Smart working, remote working, agile working, flexible working – Let’s shed some light on these terms!

by Thérèse N. Marshall – 22/05/2020

Over recent months, there has been much discussion (and irony) within the language sector about the Italian government’s choice to adopt the term smart working to describe the distance working that many Italians have had to start doing in order to avoid commuting to their normal workplace during the Covid-19 pandemic.

For many people, the proper term to use should have been either remote working, teleworking or even telecommuting (in Italian: telelavoro).

Yet is this really such a gross mistake, perhaps dictated by the acceleration of events? Or was it a choice made deliberately to set this “conversion” apart from normal remote working?

Our Bureau has decided to investigate and discover the meaning of the various types of e-working!

There are many ways, phrases, expressions used to describe the changes taking place in the various types of e-working that proved to be of paramount importance but not only during the Covid-19 crisis: flexible working, remote working, agile working and smart working are those most commonly used.

Flexible working is often associated with the concept of work that seeks to reconcile work-life balance, personal life balance and professional life.There are 3 key factors for flexible working:

  • flexibility in terms of working hours (Flexitime), short work weeks (fitting 5 working days into 4), part-time work, shared work, project work;
  • flexibility in terms of workplace, i.e. mobile working, working from home, working on other organisations’ premises, co-working or hub working;
  • flexibility in terms of employment contracts, i.e. working as a freelancer, a group of associates or with alternative contractual forms.

If you are wondering what remote working actually means, well, as you can imagine, it is a term that comes from the English language, while in Italian it can be translated as telelavoro (teleworking/telecommuting) and consists of working in a place off the company’s premises.

Remote working simply means working remotely, anywhere other than one’s office or company premises. So, you could even work from home, the park, the library, your favourite café, or any other location for that matter, that has a decent Wi-Fi connection. Under the umbrella term remote working expressions such as mobile working or home working can also be found.

This type of e-working focuses on technology due to the fact that the comparison and communication with colleagues and customers usually takes place via online platforms and apps, such as Hangout, Skype, Zoom, Cisco, alongside other social collaboration solutions such as Slack, Hibox, Asana, to name but a few.

Instead, agile working can be defined as a series of operations enabling companies to develop a workforce with the aim of optimising the working method by emphasising proactivity, reducing waste while ensuring greater agility in work approaches and relationship management.

According to Beck et al. (2001), the 4 principles of agile working focus mainly:

  • on individuals and relationships instead of processes and tools;
  • on working with the client instead of negotiating contracts;
  • on the most suitable, effective and operational software instead of documentation;
  • on proactivity towards change instead of sticking to a plan.

Smart working is strictly related to agile working but is considered more complete as it is used in business to indicate a work methodology bound neither by time nor place of work and that is established through an agreement stipulated between employee and employer.

However, the concept of smart working is by no means innovative. In fact, it was introduced into the offices located in English-speaking countries about 25 years ago. However, throughout the months on lockdown, it has definitely undergone a radical transformation and we have rediscovered the use of this e-working method that has proved essential to ensure the continuity of business and teaching processes.

Smart working is actually a combination of the concepts explained above as it represents an innovative working approach integrating 3 dimensions: technologies, workplaces and organisational culture.

In other words, the office is deemed more a meeting place, technologies adopted must be used with the aim of facilitating collaboration and thus ensuring maximum mobility and flexibility. People must be prepared to take on more responsibility and be managed in order to achieve objectives by establishing a relationship of mutual trust between colleagues and managers to enhance productivity and well-being.

Basically speaking, the difference between remote working and smart working is that the former refers to the evolution of teleworking, while the latterinvolves the digital transformation of enterprises.

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