Aligning Values: Fostering productivity and efficiency in the age of the smart company

Here in Italy, the concept of the “smart company” has struggled to gain traction.

A smart company features a flexible management and working style that balances productivity with the reconciliation of employees’ personal and professional lives. The bulk of Italian enterprises consists of micro and small businesses (those with fewer than twenty employees), frequently engaging in sectors with traditionally intensive manual labor.

Not every company can easily adopt a so-called “smart” work style. For the purposes of this article, it’s important to differentiate between two broad categories: high manual labor-intensive service companies and companies that rely more on intellectual contribution and require less manual labor. Here, we’ll focus on the latter category, since implementing a “smart” work style is quite challenging for small businesses in sectors like hospitality (restaurants, bars, hotels), let alone those in manufacturing.

Being a smart company isn’t just about pretending to change the rules of the game for marketing or brand awareness purposes. Instead, it’s about carefully considering the anthropological landscape we’re facing and the current trends (especially post-COVID) that are shaping and have already shaped corporate policies, particularly in the realm of human resource management.

Remote work, for instance, presents a significant opportunity for employees (who generally appreciate this work style) and companies (who can reduce expenses on office space and recruit talent from around the world) alike. However, we must also address the issue of employee retention. While remote work offers advantages, it is essential to acknowledge that it may pose risks as well. Without a strong sense of connection and belonging, employees might feel isolated and disconnected, potentially affecting their long-term commitment to the organization. Reducing everything to economic aspects does not seem consistent with the values we hold regarding individuality.

Different Values, Different Companies

Anecdotal and sociological surveys reveal that for younger generations (Generation Z and millennials), work no longer forms the center of life. Here in Italy, the generation that came of age immediately after World War II and the subsequent “baby boomer” generation, however, lived in a socio-economic context marked by significant economic growth, which spurred rapid economic development. However, the psychological background and values of prior generations were largely shaped by frugal, often agrarian societies with simplistic and limited consumption styles.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that Italy finally  became a true mass consumer society. This shift became especially evident in 1987, when Italy overtook Britain in GDP, becoming the sixth-largest global economy. Although the shift was short lived, it led to a generational divide in the values held by Italians — a divide that lingers to this day.

While the priorities of previous generations centered on work and children, the newer generations have more varied interests, reflecting the positive changes in Italian society over the past decades. The increased, albeit still relatively limited,  participation of women in the workforce and education, as well as the broader range of life choices and experiences available to today’s youth, represent the benefits of a more affluent and globalized society. It is also undeniable that this positive process has had negative “externalities,” such as declining birth rates and their current and future impact on economic growth and welfare sustainability.

Companies and entrepreneurs often find it difficult to instill the right motivation in their employees, or as some might say, to cultivate the right “attitude.” In my experience as a CEO of a small company, economic incentives only work when carefully designed and applied to certain personality types, which I suspect are a minority among these age groups. As a result, it’s  crucial to think outside the box. Aligning the company’s values as closely as possible with those of the employees is essential, not implying a surrender to non-productive work practices but acknowledging and respecting employee values, as employees are indeed the lifeblood of any organization.

The ASTW Experience: Flexible hours, smart working, reduced weekly hours

Once we recognize the importance of aligning a company’s values with those of its employees, it’s necessary to devise a series of incentives that reward not only productivity but also harmonize the company’s production needs with the employees’ life needs. At my company, ASTW, we’ve made an effort to adopt a smart working style by aligning our company values with those of our workers.

For several years now, we’ve implemented flexible hours and unrestricted smart working, meaning that all employees have the opportunity to work remotely from any location and without limitations, including all working hours, without the requirement of physically being in the office. Moreover, our employees have the freedom to manage their own schedules, taking into account the needs of the company and the work of their colleagues. 

This is facilitated through the use of shared calendars and agendas, allowing for effective coordination and collaboration. To enable this, we adopted IT applications and infrastructure (now accessible to all companies) to monitor employee activity and productivity and equip them with the necessary tools to work from any location. The results of this work style have benefitted both the company (in terms of productivity) and the employees (who appreciate such flexibility).

Additionally, ASTW has been experimenting with reduced weekly hours for the past several months, cutting four hours per week for all full-time employees. While ensuring service continuity through careful work scheduling, our team has maintained productivity while simultaneously increasing employee well-being.

The adoption of increasingly affordable technology, coupled with an attentive understanding of employees’ values and needs, is far from a trend or a marketing gimmick. Instead, it proves to be a competitive advantage and employee retention tool in an era caught between quiet quitting and great resignation.

Domenico Lombardini
Domenico Lombardini is the founder and CEO of ASTW Specialized Translation, a language service provider specializing in the intellectual property, life sciences, legal, technical, and scientific fields.


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