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Transforming the Workplace: Smart Work centers as the new frontier of remote work arrangements

Conference Paper

Transforming the Workplace: Smart Work centers as the new frontier of remote work arrangements

Abstract

The development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has significantly contributed to transforming traditional workplaces and work practices; indeed it is increasingly frequent that organizations allow their employees to work remotely, i.e. at a distance from the office and generally to freely choose where (places) and when (time) to carry out the assigned activities (spatio-temporal flexibility). This resulted in a growing interest showed in last decades both from academics and practitioners towards different typologies of remote work arrangements, including telework, homework, mobile work, virtual teams and more recently smart work. Furthermore, over the last few years both private and public managers has started to acknowledge the potential advantages offered to employees and organizations by a new form of remote work arrangements and a new workplace, namely the "Smart Work Center" (SWC). It refers to a shared and collaborative space where the main users, i.e. public and private employees of different organizations, can flexibly access and work outside organizational boundaries taking advantage from the availability of a variety of communication and collaboration services (e.g. computers, printers, fax, internet access) next to additional services (e.g. conference rooms, recreational facilities). Although the first projects of SWC realized in the cities of Amsterdam and Seoul date back to 2006, to date it has not yet build up a solid organizational and managerial literature on this emerging phenomenon, differently to what happened for two other typologies of shared workspaces, telecenters and co-working spaces respectively. In order to fill this gap and advance the current knowledge about SWCs, the authors aim at providing a comprehensive conceptualization of these collaborative workspaces so as to build a solid ground for future theory development, empirical investigation and policy development. In particular, we show how SWCs can be viewed as a potential driver for boosting the diffusion of remote work arrangements beyond another more known but controversial form, notably homeworking. To this end it is firstly provided a broad overview of SWCs by describing their features, functions and drivers. In this respect, based on existing documentation concerning some SWC realized worldwide and considered to be best practices (e.g. Samsung Villages, Cisco, Corea), they have been identified a variety of goals, targets along with a different range of services in existing SWCs. Subsequently, by drawing on existing literature on telecentres and collaborative co-working spaces the authors discuss similarities and differences with SWCs and emphasize that, although SWCs can be positioned in continuity with these two innovative workspaces, they reflect a new business model - mainly in terms of contents of activities - that combines and revitalizes elements already characterizing the two cited workspaces. In particular, SWCs can be considered as an evolved form of telecentres, since their emergence is mainly driven by technological innovations and the spread of a new culture of ”smart work”. Furthermore, unlike co-working spaces, SWCs consider their main users the employees of private companies and public organizations, and not only professionals and entrepreneurs, usually self-employed belonging to the creative class (e.g. architecture, design). Similarly to co-working spaces, SWCs attach high importance to networking and to the collaborative opportunities offered to workers. However, collaboration assumes a more complex meaning in SWCs, going beyond the idea of “working side by side”, that is typical of traditional office spaces; it also includes the concept of “working together”, that is the essence of co-working spaces. Indeed, in SWCs co-working becomes a component of a complex “interconnected way of working” both in physical and virtual spaces and not limited to a single organization: exploiting the potentialities of existing technologies, it is allowed to amplify connections among individuals (physically close or distant), belonging to different organizations, through nascent groups, communities of practice or informal networks. This process is clearly beneficial for employees and also for organizations. The analysis of existing projects of SWCs allowed to identify a number of economic, social and environmental advantages deriving from these collaborative spaces for employees, their organizations and society. Most of them (e.g. better work-life balance, increased productivity, reduction in pollution, etc.) largely overlap with the benefits that literature attributed to other typologies of remote work arrangements. However, especially compared to telework, it is plausible to assume an optimistic development of SWCs that may contribute to sustain the process of workplace trasformation towards higher levels of spatio-temporal flexibility. In this regards SWC allows to overcome, or at least to significantly reduce, many of those ”barriers” that have so far impeded the adoption of teleworking; e.g. SWCs can offer a solution to inadequate organizational ICT equipments or to a lack of workspaces at home. Furthermore, SWCs may be viewed as an effective solution to address some key managerial issues arising by "physical distance" and particularly relevant in the context of remote working. In this regard, SWC are potentially able to increase the propensity of managers to implement remote working in their organizations since they enable more effective management for key business areas, such as organizational control and communication and knowledge management. Indeed SWC can facilitate the monitoring of distant employees through the exploitation of control mechanisms different from direct supervision, notably self control, peer control and professionalism. At the same time, through working in SWC, employees can gradually change their (usually negative) attitude towards control technologies, so that they can start looking at phone calls not as instruments of surveillance, nor meetings as ineffective tools for discussion and dialogue with colleagues and supervisors. Concerning issues related to knowledge transfer, SWCs encourage interaction, networking and a collaborative-oriented culture - also thanks to specific layout and/or by the support of a dedicated staff; these initiatives can sustain the development of an employee's positive attitude towards intra-organizational collaboration, i.e. effective communication and knowledge transfer with other colleagues of the same organization, also acting as gatekeeper of organizational knowledge.
Transforming the Workplace:
Smart Work Centers as the new frontier of
remote work arrangements
Luisa Errichiello
Institute for Research on Innovation and Services for Development (IRISS)
Italian National Research Council (CNR)
l.errichiello@iriss.cnr.it
Tommasina Pianese
Institute for Research on Innovation and Services for Development (IRISS)
Italian National Research Council (CNR)
t.pianese@iriss.cnr.it
First RGCS Symposium
Paris (France)
December 16th, 2016
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, 2016 - Paris
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Introduction
Over the last decades, the rapid advance made in in the field of information and communication
technologies (ICTs) has tremendously contributed to transforming traditional workplaces and work
practices. Today we are assisting at a changing scenario within the business landscape. Indeed there
has been a noticeable diffusion among organizations of innovative ways of working and growing
opportunities for their employees to perform work activities remotely, i.e. at a distance from the
traditional office buildings, let them generally free to choose where (places) and when (time) carry
out the assigned activities (spatial-temporal flexibility). This resulted in an increasing interest
showed by both academics and practitioners towards different typologies of remote work
arrangements, including telework, home-based telework, mobile work, virtual teams and, more
recently, smart work (or smart working). Furthermore, over the last few years both private and
public managers have started to acknowledge the potential advantages offered to both employees
and organizations by what can be considered both as a new form of remote work and a new
workplace. We refer, in particular, to the so-called “Smart Work Center” (SWC), a shared and
collaborative space where the main users, i.e. public and private employees of different
organizations, can flexibly access and work outside organizational boundaries taking advantage
from the availability of a variety of communication and collaboration core services (e.g. computers,
printers, fax, internet access) next to accessory services (e.g. conference rooms, recreational
facilities). Starting from the first projects of SWCs launched in Amsterdam and Seoul in 2006, the
number of these spaces realized worldwide has significantly increased. However, to date it is still
missing an even seminal corpus of organizational and managerial studies focused on this emerging
phenomenon, differently to what happened for two more popular typologies of shared workspaces,
namely telecentres and co-working spaces.
In order to fill this gap, the authors aim at advancing the scant available knowledge about SWCs
through providing a comprehensive conceptualization of these collaborative workspaces. Indeed we
believe that this effort is a necessary step to build a solid ground for future theory development,
empirical investigation and policy development in the field of collaborative spaces more broadly
and of SWCs more specifically. In this respect, we firmly believe that SWCs can be viewed as a
very promising solution in order to boost the diffusion of remote work arrangements; more
importantly, to some extant it can be viewed as a more effective solution and thus as an alternative
to another well-known but still controversial form of remote working, that is home-based telework.
To this end, firstly authors provide a broad overview of SWCs by describing their features, in terms
of distinctive elements, target of users, architecture and potential financiers. These characteristics
are then compared to those of telecenters and coworking spaces, highlighting main similarities and
differences. Preliminary evidences on SWCs advantages and benefits are then presented mainly on
the basis of existing secondary sources documenting some relevant projects realized worldwide;
finally, the authors speculate about how the adoption of SWCs can constitute an effective solution
reduce and/or to overcome the main traditional barriers that have so far impeded the wider adoption
and diffusion of remote work arrangements, notably telework.
SWCs: main features and characteristics
SWCs are intended to be shared workspaces where a variety of users, namely self-employed and
employees of both private and public organizations, can flexibly access by paying a periodic charge,
and can work - both individually and in team - at a distance from their organizations' office
buildings and headquarters. Effective remote work is enabled by the availability of a wide range of
Transforming the Workplace: Smart Work Center
Luisa Errichiello & Tommasina Pianese
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core services of communication and collaboration (i.e. phones, printers, fax, internet access, etc.) as
well as secondary services (i.e. conference hall, public and recreational spaces, etc.).
The first projects of SWCs were realized in Amsterdam and Seoul in 2006-2007, within the so-
called project "Connected Urban Development" (CUD). They were the result of a successful
partnership signed between the two cities and the technological provider CISCO and aimed at
exploiting technological innovation and new ICTs in order to improve urban life and foster the
"smart" development of cities (Versteegh, 2010). From those initiatives on, there has been an
increasing attention put on SWCs by a number of different stakeholders, notably institutional
authorities and public and private organizations. The collective acknowledgement of relevant
opportunities provided by these workplaces has led to several experimentations around the world,
and in particular in USA, Korea, Australia and Europe. It is worth highlighting that this emerging
trend can be explained especially in light of the significant advantages deriving by the combination
of these workspaces with other classical typologies of remote work (home-based and mobile work)
but most importantly by the increasing changes offered also to SME's employees to work remotely
(Errichiello & Pianese, 2014).
Distinctive features of SWC
- flexibility in access time and workspaces;
- varied number of potential beneficiaries;
- emphasis on the human dimension: SWCs are designed as “human spaces”, where the
interaction and collaboration - especially of informal nature - is encouraged also thanks to
specific layout choices (e.g. open spaces);
- availability of numerous, sophisticated, ICT tools and technologies to support the remote
execution of differentiated activities;
- pro-active role of institutional bodies that, also in partnership with private organizations,
promote and realize these collaborative workspaces (Errichiello, Morvillo & Pianese, 2016;
Errichiello & Pianese, 2016).
Potential beneficiaries
Potential users include professionals (e.g. architects, designers, lawyers, and consultants), but also
entrepreneurs and new firms, also small and micro-businesses (e.g. innovative start-ups). Moreover
SWCs are also a potential (exclusive or main) solution of remote working for other two segments
traditionally ignored by other collaborative spaces (co-working): employees of private organizations
and of the public/third sector.
Architecture and services
Users of SWCs have at their disposal not only a physical space, but also a virtual space, thanks to a
variety of available services and ICTs. The layout of a SWC is generally organized in the form of
open spaces and shared desks, where users can work individually or in teams. Moreover it incude
concentration areas, meeting rooms , relax areas (kitchen, bar, restaurant, etc.).
The SWC offer usually includes a variety of both core and additional services. Among the first,
users can benefit of a number of spaces, and especially can use computers provided with software,
access to internet or databases, office equipment (fax, printer, scanner, etc.) and ICT tools (e.g.
phone). The variety of additional services depends on the typologies and specific needs of users;
some examples are communication and collaboration systems (e.g. systems for videoconferences),
banking and financial services, business consulting, community services (e.g. nursery, educational
courses) (Adamsone et al., 2013; Versteegh, 2010).
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Possible financiers of SWC
Drawing on existing documents related to the many initiatives realized all over the world, it is
possible to identify several scenarios with regard to the subject who takes the initiatives and/or
finances the building-up of SWCs (Errichiello & Pianese, 2014).
In some cases, governmental bodies promote and financially support the construction of SWCs in
order to pursue different objectives, notably environmental sustainability and the reduction of CO2
emissions (thanks to reduced work-home commuting), economic growth in low-income areas
1
, the
improvement of citizens' and local communities' quality of life.
More recently, large private organizations have also started to realize SWCs for their employees, as
part of larger and more complex projects of organizational restructuring. In the case of private
initiatives, purposes are generally twofold. On the one hand, strategic boards aim at reducing office
(both fixed and variable) costs; on the other hand, they believe that through SWCs their employees'
level of productivity can increase and at the same time they can achieve a better work-family
balance through the reduction of stress produced by daily traveling.
Finally, these shared workspaces can arise from public-private partnerships, i.e. from collaborations
between governmental bodies and private organizations, typically technological providers. In these
cases (an example is provided by the pilot projects of Amsterdam and Seoul with CISCO), it is
possible to take advantage from complementarities and synergies of partners as well as from sharing
knowledge, resources, skills as well as risks inherent the investments.
A comparison with telecentres and co-working spaces
Although positioned in continuity with existing innovative workspaces, SWCs mainly reflect a new
business model that combines and revitalizes elements that traditionally characterize telecentres
and collaborative co-working spaces.
Specifically, SWCs can be considered as an evolved form of telecentres, since their emergence is
mainly driven by the spread of a new culture of “smart work” boosted by technology development.
Indeed, although SMCs are conceptually quite close to telecentres, these physical structures are
mainly conceived as public multifunctional facilities created for social purposes, i.e. to provide ICT
services to people and communities that cannot easily take advantage of those technologies usually
accessible in large cities or industrial areas (Abbott & Yoong, 2005; Gomez & Reilly, 2002;
Zamani-Miandashti et al., 2014).
Even if the above described features also characterize some SWCs and apparently can suggest their
strong similarity, it is important highlighting that in their ideation, SWCs are mainly thought as
“smart working solutions”; in this respect, in fact, their main groups of users are employees of
public and private organizations who are used to telework or whose activity can be potentially
performed remotely.
Furthermore, the economic and financial sustainability of telecentres largely depends on the
commitment of governmental bodies, as the almost exclusive target of users is represented by
citizens who they provide with access to ICT tools, and frequently training courses and employment
support services (del Águila et al., 2002 a,b; Proenza, 2001; Zamani-Miandashti et al., 2014).
Institutional bodies play an important role also in SWCs, but here there is a greater involvement of
private organizations -mainly in the form of public-private partnerships- and a broader range of
1
The promotion of economic growth in depressed areas is the main objective of the agency Micropol, created in 2012
within the Cooperation program INTERREG IVC financed by the European Union. Its activities consist in supporting
the realization of SWC across Europe, especially in non-metropolitan areas as solutions to problems affecting mainly
rural areas, i.e. depopulation, low employment rate, poor access and/o inability to use ICT (Micropol, 2014; 2015 a,
2015b).
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services offered to employees.
SWCs have also to be distinguished from coworking spaces. Born a decade ago, co-working spaces
count in 2013 more than 3,000 structures around the world, especially in so-called “creative cities”
(Moriset, 2014). Also in this case, it is worthwhile to evidence that, in comparison to SWCs, co-
working spaces are targeted at a narrow group of users, notably professionals and entrepreneurs,
usually self-employed belonging to the creative class (architecture, design, etc.) (Deskmag, 2013;
John & Gratton, 2013). On the contrary, as already said, SWCs consider as their main users the
employees of private companies and public/third sector organizations.
However, SWCs share some features with co-working. Indeed, similarly to these spaces, SWCs
attach high importance to networking and to the collaborative opportunities offered to workers.
Nevertheless, co-working mainly represents a philosophy and a culture based on the central idea of
"collaboration with other people", that is enabled by physical and cognitive proximity,
independently from the affiliation to the same organization. Members of coworking spaces share
this culture and often are grouped together forming communities of practice (Brown & Duguid,
1991) or microcluster (Capdevila, 2013). In the case of SWCs, "collaboration" assumes a more
complex meaning, since it goes well beyond the idea of “working side by side”, as is typical of
traditional office spaces; indeed, it also includes the concept of “working together”, that is the core
idea of co-working spaces. At the same time, however, in SWCs co-working (i.e. “working
together”) becomes a component of a complex “interconnected way of working” both in physical
and virtual spaces, and is not limited to a single organization: indeed, exploiting the potentialities of
existing technologies, it is allowed to amplify connections among individuals (physically close or
distant) also belonging to different organizations (Errichiello & Pianese, 2014).
Benefits of SWCs and opportunities for larger remote work diffusion
A number of economic, social and environmental benefits arise from these collaborative spaces for
a variety of stakeholders. These include not only organizations and their employees, but also other
service providers within SWCs (e.g. nursery, cafe, and restaurant), local authorities, local residents
(Adamsone et al., 2013; Cisco, 2011; Regional Development Australia, 2013).
Most of the individual, organizational and societal benefits of this innovative remote work solution
largely overlap with those that literature has traditionally attributed to other typologies of remote
work arrangements, notably telework (e.g. Campbell & Mc Donnell, 2007; Illegems &Verbeke,
2004; Kurland & Bailey, 1999).
Specifically, among the individual benefits, working in SWCs allows remote workers to save
money, optimize time, reduce stress, increase autonomy and productivity, and improve work-family
balance and increase job satisfaction. SWCs also allow achieving the same organizational benefits
that are provided by traditional and well-known remote work arrangements. These include
improved organizational performance through increased job satisfaction and individual
productivity; reduced absenteeism and turnover; increased commitment and enhanced positive
organizational climate; a reduction of office costs; an expanded labor market and the ability to
attract, motivate and retain highly specialized human resources.
Finally, at societal level, the adoption of SWCs can potentially produce positive outcomes for the
community, through the reduction of environmental pollution; the increase in community
involvement; the recovery of depressed areas; the reduction of unemployment and accidents related
to home-office commuting.
Next to the mentioned advantages, the relevance of SWCs should also be evaluated taking into
account their capacity to overcome, or at least to significantly reduce, many of those traditional
”barriers” that have so far impeded the large-scale diffusion of teleworking, especially among
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SMEs. In this regard, SWCs can offer a solution to a number of problems, first the inadequate
organizational ICT equipment or the lack of suitable workspaces at home. Furthermore, they may
be viewed as an effective solution to address some key managerial issues arising by “physical
distance” and that become particularly relevant in the context of remote working. Indeed, SWCs are
potentially able to increase the propensity of managers to implement remote working in their
organizations, since they enable effective management in key organizational areas, such as
supervision and control or communication and knowledge management. In this respect, SWCs can
facilitate the monitoring of distant employees through the exploitation of control mechanisms
different from direct supervision, notably self-control, peer control and professionalism. At the
same time, through working in SWCs, employees can gradually change their (usually negative)
attitude towards control technologies, so that, for example, they can start looking at phone calls not
as a surveillance technique, nor meetings as ineffective tools for discussion and dialogue with
colleagues and supervisors. Concerning knowledge transfer, SWCs encourage interaction,
networking and a collaborative-oriented culture thanks to specific layouts and/or by the support of a
dedicated staff; these initiatives can sustain the development of an employee's positive attitude
towards intra-organizational collaboration, i.e. effective communication and knowledge transfer
with other colleagues of the same organization, also acting as gatekeeper of organizational
knowledge (Errichiello & Pianese, 2014).
Some SWCs best practices
In this section we draw on existing documents and research reports to provide some preliminary
knowledge about SWCs, in particular by discussing their benefits and providing examples of
potential forms and typologies of financers (public, private, public-private partnership) along with
opportunities arising from the integrated management of a SWC network.
1. Public financing: The case of the Republic of Korea
The Korean Government puts in place a strategic plan aimed at the creation of a network of SWC
targeted at public and private employees. In particular, its main objective is to obtain a reduction in
urban congestion and environmental pollution as well s to provide to Koeran workers an alternative
solution to their small houses that actually impede to largely rely on the traditional home-based
telework.
The main promoter of the initiative was the Ministry of Public Administration and Security
(MOPAS) that in 2010, through collaboration with other public agencies and by exploiting unused
public properties, opened two Smart Work Centers in the district of Dobong-gu (Seoul) and
Bundang (province of Gyeonggi), shortly after followed by the construction of further eight centers.
Initial estimates showed that 10% of Korean public employees (more than 310.000) worked at least
once a week in one of the ten SWC with an annual saving of $170 millions. Moreover, in terms of
benefits, some interviews to SWC's users revealed enhanced productivity and improvement in
work-family balance. This has lead to estimate a demand growth of 30% (over 940,000) in next
few, to which MOPAS has responded with the opening of other fifty SWCs by 2015 (Crosland,
2013; Eom et al., 2014; Jungyun 2011).
2. Private funding: Samsung Villages
Samsung Electronics inaugurated the first two Samsung Villages in Seoul and Bundang in 2011. Its
objective was to reduce commuting time, especially for those employees with family duties (indeed
the request of a workstation is primarily reserved to employees with children under 13 years of
age). In these structures, open 24h / 24, there is a high availability of workstations equipped with
computers and access to broadband internet, halls and video-conferencing systems, meeting rooms
and nurseries.
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In March 2012 it resulted that, within a broad and complex program of flexible working initiatives
adopted in Samsung, nearly 65.000 Korean employees (out of 100.000) had the possibility to work
flexibly. Feedbacks on these initiatives were positive at different levels and for employees working
in various functional areas; indeed several interviewed workers declared that the advantages
deriving from working closely to home, such as the reduction of absenteeism, the improvement of
their work-family balance and the chance to work in a far more concentrated, serene and efficient
way (Samsung Electronics, 2012a, 2012 b).
3. Public-private partnership as a success factor of the SWC network in Holland
The city of Amsterdam realized the first SWC in 2008, in collaboration with the city of Almere and
the Strategic Consulting Division of CISCO. Its objective was to reduce the travel time of the
numerous citizens of Almere forced every day to reach corporate headquarters located in
Amsterdam. However, this pilot project was a failure that led executives to change completely the
initial business model. Indeed, they modified the first service concept and SWC was no longer
intended as a place designed at reducing urban traffic, but rather as a collaborative space among
employees, both colleagues and non-colleagues. In the same way, the promoters modified the target
of clients, by assigning highest importance to SMEs, and only a secondary role to large
organizations. The realized SWC was arranged with individual and shared workstations equipped
with the proprietary CISCO Telepresence system, i.e. an innovative technology that combines high-
quality audio and video with other tools and that enable the effective remote interaction with other
people; moreover they were realized a nursery, a restaurant and other recreational areas. The access
to the structure is based on the payment of a fixed individual quote, both on an annual basis or by an
occasionally-based access. After this restructuration, the center registered 100% occupancy rate;
moreover, users appreciated the significant reduction in commuting time and recognized the value
of social and business interactions, compared to the case of home-working.
The success of this center led to the creation of the Double U Smart Work Network, a network of
integrated SWC, owned with some centralized services (e.g. tools and channels for reservation).
This network comprehends more than one hundred SWCs linked to each other as well as with
public authorities and local firms; in this way employees of the thirty organizations that become
members of the network can freely and flexibly choose the specific SWC where to work or move
from another to the other according to their needs, after verification of availability and reservation
(Boorsma & Mitchell, 2011; Cisco, 2011; La Fabrique de la Cité, 2013).
Conclusions
In the last few years, we are witnessing a growing attention to various forms of remote work
arrangements. Although there is still a lack of accurate official statistics about the level of adoption
and diffusion of remote work both worldwide or at continent level, it is worth highlighting that an
increasing number of countries have started to move in this direction and put effort to empirically
collect statistical data about this phenomena. In this respect, the case of telework is certainly a case
in point if we consider that in the European Union, for example, a number of nations, including
Belgium, France, Spain, German but also Italy (Eurofound, 2015, Osservatorio Smart Working,
2016) have started to extensively work to collect relevant information about a number of aspects
related to telework and smart work (such as typologies, forms, characteristics of teleworkers,
barriers to adoption, etc.).
This study is focused on a still scanty known typology of remote work arrangements, namely Smart
Work Centers. These physical spaces are not simply a new workplace offered to a large number of
target users and especially employees of private and public/third sector organizations; indeed, they
mark a significant shift to new work practices, both for employees and their supervisors. What is
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important to highlight here is that SWCs can be considered as a new highly potential solution to the
increasing demand of spatial and temporal flexibility made by workers and can significantly boost,
also in combination with other classical forms of remote work (home-based and mobile work), a
wider diffusion of remote work worldwide.
Through a critical analysis of the main features and typologies of SWCs, its comparison with other
collaborative spaces i.e. telecenters and coworkig spaces, as well as the example provided by some
best practice worldwide, the paper offered some valuable insights to a number of stakeholders.
Firstly, it provided governmental bodies and policy makers with some relevant indications on
funding procedures of these structures, highlighting in particular the opportunities to rely on
collaborative arrangements such as partnership with private organizations, notably technological
providers, in order to pool together complementary resources and knowledge, but also to share risks
related to investments and new business models. Secondly, it is addressed to the top and middle
management of both private and public/third sector organizations, both large and small, that in
order to remain competitive on the market- need to put in place broad projects of business
restructuration, regarding both the reorganization of physical spaces and changes in traditional work
arrangements. Moreover, the variety of solutions identified (SWC public, private or as public-
private partnership) extends the possibility to adopt remote work to a wide number of organizations.
Finally, it provided employees (potential teleworkers) with information that can facilitate the
legitimacy and acceptance of smart work programs.
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Chapter
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