How do you design remotely? Taking care of the well-being of those who work says Alice Valsecchi, People Operation Lead at Bending Spoons', the company that, during the lockdown, created the Italian government's tracing App Immuni

When we were in full lockdown, Bending Spoons designed Immuni, the tracking app that alerts you when you have come into contact with people with Covid-19. It is a much discussed project, obviously, which touches sensitive points, and this is not the place to enter into the merits of the controversies. Instead, it is better to focus on what has not been emphasized enough when it comes to Immuni: that is the fact that it was born at a time when none of us could be in the same place: it is a project developed remotely.

Why is it important to talk about this instead? Because it demonstrates, without a shadow of a doubt, that innovation can be done in Italy, and well, even remotely. Because it dispels the myth that Italian creativity is linked to face-to-face exchange. That magic that happens only when you sit around a table and synchronize yourself on quality goals and passion for something that does not yet exist. Reality, on the other hand, is even more beautiful because once the table is removed, the magic remains. The reason is clear and obvious: the secret of imaginative dynamics lies elsewhere.

We talked about it with Alice Valsecchi, People Operation Lead from Bending Spoons.

How do you design in smart working?

Smart working translates into flexibility of schedules and presence. The office exists and we want it to be lived in, even if working remotely during the lockdown has not changed our productivity. This way of working has more to do with spontaneity of thought and the free flow of information and ideas than with presence. And, perhaps, working in a tech company in which the average age is under 30 has shifted the balance of priorities on autonomous choices, flexibility, the construction of a collective identity. When you feel good and part of something, physical distance really doesn't matter. It is no coincidence that, in Bending Spoons, we define ourselves as a tribe starting from our Manifesto (read here). We are a tribe that also works remotely.

How do you keep people's involvement high?

Human relationships are built on solid ground even without constant physical presence. It's not a detail: we believe that to design smart and beautiful apps it is essential that every single individual feels respected and at ease. This is why smart working has always been a reality for us. Which means people who work in total autonomy and freedom in terms of time and work space thanks to an effective organization of communication, often asynchronous, but transparent and open to anyone. It is, that is, the opposite of forced home working, which imports the obligations, hierarchies and ancient approaches of traditional offices into the domestic world.

Are we dealing with the fact that desk work is no longer suited to our time?

At Bending Spoons we have given up on micromanagement, on control; we have chosen reciprocity and co-responsibility. The sharing of common values ​​and strong ties is built. Starting with recruiting, during which we probe passion and drive. And from onboarding, inclusion. We pay close attention to planning moments in which we meet physically, not to talk about work but to get to know each other better.

During the lockdown what were the actions that supported the team?

During the lockdown, the proposals for informal exchange – chats, contests, thematic groups, informal one-to-one moments – multiplied. Sometimes with great success, sometimes less so. But the climate and the quality of work, despite the demand for a high level of productivity, were not disturbed by the absence of physical contacts. Maybe Millenials and Generation Z already know the distance and aren't particularly bothered by it. We celebrated a company birthday with a party kit that arrived by post. And each of us received a letter of thanks when Bending Spoons was declared the best workplace in Italy. Concrete gestures that assert a bond, a human recognition, are fundamental.


What are the disadvantages of smart working?

If done right, there are no drawbacks in the long or short term. When freedom is conceived as taking charge of mutual responsibility, there is a mutual advantageous exchange for all. And of course it is much more comfortable.

Can you imagine yourself as a remote company?

We have an office in Milan and we are preparing to move to a new space, bigger and hopefully even better than the first. We are not a remote company, but a company that has smart working in its DNA since its foundation. We were born in Copenhagen about ten years ago and, almost immediately, the company chose to return to Italy, for various reasons, including the quality of life and an aesthetic sensibility that we try to instill in technology. We are designing a new location where architecture defines and cadence the different moments of work, while remaining very informal. Nobody has a desk, the tables have been designed by us to meet the real needs of our way of working. Nothing personal remains in the headquarters: it is a space where you work in great physical freedom and where needs find solutions. Food, drinks, places to isolate and places to work as a team. We want our spaces to be frequented, lived. It's important. But we want it to be a choice that everyone takes on freely. Making people feel good is the only way we know to make beautiful and smart products.

Text: Elisa Massoni