Smart Working: a Shared Goal for Workers and Companies – Part 1

Remote working is one of the essential tools identified by the government to implement containment measures during the Covid pandemic. In this first part of the article we shall examine its implementation, benefits and limitations

The widespread experience of agile working has been implemented with extraordinary arrangements, favouring a considerable decrease in the risk of exposure to the virus for a large segment of the population. It has in fact created a new scenario in the work environment, even in contexts where it was considered unlikely, or even impossible, to work remotely. Combining the new need to reconcile health and the need to continue producing, it has been found that by improving organisational processes there is the possibility of containing some costs for both the company and the employee, increasing productivity while respecting work and family life.

Company contracts are the most common source of regulation for smart working.
Company contracts are the most common source of regulation for smart working.

What is agile working and how does it work?

“Agile working” is defined by legislation as the organisation of work based on a combination of flexibility, autonomy and collaboration, which does not necessarily require workers to be present at the normal workplace or in another predetermined place, and allows them to manage their own working hours, while ensuring compliance with the maximum number of daily and weekly hours set out by law and collective agreements. The trend towards smart working is now evident: in the United States it is estimated that 20% of working hours have been shifted permanently from offices to homes. In Italy, at the end of the emergency, the Milan Polytechnic predicts that agile workers will be just under a third of employees: 5.35 million out of a total of 18. Each will work at home 2.7 days a week. A number of national contracts (especially those for the food and telecommunications industries) offer general guidelines for the use of smart working, although these are referred to company agreements for further details and additions relating to implementation. In general, company contracts are the most common source of regulation for this new form of work, which, due to its variability and the need for flexibility, requires adaptation to the specific production methods and context of the various workplaces. To emphasise the experimental nature of the choices made in this area, periodic checks are also envisaged between the parties, to assess the pros and cons of the experiment: analysing whether and to what extent the positive aspects of remote working, often mentioned in the agreements, have materialised (improvements in the company climate, trust and responsibility in working relations, reduction in absenteeism and transport costs, better reconciliation of work and personal life, etc.) and to see what the negative impacts have been, for example on employee stress, on women’s work, on pay and so on.

In terms of safety, the reference point provided by the working environment is missing.
In terms of safety, the reference point provided by the working environment is missing.

Limits and methods of application

In principle, no employee is excluded from agile working. It is therefore up to the employer to define the activities that are compatible with agile working and to take into account the needs of workers who wish to have access to this form of work. This access must not, however, discriminate against employees working in different forms such as permanent or fixed-term employees. Smart working is regulated by Law 81 of 2017, which first of all requires an individual written agreement between employee and employer. The agreement will regulate the “forms of exercise of the employer’s executive power”, clarify which tools are used by the employee, identify rest times and also the technical and organisational measures necessary to ensure disconnection. The employer shall guarantee the health and safety of the worker who performs agile work, and to this end shall provide the worker and the workers’ safety representative, at least once a year, with a written statement identifying the general risks and the specific risks associated with the particular mode of execution of the employment relationship. The worker, in turn, is obliged to cooperate in the implementation of the prevention measures prepared by the employer to address the risks associated with the performance of the service outside the company premises.

Periodic reviews between the parties are needed to assess the pros and cons.
Periodic reviews between the parties are needed to assess the pros and cons.

How is it possible to work remotely?

Remote working is possible in different ways. Agile working (smart working) is a method of implementing the employment relationship which is essentially based on an obligation to achieve results implemented by means of a written agreement between the parties (employer and employee). This agreement governs the fulfilment of the performance outside the company’s premises, the exercise of managerial power, working tools, rest periods and so on. Teleworking is a form of remote subordinate work, which affects the organisational aspects of the work activity known as productive decentralisation. It should be noted that working from home implies a strong interaction with household activities, the need to organise or create a suitable space, the co-presence of other family members, with a variety of requirements of their own. All of this leads the worker to a forced promiscuity between work and personal life, determined and affected by the established habits of daily life, which induce an excessive confidentiality with the surrounding environment, a confidentiality that often results, as statistics show, in a high number of accidents in the home.

Once the emergency is over, workers in Italy will work at home 2.7 days a week.
Once the emergency is over, workers in Italy will work at home 2.7 days a week.

The question of safety in the home

From the safety standpoint, the typical reference to the work environment traditionally based on tools, spaces and schedules aimed at a specific production, and framed in the organisation of work and workers’ behaviour, is missing. The human factor therefore takes on a predominant weight in risk assessment and in the implementation of correct behaviour, which must take into account the involvement and participation of all those who work and act in the home environment. The home can therefore be regarded as a working environment capable of safeguarding the safety of the worker along the lines of what would happen in any conventional working environment. The worker who provides services in agile working mode is entitled to economic and regulatory treatment no less than that generally applied. As regards working time, there is a maximum limit equal to the weekly working time defined by law and by national contracts. Overtime is only paid in rare cases. In the second part of the article we shall examine in greater detail the information provided by the employer and other aspects of smart working which will complete the picture, including the main legislative references.