Our journey to smart working 3.0

Our journey to smart working 3.0

We’re making smart working even smarter. For the last year we’ve offered employees the opportunity to work outside the office for roughly 75% of every month. This alone, according to AIDP’s (the Italian association for personnel direction) April 2022 conference on work and the future, puts us near the top 3% of Italian companies in terms of flexibility to work outside the office. And while some employers might be rushing to return to the office, we think it would be stupid to go back to where we were before. Instead, we’re giving our teams more flexibility: to work not just out of the office, but abroad, with an insurance plan to back it up, and to divide up our time on smart working days to balance work with other commitments in life. And soon we’ll all even be able to bring our dogs to the office.

This is smart working 3.0 for Moskito Design, the third experimental step that we hope will prove just as powerful, and empowering – and smart! – as the ones that came before it. Before I get to where we are now, I’d like to look back at our journey to this point, because in the end it’s everything we’ve learned that has given us the confidence to make the decisions we can today.

Yes, smart working

First, let’s get our terms straight. You may call it hybrid working or agile working (as the Italian state does), and we’ve also previously used the term remote working in the English version of this blog (though it’s not strictly accurate for what we offer). But here on the street, in the newspapers and between us at Moskito we call it smart working, and so that’s the term I’m sticking with.

The Italian context

While some pioneering companies in the advertising, communications and tech sector have been implementing even fully remote working for years, the situation in Italy has been more conservative. As recently as 2017, according to the Osservatorio Smart Working at the Milan Politecnico School of Management, only 7% of SMEs had experimented with smart working, (compared with 36% of large enterprises) while nearly 40% declared they weren’t even interested in trying it. But as we all know, the pandemic and lockdowns forced everybody to give it a try. Including us.

Tutti a casa!

Italy was hit early and hard by Covid-19, and our grand experiment with smart working started almost literally overnight, with the declaration of a national emergency and Europe’s first national lockdown. This was our first real taste of smart working – tutti a casa (everyone home), like it or not. But like it we did. Six months later, we were happy staying home, both because the health threat was still very real and because smart working 1.0 was working so well for us.

Back to the office?

But we know that being a strong company is more than just productivity. During lockdown we’d hired new staff and grown our teams, but we hadn’t necessarily grown any closer. And we suspected we were losing the kind of casual, everyday interaction that makes it not only easier to work together, but also easier to get the help and creative feedback we need to grow.

When, in mid-2021, only 35% of Italian SMEs said they would continue with smart working post-pandemic, we weren’t ready to give up. But we weren’t willing to simply force everybody back to the office, as some companies did, either. So we reopened and let people come back at will for a couple of months. But for the more structural issues of organization and socialization and creative growth, this wasn’t a long-term solution either.

That’s why, starting in October 2021, we asked that people start coming back to the office (with all the official social distancing, masks and cleaning protocols in place). Not all the time. Not even most of the time. Our new rule mandated 5 days in the office per month, one of which was to meet and work with your team in person.

Testing and learning

Then, starting in October, we started asking for feedback on this second experiment in smart working. Over the course of four months we interviewed all our employees and apprentices. Listening to these 50 people gave us the opportunity to put together a fuller picture of the benefits and the challenges of our approach.

In terms of days in the office, while people asked for more total freedom to choose, and others for more rigidly defined 2-3 days at home (yes, some asked for less), we were delighted to find that 40% – by far the greatest percentage – were happy with the flexible 5 days a month rule.

The challenges of being in the office were voiced especially by those who have been with us for a while: noise, concentration, and simply getting there and back.

And we heard that the biggest challenge of not being in the office is, as we suspected, the social aspects of work: knowing when you can ask for help, looking over a more experienced colleague’s shoulder for inspiration or instruction, and just simply feeling part of a team, and a company.

The plan is now to address these challenges without compromising the aspects of smart working that everybody loves, while also introducing more flexibility.

Introducing smart working 3.0

For this new experiment, which we’ll evaluate in six months time, we’ve outlined a much clearer vision to our employees about what work means to us. We strongly believe in being together, physically, but we also recognize and appreciate the benefits that being away from each other has brought.

Our plan for this smart working 3.0 includes:

  1. 5 days a month in the office, meaning once-ish a week or all in one week, with one day for team meetings
  2. Better calculating work according to defined projects, not simply presence
  3. Work days of 8 hours, as prescribed in the Italian national contract, but flexibility between 8:30am and 8pm to choose how to manage (considering client and team needs) those 8 hours of work
  4. Guidelines to encourage more office socialization
  5. A new insurance policy to enable people to work not just outside the office, but abroad, in a time zone up to +/- 3 hours from Italian time (CET), for a total maximum duration defined by law

And coming soon, by popular request, the right to bring your dog to the office 🐕

We’re proud of our new policy, and excited to see how it will work out, for our productivity, our training up our up-and-coming employees, our work relationships, and our work-life balance. These rules might be crazy-liberal to some (remember, only 3% of Italian companies require less than 2 days a week in the office), or still conservative for others who’ve been doing it for longer, but for us at Moskito, our own little big Italian SME, this is the right next step on our journey. To all our colleagues and clients, thanks for joining us in this new phase of our experiment.

Giulia is CEO and owner of Moskito Design. She doesn't claim to be the world's best cook, but she's certainly got a special recipe: lots of creativity, a pinch of optimism and just the right amount of planning.