The hallways at the Glass House, Ford Motor Co.’s Dearborn, Michigan headquarters, and scores of other buildings are likely going to be quieter for the next several months as the automaker gave salaried personnel working from home already the option to stay there until 2021.
The automaker has about 30,000 employees who are currently working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. The company – and general public – is grappling with how much exposure to people is too much, but with so much already being done remotely, it made it simpler to give employees the choice to return to their offices or work from home.
Depending upon the environment, the offer to work from home could even be extended beyond New Year’s Eve.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra noted earlier this week that its at-home employees will remain there until September, but that it could change. Fiat Chrysler officials noted last week that it has some of its salaried people back, but that others could be phased in this summer, depending upon a variety of factors.
The company will begin to find out Thursday who wants to work in their home offices and who prefers to make the commute as employees will be asked to participate in a survey.
Part of that process will likely give those at-home workers some insight as to how their workplace environment will be different if they choose to return.
In fact, there are a slew of changes the employees need to be aware of if they elect to come back, including:
- 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.
“The workplace you left is not the workplace you’re returning to,” Kiersten Robinson, Ford’s chief human resources officer, told the Free Press.
In addition to figuring out how to make it work for those returning, the company’s also had to determine what to do for those electing to remain home, but need to return to their offices briefly to pick up necessary items or personal belongings. Ford’s been running a pilot program at its headquarters building.
Perhaps just as importantly, the performance of the company’s salaried personnel during their mandated work-from-home period has the company re-examining how it conducts business and just how many people need to be in a Ford building to do Ford work.
Unlike the company’s hourly workforce, who must be in the factory to build the vehicles, there is some flexibility.
That flexibility could save the company some money in the long term, if they discover that there is a large number of people who would prefer working from home and can do so without it impacting the company’s overall operations.
Right now, Ford has about 12,000 white-collar employees in North America have “place-dependent work” that must be done at a Ford site, according to the Detroit News. Those include people responsible for things like vehicle testing and design or clay modeling. If employees decide to work remotely, Ford will provide them needed equipment and supplies.