Work-life balance: continuity in the face of change with HR Director Marco Monga

by Sylvia Mondinelli

HR Director Marco Monga tells us how IIT is facing COVID-19 emergency

How are you dealing with the Coronavirus emergency in IIT?

I can say we are “becoming acquainted” with it day after day. At the beginning, it was really hard to promptly take decisions in a pragmatic, yet cautious way. Eventually we tried to lower accesses to both offices and labs as much as we could; today, as an example (18th of March) in our Central Lab in Genova there are less than 50 people, which is about 20% of the usual number. The teleworking is virtually universal at this point and adrenaline is keeping up the pace and helping everyone to overcome difficulties. A common effort is keeping as part of our schedule not only undelayable tasks, whether they are activities to support research or to keep the administrative machine going, but also some more “normal” responsibilities, that keep us close to yesterday’s reality, which needs to become tomorrow’s standard again.

Do you glimpse an opportunity in this situation? If so, what?

All situations hide opportunities; the more the first are challenging, the greater the latter will be. Having said so, I am pretty sure that nothing will be the same or, at least, some time will have to pass before relationships could get back to the spontaneous social dynamics we were so used to, from the simple hand-shaking to the double-kiss when greeting somebody.
I am sure this will have a deep impact on many little mechanisms that we were so used to give for granted, that we barely even notice.
Maybe it is going to be the occasion that might lead to a less hypocritical and more transparent way of communicating.
However, the biggest challenge is on an individual level now: we need to ask ourselves “what image of myself I want to carry with me after all of this has passed? What memory will I and others have about the way I thougth, the things I have said and have done in this situation?”. The biggest opportunity is to restructure our presence in our life with others, with organisations and, more generally, in the world.

How many people are currently working from home in IIT?

Almost everyone, meaning over 1700 people. Nobody ever stopped and this is one of the biggest reason for pride for all “IITians”.

Who is still present on-site, both in the central and the network labs?

There are some facilities that require the scheduled presence of somebody, for example to safeguard cell culture. There are also administrative activities that benefit from direct interactions and from physical access to some archives; for example we are in middle of the drawing up of the yearly financial statement. All is carried out paying the maximum attention to security measures and, of course, trying to reduce accesses to offices and labs to the absolute minimum.
#iostoacasa is valid for us too, who are used to apply scientific thinking as a way of life.
( #Istayathome )

Do you feel people are ready to deal with such a sudden and considerable adjustment to the way of working?

As I mentioned earlier, today we are high on adrenaline, therefore I think it is too soon to appreciate the long-term performance. But I am optimist about it, people who work in IIT have always shown a strong sense of belonging, which is a precious trademark we have been carrying with us since the days in which we were a start-up.
Of course, today things have changed and those who have been witnesses of those pioneering times, are now just a bunch compared to the multitude of people currently working in IIT; but that pride of being part of a beautiful Italian anomaly is still the bond that connects many people, who comes to IIT from all over the world with the idea that here, somehow, you can make some dreams come true.

What are the major challenges you see toward the full realization of an agile way of working, even based on data that are probably surfacing right now?

Smart-working has almost nothing to do with what we are experiencing today. Working from home is only a small part of the agile working. Agile work means organising processes in a way to allow the execution of independent tasks in an asynchronous way and with no restrictions of place. It means act with a different leadership model, made of delegation, communication and feedback. It means putting in place technologies that can facilitate this process. And much more. Having said so, this experience we are now living is a revealing moment of truth about the actual capacity of our organisational systems, our management and technologies and it will tell us how far we are from the full realization of a real smart-working model.

Is there anything you would like to tell to IIT people reading this interview?

I quote John Lennon: “Everything will be ok at the end, if it’s not ok it’s not the end”.



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