Many of the thousands of Boeing employees who are still working remotely will begin shifting back to the office next month — though it’s not clear how many are coming back or how quickly that might happen.
In a Friday announcement to workers, Michael D’Ambrose, chief human resources officer, said Boeing will start bringing back some additional employees to worksites in the Puget Sound area and other U.S. locations as early as mid-July, “as local health and safety conditions permit.”
But D’Ambrose’s statement offered few specifics. The company isn’t saying how many employees are still working remotely, how many of those were expected to return or how long the entire return process might take.
Although many Boeing workers, including its roughly 27,000 local manufacturing workers, have long since returned to their physical worksites, many others continue to work remotely in some capacity.
Bill Dugovich, a spokesperson for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, estimates that roughly half of the company’s 15,000 local engineers are still working either remotely or in a hybrid system of remote and office work.
In Friday’s statement, D’Ambrose said some workers could continue working remotely or in hybrid arrangements based on “conversations with your manager about what work arrangement best aligns to the work you do.”
But D’Ambrose also made clear that “many positions and customer requirements aren’t compatible with virtual or hybrid work.”
Friday’s return-to-work announcement comes amid a broader company shift to what Boeing officials have called a more flexible work model.
That model would formalize some of the remote work arrangements that emerged during the pandemic. But it would also reflect the company’s efforts to significantly shrink its physical office footprint as a way of cutting costs.
Boeing has acknowledged plans to shed approximately 2.5 million square feet of office space, or about 7% of its Puget Sound office footprint — including selling its Commercial Airplanes headquarters building at the Longacres campus in Renton.
During an October call with industry analysts, Boeing’s then-CFO Greg Smith said Boeing “anticipate[s] a reduction of approximately 30% in office space needs compared to our current capacity.”
The 30% figure referred to all Boeing office space, not just that in the Puget Sound, and didn’t “necessarily” imply that the company expected 30% fewer workers in its offices, said spokesperson Bryan Watt in an email.
Boeing has insisted that office reductions aren’t a signal that Boeing plans to shrink its local presence.
When Boeing brought its machinists back to work last April after a four-week pandemic-related shutdown, many workers were reportedly concerned about workplace safety concerning COVID-19.
More than a year later, returning employees’ concerns are more focused on basic logistics, said SPEEA’s Dugovich. “Am I going to have a desk where I used to have, or am I going to be hotelling? What days of the week will I come into work?'” he said.
Many employees many have been waiting for specifics about Boeing’s return-to-work plans. “Boeing has been talking about bringing people back [but] the timeline has fluctuated,” Dugovich said. “This is just saying ‘OK, we’re really going to start moving back now.’