The firm examines the opportunities arising from developments affecting the future of work and inaugurates its new offices in Milan, renovated in line with a flexible and sustainable vision.
After the peak figures recorded during the acute phase of the Covid-19 emergency, remote working – which, according to ISTAT data, involved 21.3% of businesses with at least three employees – is set to become a structural element and will involve, according to the estimate of the Observatory on Smart Working of the Milan Polytechnic, approximately 5.3 million workers in Italy.
The 31 December deadline, stated in the ‘Riapertura’ [Reopening] Decree, for the use of the simplified procedure for communicating recourse to smart working, urgently recalls the need to identify the instruments, including regulatory instruments, to effectively explore, structure and regulate the new forms of flexible work.
The organisation of work
The challenges presented by technology and new business models force businesses and lawyers to deal with new forms of work, often moving creatively within the limits of traditional categories. The most immediate example is that of the so-called platform workers, today at the centre of a heated debate at legislative, jurisprudential and trade union level, and which cannot be limited to the areas of the transportation of people and food delivery which areas include additional professional service providers, domestic work and micro-businesses. Due to these and other emerging ways of organising work, it is foreseeable that in the future the measurement of performance and the setting of targets will become increasingly important.
The development of remote working is inextricably linked to the availability of connectivity technologies. Businesses of the future will not be able to avoid increasing their investments in technology and at the same time will have to manage the risks associated with that, including:
- Data protection
Businesses risk losing control of their confidential information and personal data. Remote work requires a greater attention to obtaining new user licences as well as verifying their compliance. Businesses will also have to find a fair balance between the protection of employees’ personal data and the need to maintain a secure environment for all company information (be it personal data or otherwise).
- Business continuity
Growing use of technological solutions exposes the user to multiple risks: failure of compatibility / interoperability between different platforms; supplier failure to comply with KPIs; delays in software implementation, licence updates and licence overages; termination of commercial contracts with technology partners, licence and service providers. As a result every company will need to anticipate and foresee the instruments required to limit any possible interruption in business continuity.
- Health and safety in the workplace
Another important aspect is the protection of workers’ health and safety in the office of the future: it will be necessary to adapt the current paradigms created for “on-site” working to the changing needs deriving from the possibility of working in different locations. There are at least three macro-themes for consideration: 1) the ergonomics and the configuration of the workstation, as well as the protection of the mental health of employees, remain of crucial importance; 2) the definition of where one can or cannot work, limiting the flexibility to a specific area (the worker could travel abroad with an impact on costs as the company could be charged unforeseen expenses); 3) the definition of what type of work can be carried out at specific locations, such as the video terminal’s use indoors only. Appropriate risk assessments in relation to remote work and defining the actions to be taken become essential.
- Privacy and confidentiality
In response to the phenomenon of remote working, businesses have implemented new software packages and monitoring solutions to track remotely employee productivity and performance . In the absence of the right precautions, both data security and the right to individual privacy are at risk. It is necessary to establish a direct channel of communication with employees that includes the distribution of privacy notices or instructions on the applicable policies relating to contracts and communications with suppliers. With this in mind, staff training (as required by the GDPR) takes on a truly important role.
Greater flexibility in terms of skills will be required of workers and, with reskilling and upskilling in mind, investments in continuing education will necessarily increase. On the one hand, the requalification of the workforce on the basis of skills required by post-pandemic and technological developments (for example in terms of the automation sector) and on the other hand, because training programmes can represent a key instrument to strengthen business culture, a fundamental element for success and, at the same time, one of the most at risk in cases of remote working. Tax benefits or other incentives for training may well be useful tools.
The international scenario and taxation
Bypassing the concept of the physical office, for the first time it is now possible to hire staff without any geographical limitations. This is an important opportunity which however requires careful management. Ongoing work abroad may expose a business to tax liability on its profits outside the home nation, an obligation to register for local VAT, or an obligation to obtain local business licences and work permits. Employees are obliged to comply with compliance obligations to regularise their positions, and in this the employer’s assistance is essential.
Redefinition of working areas
The pandemic has accelerated the need to rethink spaces on the basis of changed needs and has imposed a rethinking in the management of real estate assets, which is often an import part of corporate strategy. The consolidation of the trend towards forms of collaboration combining face-to-face and smart working may result in a contraction in the demand for office space and a redefinition of its layout to increase versatility and areas for collaborative work.
Careful evaluation and planning become important, also taking into account the constraints arising from lease agreements which often predate the pandemic. New lease agreements see a need to include clauses that allow, to the greatest possible extent, a versatile and flexible use of space (including the right to carry out works to adapt them to a rapidly evolving work model and, where possible, the possibility of reducing or increasing the spaces leased in line with this evolution).
The need for flexibility and an evolutionary process that is still unclear may generate a further push towards the use of co-working spaces that offer greater services and flexibility than traditional rentals. A business’s ability to correctly interpret the future work model and to offer adequate spaces and services, in terms of both flexibility and quality, is becoming a determining factor in the ability to attract the best talents.
Osborne Clarke’s new Milan office
Osborne Clarke, emerging as a protagonist in the dynamics of the Future of Work, inaugurates – together with the newly restructured offices in Corso di Porta Vittoria, Milan – its innovative approach to working based on flexibility and environmental sustainability.
The building – which has been subject to a complete restructuring starting from the review of all plants in terms of improved energy efficiency – is in the process of attaining a BREEAM certification, one of the most widespread design standards worldwide in terms of environmental sustainability according to principles of green building.
The internal courtyard also includes facilities for green mobility with a recharging station for cars and electric bicycles, as well as the classic bicycle racks. The firm has invested in a fleet of bicycles, traditional and electric, which are available for all staff to use in town. This choice is in addition to the previous undertaking to use only taxis and document couriers which guarantee electrically powered or hybrid vehicles or bicycles. Again with sustainability as the key objective, the office works on a plastic-free basis and water is provided with dispensers fed directly from the main water supply.
The internal areas have also been the subject of a complete overhaul, and are now all organised according to a desk-sharing logic, in favour of an agile, fluid and inclusive working environment. Everyone has their own IT kit that allows them to be fully operational remotely and to take advantage of the desks and meeting rooms that can be booked via an app. An organisation of space that meets the continuing evolution of the firm where, even before the start of the pandemic, 30% of its staff worked remotely.