6th European Telework and New Ways of Working Assembly Proceedings.


A case study of telework in Italian public administration


Patrizio Di Nicola, Micromatica, Italy

Annamaria Vallarelli, Perugia County Council, Italy


Among the innovations that hardly take off in the Information Society - more or less worldwide but especially in Italy - digital TV and electronic trade are often cited. Meetings, special inserts in specialised magazines and dailies with a high circulation focus on such topics, while Ministers and parties set up task forces and Forum.

Before almost astonishing awareness that by now the European teleworkers are over 4.5 million, corresponding to 3% of the workforce, and till some months ago, telework itself seemed to be doomed to represent one of the post-industrial society’s chimeras as well.

The idea of working out the office using various technologies has been fascinating futurologists, ecologists and telecom enterprises’ chairmen since the ’60s because of different reasons. It has always seemed to be just round the corner, but has hatched for a long while. Teleworkers number has increased slowly in every industrialised country. The increase has been promoted by some innovation, such as the spread of the Internet and Intranets, but hampered by different business management, which seem to follow the old Italian proverb "master’s eye makes the horse get fat" (therefore the employees must be controlled carefully to ensure that they really work when in the office).

The stage of telework development is different in various countries and, in each of them, in various lines of business. In some cases it depends on the specificity of manufacturing, in other ones on the stage of technology development, finally the possibility of telework is promoted or hampered by labour law, employment contracts, fiscal regulations.

Each country has its a bit peculiar history of telework development: in the US it was at first dragged along by the anti-pollution rules, but more recently the phenomenon of the home office and home micro-business through the Internet has driven the number of teleworkers to over 10 million. In Sweden, where teleworkers are 5% of the population, distance work has spread thanks to the so-called "telecottage movement". Telecottages are structures meant to provide updated connectivity and IT services to rural communities and to the areas which have economic development problems. Telecottages have been an example for small and large enterprises. In Ireland, Call centers (and telecottages) were the bearing axes of telework’s spread, which at present involves over 6% of the employed. In the UK, telework growth seems to have been affected more by the large amount of self-employed teleworkers, professionals who use the Internet to keep in touch with customers or acquire new ones, rather than by telecottages (which, however, are several hundreds).

And what about Italy? In our country, where telework concerns only a minority - a bit less than 250,000 teleworkers -, and it is hard to find original examples and best practices, a new original way now seems to be opening up: the public sector is dragging the private.


Telework and policy making

The interest of Italian policy makers in telework can be dated up to 1996 when the first related proposal of law was introduced, aiming to boost telework development and, particularly, the building of telecenters in the areas where unemployment was the highest in the country. After the first proposal, others followed, some regulating and others providing a mix of regulation and promoting, considering that telework could be a worth mean to fight against unemployment or, at least, to increase job opportunities for the particularly disadvantaged categories of citizens. Those proposals have not become laws yet, but aroused Civil Service Minister’s interest who provided for the possibility of distance working for public employees in the third reform law on public administration (Law No. 191/98, better known as Bassanini ter), in the article 4.

The law No. 191 states that "in order to rationalise the work organisation and to put up on management through a flexible use of human resources", public administrations may relay on some form of distant working, establishing information systems equipment and telephone and telecom connections as well, according to their budgetary available funds. Concerning this law the civil servants will be authorised to "carry out their duties at a different place from the office for the same wage, according to determination of the methods to verify their performance of the duties".

The wording of the law is well done and explains that the law does not refer to home telework only but, mentioning "a different place from the office", it opens the possibility for civil servants to work or as "mobile worker" or from teleworking centers and telecottages. It also points out the necessity of a method to verify the work done. The use of the expression "performance of the duties" paves the way to a revolutionary control mechanism for the public sector, since it is based on the achieving of measurable outputs rather than on the formal respect of the working hours and presence in the office.

The organising methods entailed in the law, including the criteria to perform the target-based control, have been entrusted to proper regulation to be drafted with the contribution of the AIPA (Autorità per l’informatica nella pubblica amministrazione - Authority for Informatics in Public Administration). As the law states, when such a regulation is published, every single administration will be to conform its own regulations and adopt the suitable organising measures allowing the law to be fully enforced; at the same time during collective bargaining the economic and administrative rules for teleworking servants will have to be fixed. In the meanwhile, and that is perhaps the most relevant side, the law provides that public administration’s bodies are allowed "in any case" to start up experimental forms of telework.

The results have not been late: during 1998, since the draft bill was presented, some public administrations, both central and local, have implemented the most various forms of telework projects, from the eleven Telework Centers constituting the subject matter of a bid drawn by the Ministry of Transport, up to the home teleworkers of the provincial administrations of Bolzano and Perugia.

But what do the directly concerned civil servants think about the idea of teleworking?


What civil servants think of telework ? The Perugia survey

In order to give a first answer to that question, we carried out a survey among the workers in the provincial administration of Perugia in the second half of 1998. The results we got were presented during a Meeting held in Pila last November 5,6, and gave us a series of proves on the widespread acceptance of telework among the civil servants, and some new points of views which will be sum up later on as well.

The civil servants inquired have undoubtedly welcomed the innovation of telework. They consider it not only as a method to reduce their time of travelling to the work, thus saving time to dedicate to personal life. It is hoped telework could offer an opportunity to change public administration’s way of working, recovering the control of the duty and civil servants independence. It is not by accident that the answers to the questionnaire on telework’s advantages have been fairly allocated between grounds which could be defined "functional" and "individual" ones. The advantage of telework mostly pointed out (25.7%) is the opportunity to determine the working time, thus getting an employment relationship more flexible than the current one, followed (20.5%) by the opportunity to have more time for the family. 18.8% of the interviewees finally pointed out that telework gives the opportunity to work more independently and focusing on targets. The need for greater independence is a modern and topical demand, claimed not only by civil servants. In the pre-Taylorist production world workers claimed to come out from poverty and to reduce working hours; in the Fordist age, Henri de Man was one of the first to guess that, the main problem was the apportionment of job, causing alienation and disaffection. In the modern office, having fulfilled main needs, the workers strongly lay claims to professional development, including innovative models of independence in working. The interviewed civil servants consider the typical telework target-based evaluation and the consequent dropping of the watchful control on the time spent in the office as a new possible way to pass from a "positional" public administration’s pattern to new and dynamic paradigms, focusing on the improvement of civil servants and the humanisation of the work.

Nevertheless teleworking is not suitable for everybody; therefore it should be voluntary and the choice of working far from the office should be eventually reversible. In our sample, there are people who would like to try it, but cannot because of the kind of work they do. On the other side there are some others who technically speaking could telework but do not intend to leave their work environment, clearly dear to them. Therefore against a theoretic willingness to telework, expressed by more than 50% of the interviewees, the ones who can and at the same time want to telework decrease to a bit little less than 12% of the persons questioned (see table 1).

This data shows how it is wishful thinking to try to adopt telework - both in enterprises and in Public Administration- starting from "inventories", listing more or less teleworkable jobs instead of starting from people, their aptitudes and their willingness to try new pattern of working.

Table 1: Willingness and possibility of teleworking

As far the job he is doing, the worker could telework, but he is not interested in trying it


As far the job he is doing, the worker can telework, and he is interested in trying it


The kind of job is not suitable for teleworking, nor the worker is interested in trying it


The kind of job is not suitable for teleworking, but the worker is interested in trying it




The research carried out in Perugia also confirms that - but for someone it will be news - that telework is not a kind of work which concerns mostly women. The percentage of men willing to telework goes over 60%, to 51.5% of women. But the very unexpected data is the risk that telework, considered as a work done by worker at home, might become an outdated stereotype. In order to sound this side, there was a specific question in the questionnaire formulated like this: "If you could choose, would you prefer teleworking at home or at an office near your home (the so-called "telecenters") with other people? 39.8% of the interviewed would rather work at home, while 28.8% choose telecenters.

The others choose either not to answer (about 5%) or to admit their inability to make a choice, perhaps for lack of further explanations, entrenching themselves behind the item "I do not know". It must be said that the ones who are more willing to telework and high qualification personnel prefer working at home, while the idea of working at a telecenter transversely crosses the sample.

In our opinion, such a strong demand for working from remote office or telecenters represents an undoubted advantage for Government, if it is able to take the opportunity to use telework and telecenters as a mean to decentralise work and functions as well, taking services down to the territory, where servants - and above all citizens - live. Should this suggestion be caught, perhaps we will have Public Administration polyfunctional structures, which can be used as a workplace for civil servants and, at the same time, as centers to promote economic activities in the smallest and remotest villages.

Summing up this brief survey, it must be said that our interviewees do not consider telework as an experience of separation from the office environment. Most of them, more than 54%, wish a frequent alternation, between traditional work and telework, almost a week-based part-time. This data, if explained relating to the list of the possible risks which interviewees see in telework (table 2), points out again that it is necessary to use technologies promoting the interaction between the office socio-technical environment and teleworkers themselves, while implementing distance work’s experiments.

Going on in analysing our case, for instance, it is clear that the interviewees fear mostly the risk of being isolated and receiving less information, and that this risk cannot be overcome no other way but by a mix of frequent returns to office and adopting technologies for networked cooperative work.


Table 2: Feared disadvantages in telework





Less information about what is going on at office




Isolation from colleagues




Risks for career




Difficulty in organising one’s own work




Problems with technologies




Risk of friction with family




Sort aid in work




Incomprehension with seniors












The telework regulations

The regulations governing telework in the public administration consist of law sources of different level, of which salient points will be analysed later on.

The first source is the law 16 June 1998, No. 191, article 4, which has been often cited and analyzed in detail in the paragraph 2. That disposition lets Italian Public Administration relay on forms of distance working, establishing the necessary information systems equipment and telematic connections as well so as to rationalise the work organisation and put up on management through a flexible use of human resources, according to their budgetary available funds.

The telework forms part of the wider context of the Italian Public Administration reform, which has been stimulated by the issuing of the well-known Bassanini’s laws to introduce mechanisms of simplification and flexibility of the Public Bodies activity.

The presence of a specific article (art. 4), regulating the introduction of telework, shows how important the Government considers the possibility of using "atypical" work to speed up the Public Administration modernisation process.

Another positive side to point out is that, as for the telework in the Public administration, it is the first national law which has been approved in Europe.

The law source provides that a regulation defines the organising methods and the criteria to verify the performance of the duties; each single administration which wants to use the distance work will have to conform its own regulation to those measures.

At first glance, the framework of the law seems to be well structured, non prescribing, but rather steering one for the Public Body, since no public administration is compelled to introduce telework. The law gives broad definitions (like the "distance work" one) and considers the "telework" phenomenon completely, under the prescriptive, technological, financial, organising and human points of views.

The structure of the regulation is light, with only 9 articles, of which the article 2 immediately defines, that it is a great joy for jurists, what the "telework" activity in the public administration means.

The telework is "the duties performed by the Public administration employee, wherever out the workplace where the performance of the duties with a predominant support of information and communication technologies is technically possible so as to connect to the concerned administration. Therefore the only kind of telework which Italian public administration allows is the state telework (at home or at other administration offices).

The telework activity can be set up only on the basis of a project fixing the targets, activities, technologies, training needs, time and implementing methods, organising changes, costs and benefits etc. The project is to be arranged by the manager of the sector where telework experiences are going to be start up, and proposed to the management of the Body, which singles out the year’s targets to achieve using the forms of telework and sets aside the necessary resources.

The use of telework cannot be improvised but has to be planned through a precise project which is to be approved by the political management organ.

Another interesting point is that public administrations are pressed to agree upon the common use of premises, facilities and resources through programme agreements and according to the perspective of polyfunctional offices and services integrated for citizen.

The condition necessary to telework is the willingness since the public employee will have the right to ask the administration to be reintegrated in the former workplace after the adequate period of time fixed in the project. The administration will be able to call officially the public employee back to his former workplace as well, under the provisions of the collective bargaining.

The public employees are to be assigned to telework according to the criteria determined in the collective bargaining to "enable full exploitation of the social and personal benefits of the telework".

In an instruction to the ARAN (Agenzia per la contrattazione nel pubblico impiego - Agency representing state administrations in negotiations) Civil Service Minister specified how to structure the next national contracts to manage the flexible use of the personnel and, above all, stated the criteria for assigning employees to telework.

Those criteria are the willingness, the performance of similar duties, conditions of psyco-physical disableness, necessity of looking after relatives or cohabitants, average time for travelling from public employee’s home to the workplace.

It is meant that not all the public employees can work at distance. Therefore the administration will be to select candidates according to the criteria stated in the contracts and giving priority to the above mentioned conditions.

Telework stations (hardware and software systems, connections, installation and maintenance, operating costs) are charged to the administration, and can be used by the employees just for activities related to employment relationship.

The contract regulations will be to state the conditions to implement telework at employee’s home (conformity of the room and verification, refund of energy and telephone expenses, insurance, access to home). The house has to conform to the provisions of workplace health and safety laws.

The national contract provides for the maximum working hours, availability time bands and the possible periodical returns to the former workplace according to flexibility criteria.

The draft regulation specifies that the target-oriented criteria to single out quality and quantity standards of the performance have to be stated in the project, presented by the manager, who ought to verify the performance of the duties.

Finally, as for the economical and prescriptive sides, the adaptation of the employment relationship to the different forms of telework has to refer to the national contract, asserting the principle of the parity treatment with non teleworking public employees.

The article 9, which closes the draft regulation, prevents the possible contrasts of juridical construction with other rules as for the public administration; it means that in case of doubt the construction has to favour the telework introduction.

On 14 May 1999, Minister of State Administration constituted a team, composed by elements from several Central and Local State Administrations, with the task of writing a telematic guide to help the administrations interested in introducing a telework innovations.

The guide is going to be published in the official State Administration Ministry’s WEB site in September 1999.

Training for Telework


The training of the personnel plays an important role as a mean of innovation of the Public Administration. It is a strategic factor to support the improving process of the quality of the Public Administration management, to promote the institutional innovation and the cultural renewal of the public body. It is meant as a new culture passing through a transparent communication, a greater guidance to the users, the testing of different organising patterns and, if we could dare, even the discovering of Weberian bureaucracies ethical values again.

The target is to realize a training which develops an administrative modern culture, less focused to the legal-formal sides and more interested to the essential ones related to the quality of the service, to the fulfilment of the real needs of users, to the administrative action efficiency, effectiveness and clearness, to the control of the costs and results.

"The change of the bureaucrat into a manager and entrepreneur is a complex ambitious operation, but desperately necessary to implement the process of changing".

It is necessary to manage to develop a human resources policy which is not interested just in civil service performances but is also able to appraise civil servants’ capacity, to single out merits and weaknesses of each person, and to identify the supporting actions to strengthen the former ones and overcome the latter.

The constant change of economical context is marked out by endless technological innovation process which has established a new way of transmitting knowledge and information. In such a context there is also the serious risk that technology overcomes humane values as well as the information overcomes the consciences.

"The Training Society must correspond to the Information one, it is necessary to face the power of technology with reconfirming the supremacy of human values, the ability to distinguish means and ends."

Each European citizen will have to posses a sort of "basic skill card" to face the actual transformations, or better he will have to be able to match the forming of a critical conscience and a creative mind with a solid basic knowledge, both scientific and technological, and with an updated knowledge of the management sciences and information technologies.

The experience of Perugia’s Province.

The training intervention to launch telework’s experiment was arranged by the provincial administration of Perugia and preceded by an analysis of the needs and an evaluation of the level of the knowledge of telecom and information technologies applied to work activities.

It was divided into several levels, according to the different users and the different training needs:

Basic training purposed to use information technologies (PC and office automation applications) and main telecom technologies (the use of the Internet and Intranet)

The training program, concerning three civil servants who voluntarily accepted the pilot experiment, was divided into pre-training and training activities.

The level of their starting knowledge was different: only two of them had already taken part in computer and telecom courses organized by the Province of Perugia within the training programme meant for the civil servants (see above), while the other aspiring teleworker had never attended courses and had been able to use PC only in some sporadic work activities.

The project team decided to arrange a course ad hoc for the latter: a pre-training activity purposed to align his knowledge level with the other two students, in order to give them subsequently the same training to use a telework station.

The pre-training activity involved the use of information technologies (PC and office automation applications) and the main telecom technologies (the use of the Internet and Intranet) and was meant to achieve an advanced intermediate level of telework-oriented computer literacy, in total 40 hours of lessons at home.

The contents have been drawn up relating to both the concerned technology and aiming to use it in a completely new work background.

The training was mostly focused on telecom side and it involved all the project team members, besides the three teleworkers, so as to achieve an homogeneous knowledge level in using telecom applications and thus to allow also the use of "office to office" telework patterns for team activities during the experimentation.

The strategic target of training has been to achieve an advanced intermediate level in using complex technology telework station, gaining the ability to get along the various available means, like Internet, videocommunication - videoconferencing system.

An informative seminar for the management was held to arise awareness and interest towards telework so as to share the actual experimentation, but above all to change their organizing patterns as for more flexible concept of time, hours, places.

We can point out some useful elements from the training experience carried out at our Body to define a training model suitable to support the launch of telework experiences in the Public Administration. Nevertheless the suggested training model cannot prescind from the so-called technological and organizing preconditions which, having started up together with training, could let the organization of the "work at distance" possible.

The telework can be implemented only by the integration between information technology and public organization rebuilt.

The essential preconditions or requirements can be sum up as:

The training action meant to implement telework has to be addressed to three main targets: to the management, to the other workers who keep on doing their activities at the Body main office, to teleworkers (at home, telecenters and remote offices).

The training addressed to the management, after the first seminar-informative approach, has to be carried out through interventions aimed to bring about a radical change of managers as far as their human resources are concerned. It means that managers have to get used to measure their collaborators’ duties performance according to the achieved targets.

The above mentioned change of the bureaucrat into a manager implies the adoption of a work organization pattern which is not pyramid structured any longer (hierarchical-functional relationships) but matrix structured, where the management’s role is enriched by contents and professionalism.

The training intervention has to be correlated with the parallel organizing intervention which leads the Body’s organization from a hierarchical-functional structure to a network structure, where the manager loses his procedural-administrative coordination function progressively to assume the functions of organizer, coordinator and manager of project team meant to global performances.

In perspective, the manager could be transformed into a tele-manager, improving his skills and his abilities in managing the relationship with the teleworker on the basis of trust and evaluation of results. The teleworker should have a good organizing ability to face a greater independence in carrying out his work so as to get the above forecasted results.

The training meant for the other employees (administrative personnel) will deal with the theme of information and telecom technologies, in order to spread computer culture and let the employees achieve, (as more as possible), the same level of ability and knowledge.

As for office automation, the courses, graded on different levels of difficulty (computer literacy and various kinds of specialization) have to be put in the programme since employees have not always become familiar with informatic products during their professional activity.

Such kind of interventions, meant to get used to computers, will be less and less necessary as the working people are being replaced by new young employees.

The ability of networking is also to be developed, using as best as possible the possibilities provided by local network, the Internet, videocommunication - videoconferencing.

Having consolidated the technological sides, it is necessary to re-orient the structure through training interventions which make employees used to interpersonal communication, to project team work, to responsibleness, to participation and evaluation of their performance according to the achieved targets and not only to their physical presence at office.

The teleworker also should have features like decisional and organizing independence, greater responsibleness and the participation which should be developed by suitable formative actions, often measured for each teleworker, alternating common training periods with individualized ones. However, it is necessary that the training is constant and unfailing.

Teleworker needs to strengthen and develop:

  1. technical skills (a good basic computer knowledge, but above all the innovative use of technologies aiming to reorganize his own work)
  2. professional skills (to attain a fair degree of independence and organization of his own work)
  3. organizing skills (to deal and get along with colleagues and office manager).

Having launched the telework experience and having finished the training intervention, we face the problem to grant training and constant updating for teleworkers, both working at home and telecenters.

The kind of training which can effectively support teleworker must develop the three above-mentioned skills (technological, professional and organizing ones), considering the delocation of teleworker and his activity.

As regards the interventions of updating on standardized procedures and the use of new SW, the method of distance training can be effectively used, since it offers remarkable advantages both for enterprise and teleworker.

Distance training advantages are:

The use of distance training original method has some disadvantages since it can mostly be used to teach technical and procedural knowledge, but neither it is effective to teach attitudes nor to change behaviours. Therefore it cannot be used to train the management.

The coming of new technologies (Information & Communication Technology) gives the opportunity to reorganize distance training, as for both contents and means but above all methodologies.

"Information technology puts an end to the one-way emission of knowledge and opens a new communication line letting the student approach dynamic knowledge contents which he can enrich and make available to others. Using telematic communication capacity, it is possible to carry out a visible, intuitive and more natural communication".

Therefore we pass from the one-way communication, which featured the first model of distance training, to a two-way one, introducing the interactiveness as an element of the teaching-learning relationship.

The new technologies development shows that it is possible to carry out a training model which effectively supports the reorganizing process of Public Administration structure and a flexible use of human resources through a new way of performing duties (work at distance).

Telework considered as a corollary of the Information Society, of society globalization and tertiarization, can be an useful mean to decentralize activities from the time and space point of view. Certainly it is an opportunity and an unique impulse to the organizing, technological and managerial renewal for the public sector, and it can be started only with an open cultural attitude from all the process makers: political organs, management, workers and unions.



The presented experience seems to shows that, having a legal framework simple and effective, even if still experimental one and to be supplemented with regulations and union agreements, telework in civil service will not certainly face an obstacle in the unwillingness of civil servants. On the contrary, there is perhaps the opposite risk of loading distance work down with excessive expectations, that could make it to fail. Distance working is a right expectation, but the idea that it could revolutionise almost by magic the public employment relationship introducing greater independence, responsibility, flexibility, is perhaps wishful thinking. It depends a lot on how telework will be implemented. If office management considers it as a further benefit of the hyper- protected servants, to "grant" - perhaps in virtue of lists of "objective disadvantage suitably documented" (as often states law-enforcing memos which introduce some new way of working)- to the disabled or to young children mothers, we will face an innovation which, even if excellent for someone, is doomed not to leave a sign on the national cultural background.

On the contrary, if someone takes the opportunity of teleworking to renew the office organisation thanks to telecom instrument, to entrust duties and measure performances in a new way, to test innovative ways of working, then the article 4 of Bassanini’s law will also become a leading model to implement telework in the private sector, which will be able to catch the process experimented in the public sector and adapt it to its own needs. For instance, the creation of telework centers in economically less developed areas, even if at first stimulated by the necessity of employing civil servants, could turn out as a flywheel for employment. Such centers, if managed by mixed companies (public-private), may become business growth poles - and therefore of employment - in poor territories, as experiences in other countries show. Those centers should be considered as structures "opened to territory" and private initiative rather than as further offices of public administration.

In brief, this is the scenario which could be opened introducing the telework in the public sector. There are plenty of opportunities, but the innovative cultural process is necessary to get them.






Author briefing:

Patrizio Di Nicola, sociologist, directed many researches on telework, virtual enterprises and the changing role of workers in the Information Society. He is author of the book Telework between Law and Contract and is editor of the Italian version of the TCA Teleworking Handbook. As member of the Italian government's Internet committee (in representance of users), he was chief of project in many Research Institutes and Universities. He is co-ordinator of the research association L&T and Italian co-ordinator for the European Telework Development Initiative

Annamaria Vallarelli is a lawyer and has been working in a public administration for the last five years . She organises training courses for personnel working for the Provincial Administration of Perugia. She is a member of the group which organises and carries out telework development projects in the Provincial Administration of Perugia.











Telework, Public Administration, Italy, legal framework, survey




Contact Details:

Patrizio Di Nicola

Micromatica - Progetto ETD

Via Donna Olimpia 195

00152 Rome (IT)

Tel. +39 06 58233583

Fax +39 06 53272232

Email dinicola@mclink.it

Web: http://i.am/patrizio.di.nicola


Annamaria Vallarelli

Provincia di Perugia

P.zza Italia, 11

06100 Perugia (IT)

Tel. + 39 075 5747433

Fax + 39 075 5747501

Email anna.vallarelli@provincia.perugia.it

Web: www.provincia.perugia.it