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Working from home during COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned and issues


During the COVID pandemic, many companies, schools, and public organizations all around the world asked their employees to work from home i.e. to adopt what are called “smart working” modalities. This has and will presumably have a serious impact on both employees and employers, which still needs to be clarified and investigated: indeed, if smart working becomes a common working modality, this may have a significant impact on both organizations and employees. This paper reports the results of an online survey of “smart workers” in Italy during the COVID pandemic, when a great number of employees suddenly moved to working from home with no or little preparation. The study offers interesting indications about the involvement and usefulness perception of smart working by the sampled people and makes it possible to single out different categories of employees based on their attitude towards this modality. Also, it points out the potential impact on socialization among colleagues, and the consequent implications for knowledge sharing and knowledge management. From the collected responses, a fully positive or negative conclusion about working from home was not possible, nor a clear indication about the efficiency and effectiveness of this working modality. The analysis, instead, highlighted the presence of different but numerically similar groups of people, i.e. those who were not satisfied at all with the experience, those who were very satisfied, and those who were “undecided”. Furthermore, respondents underlined the importance and the difficulty to maintain working contacts and the intense use of communication systems made for this purpose. Lastly, collected opinions on positive and negative aspects of working from home provided some practical suggestions about how to successfully implement this solution.

Reasons of working from home Before the outbreak of the virus, the largest part of respondents (80.5%) declared little or no experience of SM, and a lot had simply never worked at home before the lockdown. Only a limited  share (13%) had  already experienced  SM for 4 days or  more a  week. Therefore, we have a sample of people that found themselves in a totally new working condition which occurred  in  an  unexpected  and  sudden  way.  This  should  be  considered  carefully  when discussing the findings of the analysis. What is notable is, however and rather unexpectedly, that the  responses of the people with  a previous  SM experience  are not dissimilar, on the whole, to non-experienced respondents. As regards the reasons for SM, 85% of the sample indicated that they were working at  home since  they were  ordered  to do  so,  while  25% affirmed  that  they  chose to  do it . This confirms that the sample is made up by people with no previous experience of working from home or that they were not particularly eager to do so before the spread of the virus.  . Reasons of working from home Source: Authors’ own research results  Work situation and IT tools  Participants  were  then  asked to  briefly outline  their experience  in relation  to five  work-related aspects as outlined in 

Management & Marketing. Challenges for the Knowledge Society  Figure 2. Work situation Source: Authors’ own research results  More  than  half  of respondents  affirmed that,  with  SM,  they  were  working longer than  normally, and  only  around 13%  declared  to  have  less work  done.  Probably,  this is linked to the fact that their educational background or job experience were appropriate for facilitating  their new working condition (as said, more  than 67% of  respondents have  at least a bachelor’s degree). Extremely interesting are responses to the question “is work in SM more demanding than normally?” that shows a polarized distribution between the two extreme answers of “more demanding” and “less demanding”, although the average value of responses lays in the middle (3.07) It is worth noting that most of the sample (77%) stated that they were able to keep good relationships with colleagues even when working from home. As will be shown below, this must be ascribed due to an intense use of various digital communication systems. We conducted a simple cluster analysis using as base variables the items concerning the working situation, whose result are shown in Table 2, where the average value of each segmentation  variable,  for  the  overall  sample  and  for  each  segment,  is  indicated. Segmentation  variables that are statistically different  from the  rest of  the  population  are highlighted in red (lower) or green (higher). These variables distinguish each cluster from the  others  and  identify  its  peculiar  characteristics.  Given  the  preliminary  nature  of  the study,  we  applied  the K-means  clustering methods  to the  raw  data  without  making any preliminary  statistical  elaborations  (as e.g.  a confirmatory  factor analysis  -  Kaufman  and Rousseeuw,  2009).  Nevertheless,  the  results  of  the  present  and  the  following  cluster analyses are interesting and deserve proper discussion.   Table 2. Results of the cluster analysis concerning the work situation   Population Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3 Cluster 4 More hours 3.43 1.86 4.08 2.16 4.51 Less work done 1.98 1.56 1.57 3.72 2.00 More demanding 3.07 2.59 2.15 2.79 4.19 Well prepared 4.18 4.25 4.40 3.63 4.14 Good relations 3.91 4.09 4.29 2.95 3.83 % 100% 26% 27% 12% 35% Source: Authors’ own research results  

Management & Marketing. Challenges for the Knowledge Society The  cluster  analysis  identified  4  clusters  that  delineate  realistic  and  plausible situations. This is a generally considered a sign of validity of the analysis (Sing, 2006). The clusters are: • Cluster  1: people  who  have  experienced  no special  difficulty,  were  able  to carry out their normal  job, and to  keep good relations with  colleagues. This cluster comprises 26% of respondents • Cluster  2:  very  well-prepared  people  who  were  able  perform  their  usual work, but by working more hours than usual. It is 27% of respondents • Cluster 3: people who were less prepared, worked less than usual but getting less  work done  and  being  less  able  to  keep good  relations with  colleagues. This is the smallest one (12% of the total sample) • Cluster 4: people who perceived their work extremely demanding since they worked  more  hours  to  get the  same  results  as  usual  and  were less  able to keep  good  relations  with  colleagues.  This  is  the  biggest  one  in  terms  of number of respondents (35%).  We also  made a discriminant analysis based  on the  demographic items included in the  questionnaire,  i.e.  age,  gender,  education level,  and  number of  children  below  15  at home. This analysis did not produce any statistically significant results (i.e. clusters cannot be distinguished using  these items), and  hence these  results are not  reported here. Some implications are however mentioned in the next section.  The next question was about the employment of electronic communication systems supporting SM  from  home  (Figure  3).  Email,  as  expected,  was  the  most  commonly  and intensively used system (96% were using it always or often). Videoconference and shared online documents were very often used, other tools less frequently. Phone calls have been partially  substituted  by  videoconference  systems,  very  probably  because  these  are  now largely accessible,  easy to use, and much  richer media. Surprisingly, communication  apps (as e.g. Messengers, and WhatsApp), that are very popular in private life, were little used in work  context.  Facebook  and  SMS  are  also  inappropriate  or  outdated communication/interaction tools. Finally,  other groupware programs  are used by  a small proportion of respondents. These  are integrated tools that  include various and sometimes special  functions  (email,  web  conferencing,  chat  online,  video sharing,  etc.)  The  overall picture  shows  that  respondents  resorted  to  a  set of  different  systems  to  preserve  their working relations.