The last couple of years have brought a radical change in working habits; the need to be distant has made what is (incorrectly) called Smart Working indispensable. There are many advantages and, to some extent, obvious, but what many tend to overlook are some disadvantages and difficulties that can arise. Beyond the implications on physical health, MBK Fincom, which has always implemented all the best practices necessary to create a lively and functional corporate ecosystem, wanted to investigate a crucial aspect that many smart workers suffer from: the need for social interaction. But let’s take it step by step.
We have to start from a fact: Smart Working does not mean remote working at all; this could be at odds with the way SW has been applied by most companies and the public field. The correct application of SW, in fact, does not imply simply moving working time from the office to home, but a progression of the same by tasks, with an (almost) totally free management of working hours by the worker.
Having said that, we already realise how in some contexts, despite the fact that this practice has been known since the 1990s, this “innovation” has been improperly implemented, with rather negative repercussions. There is no shortage of advantages (which we will discuss), but having an effective weapon in your hands that is not adequately exploited in practice risks turning it into a very dangerous malus.
The advantages of Smart Working
Among the benefits arising from the (correct) application of Smart Working, we can distinguish between worker benefits, company benefits and, finally, environmental benefits.
With regard to the worker’s benefits, we see a reduction in expenses (and stress) related to commuting and, more generally, to travel; the sense of responsibility and self-management of employees increases, as does their ability to manage their own tasks and duties. Productivity improves (statistics speak of an increase of between 68 and 76%), as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of the measures that are taken; all this in relation to the decrease in stress and the higher level of contact to one’s family and/or personal sphere.
For companies, it is clear that a more satisfied and productive employee is a gain. Savings are also linked to energy costs, office expenses, plant and technology management; increased digital skills are another plus, especially if linked to a matter of workflow and task satisfaction.
The environment benefits from the point of view of pollution; less travel means less CO2 emissions, less waste production in the office and on the road, less waste.
Unfortunately, as for all idyllic situations, it’s not all pleasure; the flipside of the coin, which is often ignored or not presented, is a set of disadvantages and problems that, by the same negligence, are overlooked; over time, they risk accumulating and leading to a paradox of smart working, in which the whole set of best practices will be frowned upon precisely because of the critical issues that will explode.
From a work perspective, the exchange of ideas and information is crucial; finding oneself working exclusively remotely reduces communication and makes it ineffective. Not only for formal communication; informal exchanges between different levels and departments, with the frequency and spontaneity of the physicist, are one of the cornerstones of good working coexistence. Videoconferences and instant messaging cannot replace what, according to statistics, is considered the most effective means of communication, namely direct exchange. As a result, ineffective communication and faulty supervision lead to negative results in terms of business performance, and the whole work ecosystem pays the price.
From the point of view of physical health, one of the biggest problems is related to the growing sedentary habit that SW would bring; even if there are many hours at the desk in the office, alternating them with lunch breaks, coffee, home-work trip the load is significantly diluted. Staying at home (and often working directly from the sofa or, worse, from bed) triggers a circle of problems linked precisely to a sedentary lifestyle, involving not only possible postural damage, but a whole series of difficulties linked to weight gain and all the consequent damage.
Emotional and psychological problems
Not to be ignored is a whole series of problems linked to the emotional and psychological sphere of the worker (but also of the employer); after all, man is a social animal, and removing conviviality from the work equation may be the highest risk.
The two most frequent and most impactful critical aspects are isolation and over-connection; while we will talk more specifically about the first one later, we can illustrate what the second one is about.
Since we do not have the physical limitations of moving around, working at home means, in practice, connecting via PC or smartphone; it is quite obvious that the simplicity of the gesture runs the risk of becoming habitual and dependent on it. Wanting to always be connected to the office, feeling constantly a ‘work debt‘, leads to the development of a need to be connected without interruption to one’s tasks; such behaviour is not only counterproductive from a work point of view, but extremely harmful from a psycho-sanitary side. Not realizing that one has crossed a line leads to what is known as workaholism, or compulsive work, which can lead to more serious disorders such as burnout syndrome or, in extreme cases, depression and anxiety disorders. In all this, the work-life balance is negatively affected, deteriorating private relationships and creating potential conflicts in the family.
The spectre of isolation
Isolation is a more explicit, but also more subtle condition.
If, at the beginning, being able to enjoy one’s own space, a quieter (or louder and more musical, depending on one’s taste) working environment, without distractions and disturbances may appear as a pleasant prospect, in the long run the lack of relationships with colleagues becomes deteriorating.
Living in an isolated bubble, then, generates over time (in much less time than you think), anxiety and stress, with the psychological consequences we have also talked about with regard to over-connexion.
Fortunately, however, there are active remedies and methods of prevention; social interaction is in fact one of the driving forces not only of work, but of the active life of every individual.
Adapting locations and corporate practices
MBK has developed a hybrid corporate welfare strategy over the years, which brings positive results in both the short and long term.
Not excluding the possibility of managing remote work according to specific needs (and in a truly smart way), we have preferred to implement the experience of our employees by working on their level of satisfaction in the physical work environment.
Through regular surveys and with the support of our HR team, we have been able to define working environments where contact and privacy find their rationale, allowing employees to manage their tasks in autonomy but not in isolation. Environments and social moments are equally divided in the (flexible) working time, and providing staff with small daily conveniences has increased their productivity by several percentage points.
What creates so much engagement and brand employment, however, is the demand for participation in the decision-making process; through our in-house platforms, we ask ALL our employees to participate with ideas, proposals and opinions, so that they understand that they are not a number in the middle of a timetable, but people who count and actively participate in building the company.
As in the Latin quote “in medio stat res”; everything that concerns the management of one’s tasks remotely, and therefore the dynamics of smart working, is not to be avoided, only to be implemented correctly.
But sacrificing the wellbeing of your employees and their need for social interaction in exchange for a little extra flexible productivity can still be harmful. Designing a proper working environment, where relational needs are respected within the most innovative HR practices can be the winning solution in the years to come.
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