What Ford, a 9-to-5 workweek pioneer, is learning about hybrid working

Ford Motor Company World Headquarters, Dearborn, Michigan, January 19, 2021.

Aaron J. Thornton | Getty Images

After several setbacks and delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ford Motor Co. finally began welcoming its employees back into its offices earlier this month.

This was also accompanied by a significant shift in the company’s workplace policy that helped establish the traditional five-day, 40-hour workweek as the norm: the start of its new work model hybrid where non-site dependent employees could flexibly work between a Ford campus location and remotely.

Ford may have had reason to believe that many of its employees would seek to return to the office once the plan was rolled out. The company surveyed 56,000 employees globally who were working remotely in June 2020 about their post-pandemic work preferences and 95% said they wanted a mix of remote and in-office work, while 5% said said they wanted to be there.

Still, Kiersten Robinson, Ford’s Chief People and Employee Experience Officer, told a CNBC Work virtual event on Wednesday that the early results “have been a bit of a surprise.”

“When we opened our doors on April 4 to our employees to welcome them back to the workplace – those who wanted to come in – the number of people who actually returned to work was less than we had anticipated,” Robinson said.

While the company is “very early in the experiment”, according to Robinson, Ford still sees signs among those who have entered the workplace that they are able to “do highly collaborative team brainstorming and strategic work together. whole”.

Here are some of the main things Ford has seen since the workers returned.

Focus on car manufacturing trades

Since Ford has many employees who have jobs that don’t allow for remote or hybrid working, Robinson said the company has been “very clear that the nature of the job dictates where and how the work is done.”

“Our manufacturing plants, you can only do that work in the facility and so our goal in those places is to make sure that the working environment is as conducive and inviting as possible, and what are some of the tools and amenities extras that we can provide,” she said.

This has led Ford to work to examine how to improve manufacturing facilities, looking for ways to improve worker well-being, nutrition and even natural light in the space – “conditions that can really impact your work experience,” Robinson said.

For knowledge workers, Ford is asking departments to meet with their teams and create a plan around what they need to do in a 90-day period, asking questions about key work tasks, and how and where would be the best ways to do it. work.

“We measure the sentiment, we measure the employee experience over those 90 days, but of course we will be able to measure the outcome and whether or not the employees feel with this agency and with this choice they’re also productive as they need to be,” Robinson said.

Collect data on new office habits

Robinson said Ford has already revamped 33% of its facilities in southeast Michigan to “make them more conducive to collaborative hybrid working,” and has a roadmap for continuing to do so in the years to come. to come.

Ford assumes about 50% of its employees will be in the office on any given day, but Robinson said he will test that assumption more clearly over the next few months.

Ford on Wednesday confirmed a slight reduction in the workforce when reporting its earnings, a net loss of $ 3.1 billion in the first quarter, largely due to the impairment of a 12% stake in the start -up EV Rivian Automotive. As it pivots to electric vehicles, 580 U.S. employees and temps, mostly in engineering, have been laid off as part of Ford+’s turnaround plan.

The company does not intend to reduce the number of facilities it has, but rather to make the spaces as conducive to hybrid working as possible, she said.

With employees now back in the office, Ford is taking a closer look at how spaces are actually being used.

“We have very clear data on traffic patterns, the most popular days and we use sensors in many of our facilities to even measure what types of spaces are being used and for what purpose,” Robinson said.

“There’s no perfect answer here except that I don’t think we can go back to the way we worked before the pandemic,” she said. “I really hope that we all take this as an opportunity to really rethink and reimagine the evolution of work and really experiment and invest in understanding employee feedback, employee sentiment and using that to continue to refine and reshape what the job looks like.”

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