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

Longer hours but more flexibility: How 'smart working' has changed Italy's work culture
Photo: Avi Richards on Unsplash
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.

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“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.

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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.

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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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