Covid-19 has profoundly changed our perspective on work: lockdown and quarantine periods have forced companies and public administrations, wherever possible, to resort to smart working.
Millions of workers around the world have benefited from flexible working thanks to information technology and digitisation, and when restrictions finally end it is very likely that they will not want to go back.
Certainly, the recent pandemic has called into question the approach to work, making people realise that flexibility may be the right answer to bring about a step-change that would otherwise take many years. In some respects, therefore, Covid can be considered an accelerator of a cultural change that goes beyond the simple management of an emergency crisis.
Too early to say. The four-day working week is not a completely new concept. One only has to think of the prediction of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who in 1953 claimed that it would be possible to work four days a week thanks to technological progress. Before him, in a more visionary stance, the British economist John Maynard Keynes stated in 1935 that the perfect work-life balance would be achieved by working only 15 hours a week.
The issue of shortening the standard working week is more topical than ever. We spoke to Dr Andrea Montuschi, Professor of the Specialized Master in HR and Organization and Employee Experience Strategist at Qualtrics, who pointed out that since time immemorial, even before the first industrial revolution, work has been remunerated on the basis of the hours worked. According to Dr Montuschi:
“The recipe for the future seems to be undoubtedly spatial-temporal flexibility, i.e. the identification of ways to allow people to be measured by motivation points and goals to be achieved and not by the time spent at the desk”. For Dr Montuschi, however, this represents a sore point for our country: “In Italy we are still under pressure from many old-fashioned employers who believe that the real secret of success is to keep workers busy from early in the morning until late at night, even for nine to ten hours a day, not looking at productivity but exclusively at the time spent in the office. This cultural shift is the “conditio sine qua non” for the hoped-for and necessary change in workplace expectations and culture: because exactly the opposite is true. Working less and by objectives increases, trust, engagement, well-being, reduces stress and increases productivity. Precisely because you feel you are an active part of a process based on your skills and competencies. This is why the four-day working week, even if considered from the point of view of flexibility, represents another conceptual rigidity to be overcome.”
According to a survey conducted by Qualtrics on a sample of 14,000 male and female workers from 30 countries, 35% of the respondents said that if they were forced to return to full-time work, abandoning the hybrid or total remote mode, they would look for another job. This is because to a large extent the pandemic has rewritten our priorities. Families have changed their organisation and lifestyle and rewritten the concept of time. Working from home, for example, makes the management of younger children much less complicated and provides extra time for oneself or one’s loved ones that one never had before.
But not all that glitters is gold, because women in general, and women in managerial positions in particular, have paid a heavy price during the pandemic.
There is no doubt that for working women the need to reconcile work and family time has become increasingly relevant. In Italy, there is still a backward, almost medieval concept on women’s employment inclusion and it is time to overcome the paradigmatic condition of this criticality and arrive at a real job sharing. There is still a long way to go and that is also why it is necessary to encourage flexibility to allow women to cultivate their profession without having to give up their families. If this did not happen, it would be a very serious mistake, because women represent an added value, capable as they are of bringing talent, their own specificities and strong motivation, all precious elements in the world of work.
In our country, large companies, driven more by convenience – by ROI – than by conviction, are approaching the issue of smart working more positively in terms of space rather than time. But as we know, 99% of our business landscape is made up of small and medium-sized companies, and this is where the issue becomes more complex.
According to Montuschi, another problem we should try to solve is overcoming the ideological barriers that prevent a bottom-up system of employees. It is necessary to overcome the concept of management based only on a vertical downward channel, devoid of any feedback tool, which, on the contrary, is a factor for improving company performance, because it creates an “emotional” connection between employees and managers, stimulates a sense of belonging within the group and inevitably increases productivity.
This is why it is necessary to change, evolve, transform the work culture and more generally the business models of the pre-pandemic period.
With over 20 years’ experience in the field of HR consulting and organizational climate, Andrea’s main areas of expertise revolve around measurement tools (survey design, management and interpretation) and consulting (qualitative in-depth analysis and action planning). He spent the early years of his career between London and Paris, moving back to his home country, Italy, in 2003. Over the last decade, Andrea has cultivated an interest in creativity and innovation, becoming an experienced facilitator of Creative Problem-Solving and Lego Serious Play, among other techniques.