Smart working or smart “living”, from crisis to opportunities for the future

At the times of Coronavirus the paradigms in the labor market are changing. An analysis of William Griffini, CEO of Carter & Benson, a consulting and headhunting company, about the limits and opportunities of the agile work and the witness of two leading companies’ experiences, Radisson Group and American Express.

Milan, March, 19th 2020 – This epochal crisis has imposed in the HR environment too an acceleration towards a different way of considering work and interacting among people in the different roles within the organizations.
We are assisting to a social and relation poorness being more limited the way of interfacing among the persons of the same team: if from one side, technology is offering so many solutions for smart working (sharing platforms, webinar…), the focus is moving towards a purely sociological matter that is in particular the lack of the physical aspect and contact among persons.
Digital completely integrated into companies, but considering the particular moment we are living in on a global level, because of the Coronavirus emergency, this issue is more relevant than ever, above all, as far as the labor market is concerned.
Companies had to face a context that has suddenly upset their lives and certainties. Staying at home, for many people is not a choice but an obligation and this imposed a step change, first of all, from a cultural point of view. Staying distant in order to stay closer, a brand new concept.
Smart working for many companies was a far solution or, in some cases, a very reluctant choice. Today, instead, with some exceptions, it seems to be the only way to carry on one’s own business activity.
In Carter & Benson daily life, digitalization and smart working are the key elements that have been shaping its evolution in the last years, even though the job of headhunter and consultant necessarily requires a strong relational component.

William Griffini, CEO of Carter & Benson, states: “Also in our activity we register new operational modalities. Not only the processing of the assignment takes place online and, to say the truth, we have already experienced this many times, but the real revolution is that induction activities – that is accompanying the inclusion of the new hired person within our client company staff – are starting remotely. We are talking about Executive Manager positions and hence of persons with great responsibilities and high salary levels. Companies won’t stop, they go on hiring but in a different way. People don’t go physically to their workplaces, but they work remotely, with all the difficulties which may arise, such as simply matching one’s own day as a manager at home and family needs”. He adds: “this situation has imposed new rules. Only one month ago it was inconceivable to believe that the first day of work could be experienced remotely, from home and that the training of the role could be done through Webex…no handshakes, no one to one relations and all these aspects that usually make breath the corporate environment, everything is a little bit weird and let me tell you, also a little bit sad”.
This critical scenario is basically changing the fruition of services in the HR environment, but William Griffini wishes it will not be forever “Today we pass documents, reports and information about the persons of the team that the manager will have to coordinate, everything in a strictly digital way. The training of the role and the presentation of the teamwork happen in a non-physical way. It is a new scheme which nobody is used to. A sociological and not an operational issue. This situation shows that there are no limits since technology is ready to support these activities in a very effective way. The difficulty is to be able to adapt and to be open to new concepts, but Carter & Benson is trained and extremely responsive to this issue. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the human element trumps everything, that we are not made for this digital isolation and I wish that with the return to normality also the working activity could be less software and more human-sized and that we can restore healthy and necessary human relations”.

Since the beginning of the emergency, Carter & Benson can mention two companies for which the induction activity has been made “remotely”: Radisson Hotel Group and American Express. Hereafter, those directly involved explain what means this new way of inclusion and what implies from a relational point of view.

Camilla Maggiori, Global Vice President Talent Management & Internal Communication of Radisson Hotel Group

In Radisson Hotel Group, flexibility is an integral part of our way of working. Personally, I have a long experience of smart working, a way of working that I have been experiencing successfully for ten years, coordinating a team of people geographically spread all over Europe. Over time, I have learnt to appreciate the advantages and manage the limits of this kind of approach to work. In Radisson Hotel Group we have always been working with flexibility but the current emergency has imposed a fully smart working approach. All the employees have shown a great ability to adapt to the new working context, and in a few days, we have been able to adapt our processes and change the interaction habits without any difficulty, putting into practice our key principle “Yes I Can”.
Working at home requires great discipline and organization, clear objectives and ability to structure daily social contacts, virtual meeting moments in order not to lose the relation with colleagues. The biggest limit of smart working consist of the loss of human relations, therefore, forcing technology, we launched the virtual coffees asking each team to connect with the others at 10.30 am for a dozen of minutes, all webcams turned on for a convivial break. We are now launching the virtual lunches too to avoid isolation and preserve the social aspects that smart working normally limits.
Technology allows us to carry on the onboarding and induction activity and change the face to face training into a virtual one, which is different from the training that is usually experienced online and is much more interactive.
Flexibility is undoubtedly a plus of the agile work, but in addition, the individual responsibility increases as well as the loyalty and trust mechanism towards the company. Italy has experienced a strong resistance to teleworking and often the companies that accepted it have imposed so many checks so that they made it difficult, without thinking instead that it could be an engagement tool and a competitive advantage. Today, the situation of emergency has suddenly forced the hand in the direction of the agile work, has forced everyone to re-think about the way of working and I am convinced that, when the emergency ends, each one of us will have capitalized the experiences made and we will be able to look at smart working with different eyes, aware of its advantages and of its limits as well, going on safeguarding human relations.

Rosa Santamaria Maurizio, Vice President Colleague Market Partner Italy, Spain, Nordics, Benelux and Turkey di American Express

In Amex, smart working has been part of the company DNA since many years and this form of working is accessible to all the Customer Care and Travels Office teams that manage our Clients by phone.
In the last weeks, because of the emergency, we can say that we have been making a real “stress test” to this working approach.
More than 15 days ago, 1.140 persons in Rome and Milan locations started working remotely at home and the result is that our business has not been affected. We do not register call pending queues and, on the contrary, we activated a proactive management of our Clients to understand if we can be helpful. The leadership team and all the organization have showed an extraordinary level of collaboration, decision making-process agility and strong resolution to be present in a so complex moment and this is a definitely positive fact.
The emergency offered us the opportunity to review some of our processes which required practical interventions and gave the final acceleration to their full digitalization (and this shows that technology exists and that we can leverage more on it). Moreover, this forced us to confront with some limits of our system, for example the one that imposes the employer to gather the handwritten signature of employees for the validity or prove of some documents.
Having said that, and although we are living this difficult period as an evolution phase, I have to admit that the biggest limit of the teleworking, since we are a Relationship Organization, is that we cannot meet and live in person important professional moments and events and I can firmly say that “The Best way to Back our Customers is to Back our People”.

Halo Comunicazione
Rosanna Cognetti
M +39 335 8149782
Paola Rosa
M +39 339 3785157

Cover picture: credits freepik