We’re living in a historic age where emails, newspaper articles and phone calls are inundated with a disproportionate amount of newly coined terms whose true meanings, more often than not, are a mystery to us. The result? Terms that tend to take on a whole new widely recognized and slightly distorted meaning as time goes by.
Much of this terminology is linked to the world of work, a fluid, ever-evolving domain at the mercy of the endless daily digital transformations that have revolutionized our lives.
We hear terms bandied about like telecommuting, smart working, flexible working, agile working… but do we really know what they mean? The answer, more often than not, is a resounding no. Not because of a lack of interest, but simply because we’ve become used to associating the term smart working with various different ways of working.
We’re here today to look a bit deeper into the subject in the hope of gaining a clearer understanding of the (sometimes microscopic) differences.
Telecommuting, smart working, agile working and flexible working: the differences
Let’s start from the basic assumption that there are substantial differences between the terms we’re about to use in an organizational context (our focus) as opposed to a legislative context. According to The Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies and relevant Law no. 81/2017, smart working is a broad concept that essentially also encompasses agile working.
When it comes to business and work management, however, one way to look at these different types of work is to see them as a concentric Venn diagram, with telecommuting in the very middle and agile working in the largest (and hence most advanced) circle.
Telecommuting is very simple to understand: you perform the same tasks, and keep the same hours, but work remotely. Otherwise known as “working from home”.
The next subset up is flexible working, which takes telecommuting and adds the concept of time: in this case, the worker can choose (based on arrangements made with the employer) where to perform their tasks and when. The objective is to complete a project by the given deadline.
Next comes the much talked about smart working, ushered onto the scene by the countless technological innovations in recent years. In this case, it’s all about handing responsibility over to the employee, who chooses when and where to work, as well as deciding what instruments to use for maximum efficiency. The objective is an improvement in their performance, which goes hand in hand with increased worker wellbeing, promoting a better work-life balance.
With smart working, institutional spaces become more dynamic, resulting in the so-called smart space: the office is reconfigured to suit requirements and workstations can be changed over time.
The concept of responsibility becomes even more important when we get to agile working. In this case, the way of working is the same, while the general approach is “reconfigured”, becoming more focused on the individual project rather than on the person’s job (their duties as set out in the employment agreement). Teams are made up of different individuals, from both within and outside the company, who take on different roles from one project to the next in line with their personal skill sets. Hence the traditional company hierarchy gives way (albeit temporarily) to a more flexible, more adaptive organization, which accelerates turnaround times and fosters greater engagement of the individual.
The smart space concept gains even greater importance here: the place the team gets together might be a series of free desks – which people sit at as required – a meeting room, or maybe even the chill-out zone.
Because in the end, all you need nowadays for a lot of jobs is a laptop and an internet connection.