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2021-09-20 Simona Cuomo

The Post-Emergency Return to Work: Can We Speak of Smart Working?

The Wind Tre Experience and Model

The Covid-19 emergency has accelerated the transition towards an organization of work based on digital technologies, that in turn, has allowed millions of people to work remotely. This mass experience is often generically classified as smart working,[1] generating confusion and distortions on this conception of work and how methods of return to work can be constructed once the emergency phase is over (that was recently extended until December 31, 2021).

On this issue, the debate is focusing on the percentage of workers who can physically return to work in order to identify, in relation to the type of activity performed, a proper division of what can be done at home and what in the workplace. The percentage level that policymakers[2] and businesses[3] declare publicly indicates a reflection and a process of organizational planning that is based on the remote working experiences implemented during the pandemic, in order to find technical solutions and volumes for remote work that are acceptable for both people and companies.

On the one hand, these experiences have produced benefits for companies, that have saved on fixed costs (from rent to meal vouchers, from energy expenses to travel costs, etc.); on the other hand, they have often extremized the cost for people: over-working, zoom fatigue, stress, and work fatigue, feelings of alienation and dispersion of the sense of belonging since professional communities have become “virtual.” Last, but not least, a true social asymmetry has emerged: remote work has been edified in a way that has de facto aggravated existing inequalities. For example, the probability of working from home has been higher for young workers and much lower for minorities and “blue collar” workers without a high level of education, and in the absence of welfare programs to support them, has penalized women.[4]

However, smart working, as it was foreseen by lawmakers,[5] was supposed to be a response to reconciling workers’ needs, and founding a new model of leadership based on trust and inclusion rather than control and discrimination, on individual responsibility rather than command. The premise of smart working, in its original meaning, was supposed to represent a true cultural change, without being reduced to what seems to be the prevalent reasoning today, that is, the definition of percentages of workers who return to being physically present at work.

More than other companies, Wind Tre[6] seems to have carried out planning activity that grasps the spirit and innovative significance of smart working, in cultural, not only technological terms. The decision was to construct a project for returning to work starting from workers’ needs. First of all, a survey was conducted to understand how people perceived the modes of work adopted during the emergency,[7] what the critical points were, and what support the company could give. The results of the survey highlighted how people wanted to extend remote work beyond the phase of the pandemic, without restrictions of percentages fixed ex ante by the company.

In light of these results, the management was led to reflect on people’s needs and design the guidelines for the new model of smart working accordingly. The project is thus not based on the concept of “how much” it is necessary to go to work physically, focusing on the percentage of returns, but on “why” it is necessary to be physically present, and for what type of activities.[8] Within this framework, there are no restrictions on the number of days to come to the office, but autonomy for the teams to make decisions with their managers. The project was the subject of a labor union agreement and was subsequently supplemented with the adoption of new technological tools to support remote work, with training activities aimed at all of the workers, and with continuous monitoring activities aimed at improving the model based on the workers’ experiences, gradually as it is used. In addition, the “We-etiquette” was circulated, a charter of good conduct conceived by Millennials, as a reference point to be able to effectively collaborate remotely.[9]

It is also important to stress how the smart working project fits into a broader cultural framework, starting with the dissemination of the new purpose: “We exist to eliminate any distance between people,” and the company values of inclusion, courage, responsibility, and trust,[10] that took place along with the launch of the single brand Wind Tre. It thus appears evident that the driver of the project was not the desire to create immediate efficiency working for example on the reorganization of the offices and the reduction of physical spaces, as noted by Sergio Gonella, Culture, People Development & Talent Acquisition Director of Wind Tre, whom we interviewed.


This blog post was written in collaboration with Martina Raffaglio, SDA Fellow.

We also thank Mr. Sergio Gonella, Culture, People Development & Talent Acquisition Director of Wind Tre, for the interview granted, that was reworked in this blog post.


[1] The following articles have been published on this theme on E&MPlus: “La fiducia alla base del lavoro agile”, May 20, 2020; “Per favore, non chiamiamolo “smart working””, April 20, 2020; “Una nuova divisione del lavoro è possibile?”, March 26, 2020; “Come cambia il lavoro ai tempi del coronavirus”, February 26, 2020; “Smart-working-remote-working-e-south-working”, April 7, 2021

[5] Law No. 81 of May 22, 2017.

[6] The smart working model was recognized as a Best Practice by the Top Employer Institute in 2021 and circulated in that community.

[7] The #TOBESMART survey focused on the analysis of five aspects: collaboration, goals empowerment, teamworking, available tools, and ideas for the future.

[8] Activities performed physically at the workplace are guided by one of these aims: Innovate, Connect, and Inspire.

[9] The principles of “We-Etiquette” regard four areas: how to manage the agenda through smart working, how to properly collaborate, how to manage meetings both physically and remotely, and how to work as a team and cultivate relationships.

[10] Based on these values, eight types of behavior of organizational citizenship were developed, that are thus valid for all workers, entered into the performance management system.