Since the outbreak of the COVID -19 crisis telework has become the norm for millions of workers worldwide. However, the large majority of workers who transitioned to telework from March 2020 onwards were virtually new to this arrangement. This holds true particularly in Italy, a country where the practice of teleworking has been extremely scarce before the COVID -19 emergency. This research adopts a neoinstitutionalist perspective to investigate how the response to the COVID -19 pandemic has prompted the diffusion of telework arrangements in the Italian public sector. The review of provisions concerning pandemic-induced telework within Italian central government reveals that the transition towards smart working – understood as a digitally-enabled reconfiguration of work – remains fraught with uncertainty.