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Smart Working and 5G


Our behaviors and attitudes towards work and traveling are shifting and becoming more sustainable as we start to recognize the opportunities and broader benefits of remote working and virtual meetings. Companies are increasingly using virtual meeting rooms, reducing their real estate footprint while connecting global teams, and it has been predicted that flexible workspaces could account for as much as 30 percent of EU corporate real estate portfolios by 2030.[1]

5G opens up greater possibilities for remote working, even in areas that have historically had issues with cellular connectivity. Employees can collaborate in real-time on the editing or creation of large files, including HD videos and 3D images, with near-instant file transfers and without experiencing lags while video conferencing, thus improving productivity during digital meetings. 5G technology is also ideal for connecting a vast number of Internet of Things devices, from movement sensors to smart printers, to create a fully digital workplace.

Smart working set in motion a new management philosophy focused on giving people greater flexibility and autonomy over their chosen workspaces, hours and tools, against a backdrop of taking more responsibility for the outcome. A real test for more traditional command-and-control environments, also considering that Generation Z, the first fully digital, has now joined the workforce.

In Italy, 58% of companies have already introduced concrete initiatives of smart working, with an adoption increase in the Italian Public Administration rising from 8% to 12% in 2019.[2] With an estimated 8.2 million Italian workers eligible for smart working and a steadily increasing number of people adopting this practice in most recent times of crisis,[3] the benefits are increasingly documentable. Not only are agile workers more satisfied with their work, they further develop better digital skills compared to their counterparts – not to mention the positive impact of distance learning (a.k.a. “smart schooling”).

Many players demonstrated digital solidarity to teachers, students and families in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy.[4] WindTre, for example, announced the birth of its ‘Top Quality’ network with 20,000 “5G ready” transmission sites, making it the largest mobile network in Italy,[5] while Vodafone extended its offers to facilitate smart working to all clients located across the five cities covered by 5G (Milan, Rome, Turin, Bologna and Naples).[6] Similarly, TIM accelerated the implementation of 5G in some areas by requesting permits from the Authorities to guarantee the service as soon as possible.[7]

However, there are still several barriers to overcome: according to recent data, only 24% of the population in Italy has access to the ultra-wideband, compared to an EU average of 60%.[8] This would partly explain the emerging difficulties among agile workers in terms of communication and virtual collaboration, which could be overcome thanks to 5G networks’ higher connection speed, faster response time and greater reliability. Carriers, on the other hand, have registered increases up to 70% in internet data traffic throughout Italy during the COVID-19 epidemic, leading the Italian Internet Provider Association (AIIP) to ask the Government to protect telecommunications and to consider them as primary subsistence services.[9]

In addition, working “outside the office” and “in virtual-mode” requires new professional figures, including:

  • Cybersecurity professionals: responsible for protecting IT infrastructures, edge devices, networks, and data, as well as preventing data breaches and monitoring and reacting to attacks;
  • Network administrators: responsible for maintaining and monitoring systems, but also for supporting future growth;
  • Cybersecurity lawyers: responsible for providing advice and counsel to the Compliance, Information Risk, and Information Technology functions in their privacy and cybersecurity initiatives and investigations;
  • Security architects: responsible for reviewing current system security measures and recommending and implementing enhancements, conducting regular system tests and ensuring continuous monitoring of network security, as well as establishing disaster recovery procedures and conducting breach of security drills;
  • IT architects: responsible for designing and maintaining computer networks, scheduling technician assignments and assessing budgetary needs;
  • SEO specialists: responsible for analyzing, reviewing and implementing websites that are optimized to be picked up by search engines, as well as conducting various testing methods in design, layout and advertising techniques to gain the most organic and paid traffic;
  • Chief Digital Officers: responsible for creating and implementing the overall digital strategy of the organization, with a primary focus on enhancing the relationship between data and customers.

To add to the list, we will increasingly see new profiles focused on value-added activities, with 5G acting as a catalyst for innovation processes based on Artificial Intelligence and robotics. As skill demands in the labor market change rapidly, individual workers will have to engage in life-long learnings if they are to remain not just employable, but also to achieve fulfilling and rewarding careers and maximize on-the-job opportunities. For companies, reskilling and upskilling strategies will be critical if they are to find the talent they need and to contribute to the future of work with socially responsible approaches. Challenges exist in relation to working agreements, so evolving scenarios will largely depend on the policies and social decisions countries make.

Likewise, as we start pushing back against the many outdated business practices which are no longer relevant, we all have a responsibility to challenge the traditional ideas of management itself. We must adapt to the rules of employee engagement, studying and communicating new ways of working and thinking about work. We must train managers for the future of the organization: they’ll be measured on how well they can build a sense of belonging and reliance upon shared team goals, regardless of physical co-presence. Appreciation, trust, timely feedback; in a nutshell, equipping employees to show proactivity and faster react to organizational changes.

[1] The Flexible Workspace Outlook Report 2019 – EMEA, Colliers International, 2019.
[2] Osservatorio Smart Working 2019: in Italia smart worker a quota 570mila. Raddoppiano i progetti delle PA, Digital4, October 2019.
[3] Coronavirus, smartworking obbligatorio per tutti ma ad 11 milioni di italiani manca la connessione, Corriere della Sera, March 2020.
[4] Solidarietà digitale: la risposta positiva delle aziende per essere d’aiuto nell’emergenza, Digital4, March 2020.
[5] WindTre, via al brand unico. E nasce la rete “5G ready” più grande d’Italia, CorCom, March 2020.
[6] Emergenza Covid-19: Le nostre iniziative, Vodafone, May 2020.
[7] La resilienza delle Tlc ai tempi del coronavirus, CorCom, March 2020.
[8] Coronavirus, smartworking obbligatorio per tutti ma ad 11 milioni di italiani manca la connessione, Corriere della Sera, March 2020.
[9] Chiudere le attività per due settimane necessita delle telecomunicazioni, AIIP, March 2020.

The article was drafted by Alessandro Puglia, Sara Ciccardi and Francesca Meliffi.