‘The automaker will survey 30,000 U.S. employees to gauge whether they want to return to the office, remain at home or try a hybrid approach during the final four months of the year. The results will help shape future policy.’
An estimated 30,000 salaried employees at Ford Motor Co. learned at a virtual staff meeting early Wednesday that they may choose whether to work from home full-time, return to the office full-time or create a blended schedule that allows for both.
The option to work from home will last until New Year’s Eve, at least. Meanwhile, Ford is evaluating whether it needs so much building space in the future.
On Thursday, the remote workforce in the U.S. will be invited to participate in a survey to understand where people want to work between September and January.
“The workplace you left is not the workplace you’re returning to,” Kiersten Robinson, Ford’s chief human resources officer, told the Free Press.
Currently, there is a pilot program at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn during the month of June that involves employees scheduling time to return to the office to clear out their desks and take things home.
That move-out will expand to include thousands of workers on a staggered basis starting in July. The iconic 117-year-old company is focused on maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols during this time of transition.
No hugs, handshakes
In coming months, Ford managers will review how the workforce is coping with the changes inspired by a pandemic that requires keeping distance from coworkers, frequent hand sanitizing and wearing face masks at all times in the office.
At Ford globally:
- Free movement between buildings is no longer allowed. Building access is more limited and entry may be delayed to avoid a crowd gathering.
- Designated seats and offices with personal items will be replaced with no assigned seating, flexible use of buildings and spaces that allow for constant cleaning.
- Large meetings will be much smaller, and many conference rooms will be closed.
- The open cafeteria will be replaced with packaged food for sale and unmasked meal times limited to 15 minutes.
- Side-by-side seating with coworkers and greeting with handshakes, fist bumps and hugs are replaced with six-foot distances between colleagues and greeting with waves, bows or a hand over the heart.
Already, Ford has seen 100,000 of its 188,000employees return to the workplace since the company reopened its offices and factories following the coronavirus work-from-home mandates around the world. An estimated 12,000 Ford white-collar employees in North America alone have “place-dependent work” that must be done at a Ford site — such as vehicle testing and design and clay modeling.
If employees decide to work remotely, Ford will provide them needed equipment and supplies. Like many companies, Ford workers didn’t expect to stay home for months.
“We’ve been talking to employees about what the arrangements look like between now and the end of the year,” Robinson said, noting that off-site teams say they feel “more efficient, more agile and more flexible.”
She added, “They’re also balancing a lot of personal demands that can be really challenging. We want to understand experiences and preferences. Some people feel more productive when based at a Ford facility.”
Working three months off-site may feel different than working eight or nine months, so Ford is seeking input each week, Robinson said. “We’re rethinking what the future of work looks like inside of Ford and how to leverage that.”
Employees at home have been forced to learn technology faster than ever before to accommodate workplace restrictions created by the pandemic.
“When I think about the future of the workplace, it isn’t going to be defined by bricks and mortar,” Robinson said. “It’s much more about how work gets done. … What’s cool about not being constricted by bricks and mortar: You get to collaborate and engage with employees across the world. Geographic constraints are gone. Physical constraints are gone.You have more diversity of input. It’s really powerful.”
Simple check-ins with bosses by video have been important to employees, even if they are casual. The “team huddle” has evolved into a “team cuddle,” Robinson said.
People share how they’re balancing work, personal demands, is everyone safe and healthy? To some, virtual connection feels more intimate than in-person talks, she said.
“Part of that is, you’re dialing into people’s homes and see their dogs and children and partners walking around in the background,” Robinson said. “At first, everyone is getting up and showering and dressing up and looking really nice. As people got more confident and comfortable, the facade started to break down and people got more relaxed. … It has created a different intimacy — and collaboration, understanding, pace and speed of decisions.”
As worker patterns become clear, Ford will reassess its building needs and consider not just the redesign of building interiors but reviewing how much building space is actually needed.
“We’re absolutely looking at our facilities design and how do we best utilize our footprint,” she said. “We’re going to learn a lot in coming months.”
Change is one constant these days. And companies must be prepared to pivot. For example, Ford and other companies are witnessing a new rise in COVID-19 infections in Beijing.
The Ford survey will also be conducted globally, with the goal of having responses collected by mid-July.
Long, long days
There is a downside to working from home, employees say.
Ford isn’t the only company that sees employees working longer hours.
“There’s definitely blurring the lines,” Robinson said. “Instead of using my commute time to work out and do something contructive, I’m working.”
Now, she said, the company wants to figure out how to draw boundaries so people have time to unwind between meetings rather than “sitting in a chair dialing in from one meeting to the next. That’s a challenge. So the two hours you save on commute time isn’t necessarily making your day longer.”
As children return to school, work-from-home experiences may change, Robinson said. It’s all up for review, she said.
“A vast majority of employees adapted quickly to working remotely,” Robinson said. “Then we absolutely have these employees who are lonely and really miss the camaraderie and community of coming into the workplace as well as the routine. You’ve got employees with two working spouses and kids at home, juggling home-school demands that were really challlenging.”
Meanwhile, Ford manufacturing employees returned on May 18, along with salaried workers who had to be on a work site to do their job.
Ford requires all employees and visitors to complete a daily health survey saying they do not have symptoms of coronavirus nor have they been in contact with people who have the highly contagious illness. In addition, Ford uses no-touch temperature scans to screen for fever.