The “new reality”: smart working after coronavirus

Employment and Social Affairs

Job market has been severely upset due to coronavirus pandemic in Europe and all over the world. Many people, mainly seasonal workers or those employed in restauration and tourism sectors, have lost their jobs. It is estimated that a total of 81% of the global workforce of 3.3 billion people have had their workplace fully or partly closed. Restrictions on daily life have led to the suspension of activities of many companies and the laying off of staff, either permanently or temporarily.

On the other hand, most of the workers all over the world tried to change their daily basis way of acting: smart working has become the “new reality”, at least for the time being. The coronavirus epidemic has indeed highlighted the potential of smart working for small, medium and large enterprises. The potential of smart working is not a completely new tool, off course, but now we are seeing a kind “forced transition” to this model due to the current crisis that has make clear this necessity.

Technology has brought us a long way in the current millennium, but there are still many potential shortcomings for example between those having access to the internet and those who don’t. Perhaps, due to this crisis, we have realized that we’re not fully prepared and structured in a way to properly utilize smart working: in many EU countries, for example, it has emerged a situation in which, due to the contextual closure of the schools, in many families both children and their parents has to stay at home with the result that some family have a lack of instruments to smart working (if there is just one computer at home and for example 4 are needed at the same times).

Furthermore, despite the massive increase of smart working in recent weeks, we still know very little about its economic effects in normal times. On the one hand it is sure that telecommuting is compatible with only a limited number of jobs. Furthermore, new and complex forms of flexibility have begun to spread, including flexible location and flexible work times, based on the removal of the constraints on the space and time of work.

Thus, it could be said that smart working comes with a trade-off. On the one hand, there are potential gains from the flexible work locations and hours: workers reduce their commuting costs and firms optimise their costs (lighting, heating or air-conditioning, canteens, cleaning).  On the other hand, smart working raises several concerns. Working outside the workplace may reduce the commitment of workers. Moreover, by reducing interactions between workers and between workers and supervisors, there is a risk of a reduction in productivity, particularly in jobs with high interactions. Finally, blurring the boundaries between work and home may increase the hours of overtime and the levels of employee stress and may worsen the work-life balance.

To conclude it is highly probable that smart working will characterize more and more our daily life, and coronavirus outbreak has only accelerated something that was already increasing. But it is still this emergency that will force firms to implement this new model of work, as for the next months it will be necessary to use, when is possible, some form of smart working in order to respect the need for social distancing. After that it is probable that there will be a different evolution with some countries more ready to keep on using smart working and other that will gradually abandon this path.

Another crucial aspect that will remain after coronavirus crisis is that many people lost their jobs and are now waiting for social aids from the State. This remind once again that unemployment is a critical issue, and that it could not be overcome only with emergency instrument like those used during the Covid outbreak. It could not be considered a solution neither the so called “citizens income scheme” in Italy. Consistent policy to create new job places should be the top priorities for national government and for the Eu in the post coronavirus Europe.

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