As remote work grows, office needs reexamined

Last week, Ford said it planned to survey some 30,000 nonmanufacturing employees in the U.S. about their preferences on where to work beyond September, when the automaker had planned to recall those workers who had been working remotely since the virus swept through the industry and the nation in March. Ford said it will ask its employees whether they would like to continue to work remotely, return to their previous work site or do a mix of both.

“As we make plans to bring back the remote work force, many team members favored these new ways to work and found them empowering, flexible and cost-effective,” Ford said in a statement. “This flexibility allows Ford to continue prioritizing safety actions such as sufficient PPE for all of the place-dependent work force who have already returned, as well as for those who would be returning later this summer, and prioritize the modifications needed to additional facilities to ensure the proper social distancing protocols are in place.”

Last month, Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Nicholas Speeks ordered the German luxury automaker’s 875 employees at its Atlanta headquarters to continue to work remotely for at least the rest of 2020 and perhaps beyond.

“We are able to function effectively, and it gives people an opportunity” for better work-life balance, the CEO told Automotive News. He described the work-from-home policy as a trial without a firm expiration.

“We are going to see how that goes,” Speeks said. “It gives us an opportunity to try something different.”

For automakers such as Toyota, having thousands of employees suddenly forced to work from home because of the pandemic seemed like it could have led to disaster. But as the weeks went on and the work continued to get done, executives started to study what it could mean over the longer term.

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