by Salvatore Trifirò – Il Sole 24 Ore, 01/09/2020
During the 80s in Italy, some enterprising entrepreneurs so-called atypical forms of autonomous work (pony express and door-to-door sales) were created. Holland in the 90s materialised the concept of remote working as a new model of work organisation that was also adopted in other Northern European countries and in Australia. In Italy “smart working” translated literally to English means “intelligent work”. The Legislator has called it “agile work”. Intelligence and agility are, therefore, the common denominator of this new form of work which, due to the health emergency for Covid, has suddenly affected about 8 million workers according to the latest data. It will likely find more and more applications in the enterprise of the future which, with the progress of technology (already seen with 5G) and artificial intelligence, will become increasingly liquid and dematerialised. Remote working gives employees the opportunity to carry out their work partly inside the workplace and partly remotely without a fixed location. Compared to the organisation of employee work based on the stable presence of workers in company premises and on observance of fixed working hours, remote working is a disruptive innovation for the management of human capital.
The work performance of the employee in smart working is based on the digital office, flexibility of the workplace and autonomy in the choice of working hours and places. These are typical characteristics of the self-employment relationship. The employee in agile working, however, unlike self-employed workers, continues to be subject to the managerial and disciplinary power of the employer, maintaining the same rights and duties inherent in his subordinate employment relationship and retaining the same economic conditions. Agile working, if well managed and adapted to the reality of individual companies, can be a tool for them to attract and recruit staff. It is in fact generally perceived by workers as – and in fact constitutes – a condition for improved work performance. This is because it allows them to start their working day while having breakfast at home, to save time spent on the commute from home to work and to combine more working needs with personal ones, thanks to the autonomy and flexibility of working hours. Companies thus have the opportunity to offer an image of modernity and ethical-social sustainability and be more attractive. There may also be significant benefits also in terms of cost reduction, where companies, due to the lower presence of employees in the offices, can reduce and rationalise their spaces, avoiding renting or buying more. Remote working can also contribute to an improvement in efficiency and productivity, as workers are more responsible and results oriented, which occurs in the self-employment relationship. Remote working also gives the opportunity to help employees on the results achieved individually, because everything is delegated to their sense of duty and responsibility. Under this profile, remote working constitutes a real challenge for Human Resources Management in rethinking the dynamics of the work organisation and internal communication, as well as in introducing new methods of evaluating the work of employees. Those are the advantages, however they also constitute its limits.
Remote working in fact, “dematerialises” the workplace and this can result – in the absence of suitable corrective measures – in the risk of a lack of cohesion and confrontation between work colleagues and in the absence of a social company culture. Employees in agile working are exposed to a lack of socialisation, because the working activity is not only a set of tasks to be performed, but is also based on the comparison and exchange of experience and ideas within the company community. Furthermore, companies must rely on – and trust – employees’ sense of self-responsibility. If the work activity done remotely is not well planned or executed, the quality of the work can also be affected. There are, in fact, fewer possibilities to intervene directly and daily in the workplace to verify whether, in the execution of the job, the employees are able to carry out the assigned tasks.
Trust, which is already in itself a cornerstone of every working relationship, acquires even more importance here and those employees who carry out their remote work negligently, can be more easily sanctioned if necessary, also with dismissal for justified subjective reason and in the most serious situations, for just cause. It is here an ethical-disciplinary code of measure could play its part. In the framework of the positives and negatives described above, the regulation of remote working becomes fundamental. In this regard, the legislator (Law March 2, 2002, No. 81) delegates the individual contract between employer and employee. Remote working can only be activated upon the signing of a written individual agreement (however for the entire duration of the health emergency the individual agreement is not required, but it is an exception to the rule). The individual agreement is the most effective way to ensure that remote working adapts to the needs of the parties and it is desirable that everything possible is done to maintain this approach also in the future, avoiding changes to the legislation that can constitute ties that plaster the autonomy of the paragraphs within the individual agreement. In fact, it is possible to establish the methods of execution of the remote work performance, which can be identified case by case on the basis of the concrete needs of the parties and the actual technical-organisational context of the company in which the service is to be provided. Therefore, if used with intelligence, remote working for companies and workers will be able to constitute a great opportunity for relaunch and sustainable work thanks to its agility.