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


Ford Motor Company, Dearborn (Michigan) on January 19, 2021.

Aaron J. Thornton | Getty Images

After many setbacks, delays and setbacks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic Ford Motor Co.This month, the company finally welcomed its salaried workers back into its offices.

The company also made a major shift in its workplace policies, which helped to establish the five-day 40-hour work week as the norm. It started a new hybrid model of work where employees who are not site-dependent could choose between remote locations and Ford campuses.

Ford may have had good reason to think that many employees would return to work after the implementation of the plan. It was the company polled 56,000 global employees who were working remotely in June 2020 about their work preferences post-pandemic and 95% said they wanted a mix of remote and in-office work, while 5% said they wanted to be onsite.

According to Kiersten Robinson (Ford Chief People and Employees Experience Officer), the results so far “have not been surprising.”

“When we opened our doors on April 4 to our employees to welcome them back into the workplace – those that wanted to come in – the numbers that actually have come back into work have been lower than we expected,” Robinson said.

Robinson says that Ford has seen signs in some employees that it is still “very young” and that there are “very collaborative team-based brainstorming sessions as well as strategic work.

Below are some key points Ford noticed since welcoming back its workers.

Concentrate on jobs in auto manufacturing

Robinson explained that Ford employs many people who work remotely or in hybrid environments. This is because Ford believes that work’s nature determines the location and method of execution.

She explained that “in manufacturing plants you cannot do the job in the factory so that is why our goal is to create a work environment that is conducive and welcoming and provide additional amenities and tools.”

That has led Ford to undergo an effort to examine how it can improve manufacturing facilities, looking at ways to improve worker wellbeing, nutrition, and even natural light in the space – “conditions that can really impact your work experience,” Robinson said.

Ford wants knowledge workers to sit down with their departments and develop a plan. They will need to ask questions and determine the most effective ways and places to accomplish the work.

Robinson explained that while we are measuring sentiment over the 90-day period, we also measure employee experiences. But, of course, the output will be measured and whether employees feel like they have the agency to make them as productive as necessary.

New office behaviors and data collection

Robinson stated that Ford had already remodeled 33% of its southeast Michigan facilities to make them “more conducive to collaborative hybrid work” and has set a plan to keep doing so in the future.

Ford assumes that approximately 50% of its employees will attend work on any given day. Robinson stated that it would test this hypothesis further over the next few months.

According to her, the company will not reduce its number of facilities but make sure that they are as accommodating as possible for hybrid working.

Ford now has employees back in the office so it is paying closer attention to how spaces are being used.

Robinson stated, “We have very precise data about traffic patterns and the most popular days. We’re also using sensors at many facilities to measure the types of spaces being used and their purpose.”

She stated that there isn’t a perfect solution, except for the fact that we cannot go back to pre-pandemic levels of work. “I hope this is an opportunity for us all to rethink the evolution of work. To experiment with understanding employees’ feedback. This will allow us to shape and refine what work looks like.