Smart working in the days of the coronavirus

Smart working in the days of the coronavirus

The work from home that many companies had to organize quickly when the virus had started spreading at great speed, is not smart. Many of us are simply teleworking. If we confuse these two terms, we risk not appreciating the real and proven benefits of smart working and going back to the odious stamping.

And so, we're all still at home because of coronavirus. We are at home doing a smart work that smart in most cases is not. Companies have actually started it, often in a hurry over a weekend, while economists talk about huge opportunities. Are we sure about this? Because maybe, living it the way we are living it, it could turn into a boomerang, capable even of turning us back and losing the slightest advantage we might have gained today.

Technology is still a limit. We had thought that smart working could transform our lives, and now that we're all doing it a bit (so we like to say, because the verb teleworking sounds bad, but that's what it's really about), we realize that it would take a Copernican revolution, while we're stuck in the industrial revolution. The truth is that many companies have been forced to keep their employees at home to work, but this is not automatically smart working. We are facing a tsunami with a 2-euro umbrella, with mental schemes and tools that belong to 30 years ago. Today, instead of faxing, we send emails, but in many companies, we have gone no further. We are not aware - and this even before the coronavirus - of what is happening and how we are managing it. The pandemic is certainly a shock, but at least it confronts us with the need for change. Today people are simply trying to find a way to work from home: some people don't even have a PC, some people don't have a connection, some people can't access certain files or servers because the files are not in the cloud. There are still many technological limitations.

It's not just a PC and a good Internet connection that make our working from home a real smart working. Smart working, in fact, is a concept and a philosophy of work and is not improvised in a week. It requires preparation, planning, sharing objectives, a new culture of leadership, a reorganization of spaces. It is an organizational revolution that requires a revision of roles, organization charts, tasks and above all, behaviours. It empowers individuals, requires them to relate in a different way, to manage time in a different way, to move on an "entrepreneurial" horizon, where we measure ourselves on objectives and project management. In short, it is not a question of "losing one's practices online from home", it is a question of embracing a completely different way of working.

If work is imposed, it is not smart. On the other hand, many people have at most embraced paper folders, archives and filing cabinets with all the material they needed and brought them home in the past months. Others have taken their work computers and keyboards at the weekend because they are not equipped with a laptop. All were ready to become smart, some from a real desk, some from a corner of the living room, only to discover that the smartest are those who do not have a place and those who are nomads because they migrate from time to time from the kitchen to the sofa during meal preparation. Because working from home cannot be improvised. It also requires a (minimally) dedicated space.

Many of us are teleworking today. Too bad that in the concept of smart working the workplace is not where you go, but what you do. It is also said that the best workplace is no longer a place, because it has become a goal. Are we ready? Not yet, so much so that a large number of people, who do the old telework, these days the office is missing in the end, because for them the workplace is the one, also made of the necessary sociality, the exchange of views and jokes with colleagues. And they also miss it because working from home was not a shared choice. At the basis of agile work is freedom. Freedom to choose to work in the most functional ways, times and places to achieve the objectives. So the forced and prolonged imposition distorts its essence. If you find yourself out of the blue projected into a remote working dynamic, the situation is not necessarily so "smart": undefined processes, unknown or acting out technologies, unfamiliarity with tools. Moreover, the "real" smartworking is never 7 days a week, nor is it the prevailing form of work performance (except for some particular figures). Structures must be prepared, people with the necessary technology must be accompanied. This is the only way to appreciate, on both sides, the extraordinary opportunity offered by this mode. Otherwise you only risk to suffer the negative aspects of working at a distance.

Forced cohabitation at home is not so smart. In short, let's call it smart working when it really is, when parents are not forced to manage their children at the same time, even those who are forced away from school, or elderly people, or the shopping, the chores, the housework, the tasks, which we used to do even before, but in an organized time between leaving and returning home. When we didn't find everyone in the family, including the spouses, in this forced cohabitation, which is not a holiday for anyone, but it also risks becoming a "no time for work". We call what we are experiencing today "teleworking", without confusing it with the smart working that is adopted almost everywhere in the world. However, in this epochal fracture of a "before" and an "after", we cannot fail to seize the opportunity given to us: that at least companies update their operating system, as we do with smartphones.

I will conclude by saying that once working from home every day ends and the workers return to the office, they will experience some simple but radical differences. In many companies, the desks will be spaced out and, where possible, dividers will be mounted to separate the workstations. Another new habit of the Covid era will be that of controlled presences: it is unlikely that the offices that are usually crowded will make everyone return at the same time. It is more likely that they will return in shifts, keeping a very limited number of people in the same space and rotating between colleagues. If the spacing is guaranteed, you will be able to work without the mask, but the use of disinfectant gel and hand washing will be constantly encouraged.

How have you and your language exchange friends experienced these changes in the way you work? Do you prefer to work/study from home or go to the office/school? Don't forget to let us know in the comments.

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer Language Exchange