few years ago but that’s all changed since the pandemic.

These days it’s perfectly possible to be physically located in Italy while working remotely for a company based in the UK, the USA or elsewhere. More companies worldwide are open to the idea of remote working, and Italy’s internet connections are (gradually) improving.

So it seems easier than ever before to move abroad and take your existing job or freelance business with you.

But anyone considering doing this will also have to factor in paperwork: namely residency and work permits, and tax status.

What are the rules?

What you need to do depends on where you’re from and how long you intend to be in Italy for. 

If you want to live in Italy longer term, rather than just passing through for a short while, you’ll need to get some paperwork in order.

If you are an EU national, there will be no requirement to obtain a visa or work permit.

However, if you belong in this category you will need an Italian residence permit for stays longer than three months.

READ ALSO: Remote workers: What are your visa options when moving to Italy?

Person working on their laptop in a cafe

The rise in remote working means more people are looking to work temporarily in different countries. Photo: Alizée Baudez, Unsplash

If you’re from a country that doesn’t benefit from EU freedom of movement, you can take advantage of the 90-day rule, which means you can travel to Italy visa-free for up to 90 days in every 180.

See more details on these rules in a separate article here.

This may be enough if you only want to spend a short time in Italy before returning home. However, if you want to stay longer, you’ll most likely need a visa.

What type of visa will you need?

You might have heard the term Digital Nomad, which is usually used to describe someone spending a short time in a country, or moving between various countries while doing some short-term tech-based work – for example bloggers or Instagram influencers.

Italy doesn’t have a specific Digital Nomad visa – at least, not yet. One has been promised in Italy for some time, and was even approved earlier this year – but the process has now stalled and there’s no sign of it becoming available any time soon.

And unfortunately the options available at the moment are not always viable for self-employed freelancers and remote workers, immigration law experts say.

The self-employment visa, or visto per lavoro autonomo, is the permit that most non-EU freelancers would probably expect to apply for when seeking to move to Italy for work. 

But successful applications are rare. So rare, in fact, that Costanza Petreni, a senior immigration consultant at specialist law firm Mazzeschi, says she actively discourages clients from taking this route.

READ ALSO: How many people does Italy grant work permits to every year?

“We have so many clients asking for this type of application, because in the absence of a digital nomad visa there’s almost no other option. But what we tell them is it’s extremely hard and uncertain,” Petreni says.

As well as a low number of work permits available via this route (the limit has been set at 500 per year for the past few years) experts say another problem is the absence of clear guidance from consulates as to exactly what documentation applicants will need.

Here’s a breakdown of the visa options available at the moment for those hoping to work in Italy.

Find more information on the Italian Foreign Ministry’s visa website here, which details the visa requirements that may apply in your circumstances.

Will you need to pay Italian taxes?

This is often an area that trips people up if they work for international clients but live in Italy. Where do the taxes get paid to?

“If you live in Italy, you pay taxes in Italy,” clarifies tax expert Nicolò Bolla who runs Accounting Bolla.

If you’re a resident in Italy, your income will be subject to tax known as ‘Irpef’.

For employees, the employer is also required to pay the social security contributions to Italian Social Security Authority (INPS) – even if the employer is based outside Italy.

Different tax rates apply for freelancers with tax breaks available to new residents – and of course, you’re responsible for paying social security contributions too. 

You’ll need to file an annual tax return in Italy as stipulated by the worldwide taxation principle, which dictates that you must report your worldwide income and therefore file your taxes in the country where you reside.

You shouldn’t be paying your taxes twice, however, according to Italy’s Inland Revenue or tax office (Agenzie delle Entrate).

“Italy has bilateral agreements with many foreign countries to avoid double taxation on income and capital. These agreements establish the range of the power of the two states to set taxes,” to the Italian tax authority’s website says.

Please note that The Local is unable to advise on individual cases. For more information on visa applications, consult the Italian embassy or consulate in your country or an immigration law professional.