DETROIT – A majority of Ford Motor’s roughly 86,000 global employees who haven’t returned to work yet are expected to start doing so this summer through a new hybrid work schedule that gives employees more flexibility over when they report to the office.
The automaker informed staff of its plans Wednesday morning, a year after much of the company’s nonmanufacturing employees started working remotely to help slow the spread of Covid-19.
The larger return to work isn’t expected before July, according to Kiersten Robinson, Ford chief people and employee experiences officer. She said how much an employee will be able to work remotely will be based on their job responsibilities as well as discussions with managers.
“The nature of the work we do really is going to be a guiding element,” Robinson told CNBC. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 12 months, it is that a lot of our assumptions around work and what employees need has shifted.”
Some 40% of employers that shifted to remote work at the start of the coronavirus pandemic are planning to have workers return to the office as early as this month, according to a recent report from the Conference Board. Most may make it voluntary for some and mandatory for others, the think tank found — or adopt some sort of flexible weekly schedule like Ford’s.
About 100,000 of Ford’s 186,000 employees, primarily in manufacturing, have already returned to work. Work schedules are not expected to change much, if any, for workers who need to be at a certain facility to perform their duties.
Ford’s largest crosstown rival, General Motors, expects to start bringing back remote employees in June or July, according to company spokesman David Caldwell. The company has not announced a plan to employees, but Caldwell said it “will likely be more flexible” based on a person’s responsibilities.
Ford’s decision follows several rounds of employee surveys over the last year regarding returning to work, according to Robinson. Questions included preferences about remote work and whether employees planned to get vaccinated.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work in mining the lessons learned over the last 12 months and the impact on how we think about the evolution of work at Ford,” she said. She said the automaker surveys its employees almost every week.
A majority of Ford’s employees are expected to get vaccinated, Robinson said. The company isn’t mandating it but is supplying information and resources to those who haven’t yet decided.
The company expects to continue requiring employees to wear masks and practice social distancing through at least the remainder of this year, Robinson said.
Such practices as well as the flexibility regarding where and when employees can work aren’t rigid, she said. Instead, she said the company will continue to learn and adapt to employees’ desires as well as what health officials recommend.
“We’re not calling this the ‘future of work,’ we’re intentionally calling it an ‘evolution’ because we’re going to continue to learn as we go and use those learnings to adapt our practices and policies around flexible work, as well as other areas,” Robinson said.
Once employees return to work, Robinson said, the experience for many will be different. Instead of “somewhat mindlessly” going into work daily, it will be based on events such as meetings, presentations or projects that demand more collaboration than others.
Ford has offered alternative work schedules, such as 10-hour days four times a week instead of the traditional five-day work week, but Robinson said the take rate for such programs was low. It’s one of the many things the company will be monitoring regarding its new plans, she said.