Ford Motor says it will begin phasing in a new remote-office work model, one of the first in the auto industry, giving tens of thousands of employees the option to continue doing their jobs from home indefinitely.
The Dearborn, Michigan-based carmaker announced the new policy during a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday — one year after it sent workers home to wait out the pandemic — and said it would apply to all non-place-dependent workers. The balance between remote and in-person work will depend on the individual employee’s needs and those of their manager, said David Dubensky, the chairman and chief executive of Ford Land, the company’s real estate subsidiary.
Starting in July, Ford employees will be able to return to the office for assignments that require face-to-face interaction, such as group projects and meetings, and remain home for more independent work. The goal is to personalize work schedules to best suit employees’ needs, Dubensky said. Some 30,000 employees in southeast Michigan will have the option to stick with remote work, with flexible hours approved by their managers, Dubensky said.
“The nature of work drives whether or not you can adopt this model. There are certain jobs that are place-dependent, you need to be in the physical space to do the job,” Dubensky said. “Having the flexibility to choose how you work is pretty powerful. … It’s up to the employee to have dialogue and discussion with their people leader to determine what works best.”
Dubensky said the company has been monitoring how employees fare with remote work for more than six months. It distributed surveys and formed a think tank to map out the future of work. A June 2020 company survey found that 95% of Ford’s global employees would prefer a mix of in-person and remote work after the pandemic, and that many of them felt more productive and were happier working from home.
Ford will not require workers to get a coronavirus shot before returning to the office, Dubensky said, but will provide educational materials to employees about the coronavirus vaccine. It will continue requiring temperature checks and coronavirus symptom surveys of employees at its facilities, conduct contact tracing and adhere to cleaning protocols until coronavirus infections are under control.
The move is another sign of how the pandemic has transformed the workplace, as corporations have reevaluated work flows, wellness resources, wages and sick leave compensation. Wednesday’s announcement could motivate other companies to extend their work-from-home policies, post-pandemic. Employees across industries have embraced the option for allowing them a better work-life balance, cutting their commute times, and allowing them more flexibility for caretaking.
Many employers have been waiting for vaccinations to become more widespread before attempting to bring their workforces back to the office. But there’s no federal guidance for how corporations should manage the social, economic and public health issues brought on by the pandemic, and decisions up to this point have been tentative.
A handful of tech companies have signaled plans to offer remote work options. Amazon — one of the first companies to move to remote work when the pandemic hit the United States about a year ago — recently extended the option for its office employees through June 30. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that as much as half of the company’s workforce would be permanently remote within five years.
But Ford appears to be the largest company in the auto industry to formalize a flexible work. General Motors spokesperson David Barnas said in an email that the company expects to begin bringing remote employees back to the office in June or July. “Although we have not announced a plan to employees yet, it will likely be more flexible based on a person’s responsibilities,” Barnas said.
Toyota informed employees at the Japanese automaker’s U.S. headquarters in Plano, Texas, in October that they would continue working from home until at least June 2021.
“We are studying long-term flexible workforce models to help us determine a path forward,” Toyota spokesperson Victor Vanov said in an email. “We continue to monitor the situation in the DFW area including consulting with local health and elected officials, as well as other companies to see how they’re managing through this experience and will continue to base our decisions on science.”
The numbers of confirmed novel coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in the United States. At least 29.5 million cases and 534,000 deaths have been reported. Meanwhile, vaccinations have rolled out slowly, with 11.8% of the population vaccinated as of Tuesday.
President Joe Biden has attempted to speed up distribution by requiring all American adults to be eligible by May 1 with the goal of nearing pre-pandemic normalcy for work and social life by July.