Third online meeting of the Eurispes Human Capital Lab
Third online meeting of the Eurispes Human Capital Lab
“Remote working and the future of companies”
Tuesday 22 April 2021 at 15.00
Cosmi: Welcome to the Eurispes Workshop on Human Capital’s third meeting. Today, we will discuss a topic close to our hearts: remote working and how companies will change, how life in the office will change, and how relationships and a sense of belonging to the community will change. Remote working that, if done correctly – as our guests will tell us from their own experiences – makes sense; otherwise, it risks causing “uprooting.” I give the floor to the President of Eurispes for a greeting.
Fara: Good afternoon, everyone; I greet with affection Pierpaolo Bombardieri, whom I thank for his availability, as well as the councillors of the Sardinia Region and the Lazio Region, who have honoured us with their presence, and, of course, all the other participants. I would like to congratulate Benedetta Cosmi on her intensive information and involvement activity: this is the third webinar on human capital. This theme will also be central to the thirty-third Italy Report, which we will present in a few days in Rome. We had to “surrender” to Covid this year, a few months later than the traditional date of 30 January. The Report placed a strong emphasis on the themes of work, work organisation, and, most importantly, new jobs. We began a series of meetings a few months ago, which Benedetta Cosmi manages very professionally, and we are obtaining significant testimonies, such as those of today. At the end of this imaginary path that we have imagined, the prospect is to collect all of the interventions in a volume that Rubbettino will publish. We rely heavily on your contribution and experience, and we are doing everything we can to match the participation and quality expressed by our interlocutors. Thank you for your time and consideration; we hope to provide a good service and do a good job.
Cosmi: We asked the UIL general secretary, Pierpaolo Bombardieri, what changes remote working has brought about: positions, critical issues, hopes. What remains essential in the world of work, in companies?
Bombardieri: What critical issues have we discovered, and how can we address them in the future? I’d like to make a premise: what we’ve seen over the last few months is not remote working, but rather home working, because we were all thrown behind a PC, finding makeshift connections, putting together a working system that we had never experienced before, for which many of us were not even prepared and often lacked adequate tools, as a result of the pandemic. During the emergency period, everyone did everything possible to stay connected and work, which had a positive impact. From a strict trade union standpoint, I would describe it as follows: most of the men and women who worked in remote working did so with the tools they had available, personal ones – in an emergency system, everything is fine – not only the tools, but many used their own network, and they contributed by continuing to do their work. One of the first general criticisms I’d like to raise (it’s a topic we’ve addressed and discussed on numerous occasions) is that not everywhere has the same level of connectivity and network availability, which has caused problems among workers and created other inequalities – as if there weren’t enough. It is obvious that, after some time, technological innovation will become, in our opinion, a useful tool for the future. How can we create the possibility of incorporating remote working? When we say ‘nothing will be the same as before,’ we are speaking the truth because the transformations within companies and workplaces will almost certainly not be reversed, and almost nothing will return to the way it was before. Consider how many meetings or seminars have been organised using Internet connections to bring people from all over Italy together. Even when the pandemic is over – which, unfortunately, will not be soon – not everything will return to normal. At this point, we should consider how innovation, in its broadest sense, affects work organisation. The first issue with remote working is its contractualisation. Consider the right to disconnect: in recent months, many people have worked on Saturdays and Sundays; among those who work in multinationals or companies with offices abroad, we have discovered situations in which meetings were held at times that did not always coincide with the average time zone and were not always in the morning or evening, perhaps in the middle of the day. So we are convinced that this is an aspect that needs to be contractualised, and we are discussing it for the private sector – there was a law that needs to be revised in light of what has happened -; we have asked for it, with little response, for the civil service, a sector where managers have been given the power to decide, which we believe is a mistake because we should decide even there. To summarise the argument, when we talk about innovation, we believe that the system we have now (the ability to use technological tools) should cause us to consider how work organisations will change. Do we believe that we can still measure ourselves against the usual issues regarding productivity and competitiveness within a company with a Fordist type of work organisation? Or, on the other hand, do we believe that technology and innovation are tools to be used to improve everyone’s quality of life and productivity? We should try to formulate a general argument about innovation. We have also attempted to discuss it with some amateur associations; we are currently discussing it with President Draghi concerning the Recovery Fund; and we have discussed it in Europe with the Next Generation: on what is the country’s or Europe’s model that we hope for the future. And, in that model, what kind of work do we mean? We would like to see a vision that goes beyond the logic that is often found in politics and looks at what will happen in two months or at the next election; we would like to see a mission that can tell us that there is a different way of using innovation and looking to the future. Starting with innovation, we have highlighted the importance of taking certain variables into account when discussing competitiveness and productivity. We frequently discuss competitiveness, remote working, and how to increase productivity, always referring to competitiveness and productivity in relation to workers’ work. Let us broaden our thinking. When we talk about productivity, we should also talk about contextual productivity: do we live in a country where structural and infrastructural networks can aid productivity growth? We have some reservations about this. If we want to have a country with a different vision, we must invest not only in infrastructure but also in the network and social infrastructure; then, as a trade union organisation, we support the need to pay special attention to equal opportunities and to overcome the inequalities that have grown dramatically in this country. There is a need for a collective acceptance of responsibility that recognises that this country most likely requires infrastructure investments to increase company innovation. The second reason is that if companies are truly interested in innovation (of which remote working is a component), do they invest in it themselves? We have seen many times during this period the government’s choices and the discussions taking place between those who consider themselves protected workers and those who do not; there is this attempt to pit one side of the same coin against the other. Finally, we will discuss the reasoning behind innovation and work. I return to the earlier question about the ability to assess labour productivity and growth. At work, we use innovation in production processes, so let’s do it in a way that overcomes the classic Fordist vision – the number of machines divided by total expenditure – and starts thinking about what the goals are. Can remote working, or the use of innovation, be used to reduce working hours while maintaining equal pay? It is not a provocation, nor is it a revival of the slogan “work less, work more”; rather, it is an attempt to have a mission for the coming years, to understand how these tools can determine new production cycles and new functions for the company while hoping that there has been an overall assessment of the quality of life in recent months.
Cosmi: How often have workers felt the need for flexibility that companies have not been able to organise? What if being connected at different times of day was a worker’s request to which they were still unable to respond? Can’t this request also be taken into account? What do you think?
Bombardieri: I believe it is a good step forward. We’ve been practising it for months. We need to define the rules, and we think that this way of doing work should be contractualised, not to make it more rigid, but to allow those who want to take advantage of it to do so, possibly by reconciling life time with work time. Unfortunately, we have not been able to reflect on this in recent months due to the need to respond to the emergency, which has prevented us from doing so. However, we would like to consider flexibility in a broader sense; we would like it to be linked not only to the use of remote working in a specific sector or company, but also to an overall vision for which everyone assumes the responsibility: the State to invest, the Regions to provide concessions, and the possibility of investing in social infrastructures to achieve a broader goal. It is unquestionably the way to go.
Cosmi: We welcome the Councillor for the Lazio Region, Claudio Di Berardino. From your privileged point of view, from the agreements that have been implemented, and according to your expertise, how has remote working gone?
Di Berardino: The employees, the staff, should be credited for their dedication and perseverance in their work. We are currently pursuing our activities in remote working, or with what we call remote working; we have attempted to work with a work organisation that was previously lacking, and in some ways still is; in this sense, we have attempted to “measure” the quantity of work. We tried to work by providing ourselves with a work organisation that was previously lacking and is still lacking in some ways; in this sense, we attempted to ‘measure’ the quantity of work. It created a slew of issues, particularly during a period of service reorganisation. Then, there is the need for the institution as a whole to regulate, standardise, and contractualise this new employment relationship, taking into account, on the one hand, the need for adequate responses through services that an institution like the Region and public institutions, in general, must provide, and on the other hand the need to safeguard certain worker rights. Among other things, as a Region, we encouraged, assisted, and supported small municipalities, as well as small businesses, to ensure job continuity during the most challenging period of last year. So, to summarise the first section, it is a meaningful experience. Still, we need to start or restart from this experience to achieve, particularly with trade unions, a contractualisation of the new methods and different working times, and production times.
Cosmi: We would like to put the same question to the Councillor of the Region of Sardinia, Alessandra Zedda, whom we welcome. What differences or similarities?
Zedda: Good morning, and thank you for inviting us to participate in this debate. First and foremost, it must be stated that we have unexpectedly developed a new model: remote working, which the public administration was not accustomed to and is still far removed from activities related to product or process innovation. What is left of remote working? First and foremost, there is that moment of incomprehension and decoding of what is going on; there is that problematic transition that is frequently indecipherable. I’d like to focus on a concept related to the activities we deal with, namely the nerve centres and sensitive government sectors that often require what you’ve referred to as “people’s baggage”. Well, there is precisely that quality, that sensitivity that sometimes allows us to solve problems that were ancestral within the structure of the public administration, at any level, in the person’s skill set, in our skills, in the sectors. Suppose we want to trivialise and discuss the infrastructure that Bombardieri was discussing. In that case, we are almost at year zero because people are still complaining about not being able to connect to a VPN after a year, and we ask ourselves, “What have you done in this period if you tell me a year later?”
Cosmi: Who are you asking, Councillor?
Zedda: I’m asking all the employees who tell their manager that they’ve had problems with the VPN after a year. VPN, which sounds like such an ugly word, are the connections that allow us to activate and carry out remote working every day.
Cosmi: What have you done for those municipalities that may have suffered from this backwardness and could not connect, for those areas where, for various reasons, ideological and practical, sometimes the infrastructure has not arrived?
Zedda: Sardinia’s Region has attempted to intervene, but not with remote working. Today, everyone is talking about two major transitions: the ecological transition – which we’ll leave aside for a moment – and the digital transition. The latter is a transition that is also one of the reasons for remote working. Like many other regions in Italy, we still have municipalities that struggle with network coverage, which is why the final process on remote working must begin once all aspects have been assessed: digitalisation is one of these. One of the topics is the intangible infrastructure system, but I would also include the technical infrastructure system, including equipment. We used employees’ personal computers for at least eight months, and some still do. Of course, the programmatic component has been implemented, but with what tools? Have we been able to provide everyone with a laptop as administrators? Have we been able to “infrastructure” our employees’ homes, which have now become workplaces? Is it possible to rationalise zero-cost cuts while failing to recognise which sectors require our presence at work? No one will ever tell you what they think in the ICCs, for example, unless they are directly confronted. It’s not easy to interact behind a keyboard, let alone when you have to intercept the actual needs, wishes, and expectations. I have to communicate with the user and try to direct him or her with job placement or reintegration plan. Having said that, I believe remote working is one of the tools that have allowed us to interact, particularly in Sardinia: imagine how convenient it would be not to have to take a plane and thus be able to do several things at once.
Cosmi: I’d like to pose a question to all three of the first guests. Would you be willing to accept, each in your own role, that flexibility in the company, in the offices, should be individual? As is customary in Italy, we are considering remote working in one piece. Because there is Covid and, as a result, it was easy to think of us as a unicum acting in the same way during this phase, but the individual has his own needs, his requirements, at different times and days. So, are we willing to accept that these flows are no longer all in one block, as they are in this case? Would you accept, Secretary, that in bargaining, at the tables with all the other parties, it would be considered that the worker could go and do smart work in another territory for personal reasons, under acceptable company conditions? Are we prepared for a change of this magnitude, given that the company must, of course, rely on the worker’s dependability?
Bombardieri: In terms of the union, I would say yes. We have already registered cases of this type, and we have many people who have gone abroad during this period because, given the constraints in Italy, they have done smart work elsewhere. This possibility already exists, but we must decide what our goals are. I’ll return to what I said earlier: if the structural conditions are in place – you need to find a location with a network – and if there is a strong desire to achieve the goals, I believe it is possible. To give an example, in the public administration, we proposed that there be a criterion that could be defined as that of services, of efficiency. Hence, instead, to engage in a public debate, the public administration decided to establish a percentage that was the same for everyone. It was, in our opinion, a mistake; remote working should be used in those services and functions where this option provides better results.
Cosmi: I would like to ask the councillors: what do you need so that your regions, your municipalities can become hubs for companies supported by remote working?
Zedda: It would undoubtedly be a sign of evolution in the labour market for Sardinia; there would be opportunities that would also solve socioeconomic problems such as depopulation. For example, many people who work in other parts of Italy have returned to Sardinia to be closer to their families and then stayed, possibly because the island is under siege. Indeed, the infrastructure and the networks are critical. This aspect is vital to me: flexibility is one of the motivators and sources of fulfilment in one’s work because there is that part of self-management that I consider to be creative and important. If the goal is met, it doesn’t matter how many hours it takes, where it is done, or how it is done.
Cosmi: The Lazio Region should have an advantage as far as infrastructure is concerned. What is missing? What can be done to attract talent from around the world, not just from Italy?
Di Berardino: As I previously stated, during the first phase of the closures related to the health and economic emergency, we had already given grants not only to businesses but also to small municipalities – particularly those in inland areas – to ensure that their offices could remain open and services could be provided. Indeed, I believe that this debate is critical for the Lazio Region and the Regions, the country, and Europe overall. The choices for the 2021/2027 European funds are coming to an end, and the Recovery Plan discussion should be completed. Although we have remote working staff in the Region, some activities must be carried out in person. Thus, in the future, we must, of course, complete or continue the process of digitalisation and innovation. These two concrete instruments to which I have referred can provide the economic cover required and helpful in making those investments that will allow the completion of the so-called infrastructure network that we, like other regions, have abundantly started and that needs to be completed, particularly in mountain municipalities and inland areas, so that the process of innovation does not become a process of failure.
Cosmi: I will give the floor to Cristina Tagliabue, co-founder of the association, “Le contemporanee”, which in recent months has been very active on many issues related to gender. After listening to the previous speakers, what would you add?
Tagliabue: I listened to Bombardieri with interest and his speech on the right to disconnect struck me. In recent months, “Le contemporanee” has fought a battle that is also a battle for the Recovery Fund. We essentially demanded the right to social infrastructure. What is the relationship between social infrastructure and remote working? At the moment, my interpretation is that this government appears to be using remote working almost as a tool of reconciliation. There is this vision that, because women stay at home, they must also care for the children as well as everything else in their world: school, distance learning; a situation that can be traced back, for example, to leaving or, in any case, to the obligation to stay at home. We were just discussing the right to disconnect; in this regard, I can provide an example: my sister works at Bosch on a part-time basis, but during this year of remote working, she worked 8/10 hours per day. As a result, the request to build social infrastructure is a critical issue. Consider crèches: if the North has four crèches for every ten children, the South has only half a crèche, one of the factors contributing to female unemployment. Because remote working contains the words “smart” and “working,” it is worth remembering that our goal in Italy should be to reach 62% female employment – that is, a percentage of jobs equal to the European one – and instead, we have one that is approaching those countries at the bottom of the European ranking (Greece, for example). Not to mention southern Italy, which is catching up to Africa in terms of female employment. In addition to the digital transition and the ecological transition that we have discussed, I am convinced that we should introduce a new theme, which is that of social transition. There is, of course, the digital issue, but there is also the issue of freeing up people’s time: remote working should not be a tool that forces people indoors, but rather a condition that frees them up in some way.
Cosmi: The microphone is given to Diego Biasi, CEO and founder of Bipres. What does it mean to protect the world of work, also in the field of communication, and with the remote working mode?
Diego Biasi: Thank you for inviting me. I am happy to talk about our remote working project, which we came up with at the end of a challenging year of great reflection. It must be said straight away that we are facilitated by the fact that we have always been dematerialised. We deal with communication, intangibility and are used to working from home, but we have never formalised working from home. Well, the challenging year we have had led us to launch our remote working project around October. I condense it into the kit, the smart worker’s backpack, which we have made in a rather humorous way: personalised water bottle, notebook, case for storing the computer charger. Joking aside, these are things that are very much appreciated by our employees, whose average age is 32.
Cosmi: This idea of thinking of a “touchable” object seems valuable and meaningful. Is the company (the CEO in this case) concerned about making everyone feel part of the same company?
Diego Biasi: Yes, this is the issue we dealt with last year; at the beginning of the year, before the fateful 24 February when we left our office and never returned – except now to return in other ways – we were concerned to address the issue of remote working, a working condition required especially by young mothers who were beginning to need to combine private and working life. They often asked me, “but what do we do?” “yes, it’s fine to work from home, but sometimes we’d like to come into the office”. The facts overtook the idea of working there: we went to work remotely on 24 February, but (and here I remember Bombardieri’s words) without having sufficient IT equipment. We counted a lot on the workers’ willingness, especially in the first weeks, to give continuity to the company’s activities. As head of the company, I made a list of priorities: first of all, the health of the employees, of all of us; then, business continuity, because work is important and it is important for everyone, not only for the company that makes a profit, but also for those who work and believe passionately in the work they do: in private companies, it is easier to bring out some aspects that are a bit soft, but important, such as passion and commitment. In private companies, it is easier to bring out some aspects that are a bit soft but important, such as passion and commitment. We studied the subject for a few months, and then, in October, we launched our project. We called it “switch”, which means “switch”, because we liked the idea of making a caesura, even with creative games: from desk to laptop, from chair to sofa. In short, this is also a huge opportunity for companies to renegotiate their relationship with work and their workers. I’ll summarise it for you to share the path we took: first of all, we told everyone that the workplace is no longer just the office, that Covid taught us that it could happen overnight that we all find ourselves outside. Well, since we’ve been there for a few months and survived, why not try to take it from there? The place of work is no longer the office, and this has given many people the opportunity to do what I call south working, i.e. to return to their family of origin to work (some have gone to Sardinia, Sicily, Apulia, and others to Lake Maggiore; I, for example, spent many months in Sardinia, where I went for a fortnight and stayed for months). Everyone decides where to work. It is one of the paradigm shifts we have put at the heart of the project. We have given everyone the right to disconnect, from 8 pm to 8 am no more emails, WhatsApp, messaging, no more work; because we all need to recharge our batteries, we all need to take care of our family. What happens from 8 to 20? We work but in a flexible way. We have decided to abandon, for example, the request for leave: there are 12 hours of time, and the employee can manage his 8 hours in such a way as to reconcile his daily life needs. If you need to go out shopping and you are out for two hours, you don’t need to ask for leave, but you can manage your hours and then make it up during the day, or if you can’t make it up, then you ask for leave. This total flexibility is based on a relationship of trust which I find very useful if companies manage to establish it with their employees because it is based on total mutual trust (the company allows me and I use it), with a view to business continuity (customers first, my work project, otherwise the company suffers and so does my job). What happened to the office? I am now in the office (still half-closed). You can see that we have transformed it, we have eliminated 30 out of 35 desks, we have left only five, and we have, however, multiplied the meeting rooms, because this becomes the place to socialise, to meet, to do creative brainstorming, socialisation meetings, something that people have really missed in this long year and that everyone feels the need for. Finally, and I suggest that we think about this a little bit at the level of private companies as well, we have decided to give everyone – organised by the company, but optional – courses during the day – mainly on Thursday and Friday in the late afternoon – which the company pays for (by also paying a little bit of time to attend). They are courses that have nothing to do with work: a smartphone photography course, a mindfulness course, a Chinese course for beginners. With the idea of not thinking about work at all but continuing to enrich one’s life experience with new situations. Lastly, and by way of conclusion, counselling: at a certain point it was felt that this remote working mode could be tiring, tiring, we are not all the same, some people need to rebalance themselves. We, therefore, offered psychological counselling with a group of occupational psychologists who were already working with us on other issues and who are available on an anonymous basis. Workers who need to have a chat with someone other than their boss about work, fatigue, and stress can access this desk provided by the company. We then loaded an additional amount onto the meal vouchers to allow everyone to organise their own home office. Those who needed a desk, a chair, a monitor bought them using this extra amount on the meal vouchers. I don’t think we’ve invented anything: we’ve copied projects that were already underway, especially here in Milan. We are a small company, we are 32 people, but I think that these changes are really within reach of any entrepreneur who wants to try to take advantage of the opportunity to start projects in this sense.
Cosmi: You meet a lot of companies. What have you noticed about other companies’ corporate changes?
Diego Biasi: Two changes really struck me. One was the reaction of journalists working in publishing houses in the first few weeks of working remotely. Since they no longer had the opportunity to meet us in person, with others, and the press conferences were cancelled, transformed into so many Zoom meetings, they began to call us saying, “look, we still exist, we’re here, we work, and we keep working”. We are resuming those relationships which, even on different levels, are important and based on socialisation. It pleased me because, in the end, it brings out the human element, which is sometimes forgotten and left somewhat in the background. The other important thing is that, especially in Milan, the companies have kept on working, but the prevailing way, and which will be the guideline for the change in the next phase, is a very hybrid one: very little in the workplace, a lot at home and with the desire to experiment. All the companies we work with have gone back to the office very slightly, the workers have been at home a lot, but they have started to develop projects similar to ours.
Cosmi: I would say to everyone to be careful. Your case is certainly fascinating, but I would say to be careful and not to overdo it. On the other hand, we’re going to have offices that won’t look anything like they did before, probably with the same disadvantages as before and undergoing renovation. Will we be ready for this shock?
Diego Biasi: I’ve described a situation that seems ideal, then there are disadvantages, and we’ve already measured them after six months or so of experience ‘in the field’. The problem is that it takes time to learn a new working model, and often the workers have a critical situation at home that we as a company do not perceive: parents with children at home, but not only that, there are also situations (in Milan they are very common) of sharing a flat with four young people, all four of them working in a videoconference from morning to night. After a while, they start throwing dishes… We need to find a different dimension. Moreover, there is concern on the part of workers about what happens to real training, what happens to career paths: “will I still get promoted if I prove how much I work remotely? It will be more difficult, my boss is not there, and he doesn’t see me”. Then there is recruitment, which is complicated: interviewing and hiring people without seeing them. We have hired 5 people in this challenging year, and we haven’t lost anyone, so I’m very happy, but it has been much more tiring than before. There is a need for coaching at all levels, not only on the workers but also on the bosses, who have a huge task: to hold the team together and keep it together in this really difficult condition. In short, it’s not all fun and games, and even certain situations that we underestimate – because we do a creative job- are ways of trying to manage a more complex situation.
Cosmi: Enrico Bassi, Head of Human Resources at Ball (Beverage Packaging Italia), a manufacturing company. In this phase, when companies had to question themselves on who they wanted to be, on how to give ready answers to the historical period in which we are living, his company found itself with an employee who was both a volunteer and a worker, obviously in different time slots. But at a certain point, precisely because everything came to a standstill, these separate time slots were lost. What happened?
Enrico Bassi: As a company, we have always been very committed to the community. Although we are part of a multinational, we are also a company that has been linked to its territory for almost 45 years. We have been there since 1976. We take resources from the community, and we live thanks to these resources, which are the workers, obviously the main element on which the company must rely on. In this sense, we also try to give something back to the community as a return in terms of commitment. In this case, it seemed quite normal to us to allow Stefano, one of our employees, not the only one, to continue volunteering, guaranteeing him a salary every year, even though he was not working, but carrying out his role as a driver for the Italian Red Cross. In practice, we considered this commitment as if it were a paid leave of absence, and we usually give it for other reasons and the humanitarian reason is very important in my opinion at this very moment, such as his commitment to restart and help the community by carrying out his role as a driver.
Cosmi: Where do you include this item in your budget?
Enrico Bassi: Certainly, in purely corporate terms, it is a powerful return on the image. But in reality, this is of little interest to us because we are linked to third-party production sectors. We produce for customers who then sell to the end-user. For us, it is simply a return to our community. We have experienced it that way. One of the initiatives we launched was to help local businesses, not by giving them the usual shopping voucher or parcel at Christmas or Easter, but by linking up with local businesses, giving priority to products from small local producers.
Cosmi: It is indeed an important signal to be able to respond to historical situations like these, on the one hand by re-imagining the office, and on the other hand by responding to the needs that people linked to the company had in the meantime. How have you managed remote working? One of your responses to Covid was to be close to the community, and another was to implement new ways of working?
Enrico Bassi: Ours is a manufacturing company. Italy is primarily made up of manufacturing companies, not just service companies. Manufacturing companies can only apply remote working in a short cycle of their production phase. We are not a big company, and we have about 170 employees, of which almost 130 represent the workforce linked to production, so it is difficult to imagine someone who can do maintenance from home or use the presses remotely. So the first action was to organise the spaces well and correctly, do a lot of training, a lot of cultural change promotion. Whereas before there were four of us at a table, now there are two with a plexiglass panel in the middle; whereas before we had a meeting in the meeting room, now we no longer do so. All this has deeply changed the organisation of the business process. We have also adopted remote working policies when it has been possible on the part of the staff. We planned an initial ‘emergency’ phase in which, first of all, we prepared a sort of register to see who had a company laptop and who did not. We provided it to those who didn’t have one. Then we went out into the workplace and gave correct information. We were also concerned about the cultural change of managers of team leaders. Because even before establishing the infrastructures allowing to work from home, it was necessary to consider the cultural approach of the manager managing the home working team. We worked a lot on this by training the managers’ attitudes who have to coordinate a team from home and change their behaviour and habits since they also have to work from home and not from the office. For example, the whole part of non-verbal language – which is perceived in a meeting or an informal meeting – is no longer perceived at home or is much less noticeable. So, also in this respect, how to value one’s collaborators and interlocutors when working from home? How to evaluate and measure their work from home? We still talk too much about quantity, but in-home working, quantity is still linked to an old mentality (you work well or you work badly based on how much paperwork you do). But in remote working, or rather in home working, the important thing is the quality of the work you do. Therefore, we have put a lot of effort into our managers and our workers’ workshops in this regard.
We have, therefore, done a lot of training on cultural models. However, it has to be finally said that home working has disadvantages and advantages: it is efficient, and meetings are at the right timing; on the other hand, the disadvantage is to lose an essential part of the human relationship.
Cosmi: The good practices developed by Ball are indeed an example to follow. At this point, it is interesting to hear from Bombardieri how the union can evaluate experiences of this kind, hoping that they can be useful in bargaining, precisely to innovate production processes.
Pierpaolo Bombardieri: The experiences mentioned by Biasi and those suggested by Bassi are certainly very useful and interesting. Of course, remote working, digital transformation and obviously innovation need to be applied to their contexts; it is clear that, if we find ourselves in a metalworking company or at Ilva in Taranto, it is difficult to get people to continue using smart working ovens. However, innovative processes can involve everyone. If the approach is that of a digital transformation, of a check on what conditions can be changed, I think there is an overall benefit in all production processes. On the other hand, large companies, including manufacturing companies, make huge investments – think of how machines were assembled twenty years ago and how they are today. Today, you often see workers in companies or services who are just there to check things, to put the finishing touches. The experiences mentioned are therefore definitely positive, and we will use them as good practices. Thanks to them, we will be able to request and claim this kind of improvements. My wish is that this approach of positive vision, as these two companies show, can be implemented in many other companies, not only to improve productivity and competitiveness but also because- in light of what happened during the pandemic – the quality of life should be enhanced. It would require an overall assessment of how we spend our time, how much it is to improve the country we live in, and how we will leave it to future generations.
Cosmi: The reference to future generations is useful to introduce another topic: families and school distance learning, which is an exceptional dimension. I leave the floor to Roberto Codazzi, and I thank him for being with us. He stated, “but doesn’t anyone ever care about Dads coping with their children’s school distance learning?” We indeed care about it, so you are welcome.
Roberto Codazzi: There has been legitimate talk of the dramatic situation of female unemployment linked to the pandemic, of the loss of jobs primarily due to women’s weaker contracts from the point of view of guarantees – often fixed-term contracts – and so in recent months, many have seen their working relationships come to an end. The struggle to combine motherhood with parenthood when children are at home has often been mentioned. My situation is the following: as a married couple with three children aged 3, 5 and 7, my wife and I found ourselves for a while having the children at home and having to follow them – at least the oldest – in the distance learning in the second grade. My wife is an educator. She works at a school with disabled children, so when the schools closed, fortunately, these children with special educational needs went to school, and she continued to work in attendance. Firstly, because we both work in education and we believe in the importance of education. Secondly, because I believe that often the difficulties of the female world are also linked to a cultural issue, the issues of home and education tend to fall on the woman. We try to balance these roles in our family, and in this specific case, we tried to see which of the two had more possibilities to work from home and possibly take leave without creating further difficulties. So I found myself working from home with the children for a while. First of all, the children see their father working, which had never happened before, because we tend to disconnect during family time. But this situation leads us to be at the same time: one studying, one playing, and the other trying to work, so new tensions arise like never before. It is also worth mentioning that distance learning has been the element that has maximised the problems, also because, throughout this year, there has been a decrease in local welfare that usually helps families (for example, pre-school and after-school services have been lacking). The need for flexible working hours to reconcile work and family schedules also preceded the red zones situation that we experienced. That’s why I find Diego Biasi’s speech on flexible leave very interesting because we often found ourselves having to swap tasks: picking up the children from school, staying with them and then working. The hours are often unusual: 6 p.m., sometimes even after 9 p.m., because, especially in the first lockdown, during which the amount of work for us was very, very high (I was running a school at the time, so a very particular load in managing this new distance learning), I often found myself doing my work at night, but by choice, in the sense that during the day I would choose to devote more time to the family while the children were awake and active, perhaps giving up watching a film, a series, or reading a book in the evening, devoting myself to work time. It is important, therefore, that the future of companies, which we are talking about today, takes into account maximum flexibility without obligations, meaning that no one has ever forced me to work at night, but by my own choice, it turned out to be the most suitable time to reconcile home-work times.
Cosmi: Interesting; Mrs Tagliabue, what do you think about it?
Cristina Sivieri Tagliabue: That’s exactly what I think too because if we both chose to work at night, it means that we actually work better at home alone and without children. That’s the truth, and it’s unavoidable. Managing other people, as Diego Biasi also said, not only children, but also other people in the house, is quite complex when you need to be connected to work – I don’t want to talk about the psychological problems of being on the computer for so long and, therefore, the fact that we have to find a balance. We all need to relate to each other to plan, move forward, and find a more human dimension. But distance learning has certainly put us to the test. In fact, when Draghi came to the government and said, “from now on, open schools until June”, we all thought “OK, so now until the end of June we’ll be able to work”. What is certain is that remote working is “the” issue. Today we are talking about something that will become a real “chapter” in the world of work, and that discussion, which is increasingly evolving, will be really important and interesting to follow for everyone. I feel that we are living in a historical moment. I feel that we are witnessing an important change, a positive evolution, and in any case, balances are being reshaped and that necessarily have to be negotiated by one side and the other. In my case, of course, I was talking about women or people who have children or families, but I also fully understand companies, business owners, whether small or large. Many of my businesswoman friends tell me that people don’t perform as well at home as they did at work in the office. It is not the case with me, but there is also this aspect.
Finally, the trendy word now is ‘proximity remote working’, coworking places, whether public or private; in Milan, there have been many private ones, we need to create many more public ones. You can get to your workplace without having to travel miles by car, with considerable energy and ecological savings: ‘proximity coworking’, places close to everyday life, a return to the neighbourhood, to the possibility of having horizontal relationships not only with work colleagues but also with people who are part of the place where you live. It’s a bit of a return to the past, but it also has to do with a “zest for life” which, in a certain way, had been somewhat lost in recent years, when we all went to huge buildings, perhaps on cities’ suburbs, which were undoubtedly very spacious and pleasant to work in with colleagues but, all in all, maybe a bit aseptic.
Cosmi: If you had to summarise today’s meeting and tell the friends of the “Contemporanee”, what would you carry in the famous backpack of Diego Biasi?
Cristina Sivieri Tagliabue: I could tell them about the backpack because it’s a quick, easy marketing idea that explains a whole concept: it’s the “physicalisation” of remote working. He really did a perfect shop thing, so maybe I really would take Biasi’s backpack along. Of course, Biasi’s backpack is in danger of becoming heavier; now it is light, simple, and joyful, but it risks becoming weighed down by a whole series of issues that, if put in, make the backpack heavy, so a balance needs to be found.
Cosmi: You mentioned earlier the issue of kindergartens, child welfare, and you remind me that that backpack could be used, on the contrary, to put the baby’s bottle in and then go to the office. Offices that must not forget that they are still workplaces because otherwise there will be a paradox: we are emptying the offices because “whoever, those work stays at home and do remote working” and in the meantime, there are hidden requests, such as the need to provide children facilities or cultural services. Therefore, the request to companies is still to think of being “family-friendly”.
Cristina Sivieri Tagliabue: I absolutely agree. I’m sure the Recovery will address the issue of kindergartens, and with 35 billion euro, it will be possible to build the necessary infrastructure. What is certain is that if the policy of encouraging crèches were to continue, even within companies or personal and family services, this would be the ideal solution because it would allow a work-life balance that would make it easy not only to be a woman but also to be a man-father. In this game of roles, sharing with men is certainly a cultural issue, a very important cultural shift, but the State and politics can have a big impact in this respect.
Cosmi: To conclude this meeting, I now hand it over to Alessandra Zedda.
Alessandra Zedda: First of all, thank you again for this discussion, which I think has been of great interest, but above all, a learning and enriching experience. It goes without saying that remote working has a completely different approach in public administration than in private companies and between different production activities or activities and professions. It is still different between men and women because we have observed a “return to the past”, as highlighted by Mrs Tagliabue. I say that it occurred – out of necessity and out of habit – that women have come back home, hence back to being the central reference point for the family. It is not a negative circumstance, but I think that this happened while we have to achieve equality in the world of work, and it has at least disguised the situation a bit. As far as the future is concerned, I am convinced that the instrument is absolutely important. It will certainly change the way we work, it will not improve in some cases, but we will certainly have to evaluate the discrepancies that may be raised. It is especially true for those jobs and professions, let’s call them ‘sensitive’, which need to be carried out in presence. The approach to flexibility, which in my opinion will be crucial, will have a significant impact. Today, even the public administration could think about reducing individual spaces and increasing community spaces. The word ‘community’ comes up a lot, together with ‘proximity’. Proximity in health, social, economic and financial terms, and in the world of work at all levels. For those of us who are structurally insular, going online to explore the world could be a great step forward, without forgetting a little word that we in Sardinia call “su connottu”, “the known”, “the identity”: that backpack that we must always keep attached because it really allows us to look to a future that must be built with a great sense of belonging to a people, to a Country – and why not – to the profession that one carries out in the general interest.