The Henry Ford II World Center, the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan.
James Leynse | Corbis | Getty Images
The era of massive highways and heavy commuting has been a boon for auto companies like fordBut now automakers are in the unexpected position of crafting a future of work that might work against the American 20th century approach to employment.
San Francisco officials are re-looking Remote working as a possible solution to climate change, not just a short term solution for Coronavirus, with the elimination of commuting a source of emissions reduction. The thinking of the car company may be different, but in the last few months ford Surveyed over 30,000 of its employees about remote working and its convenience in the longer term. And the results suggest that car commutes, if not completely canceled, will see a significant reduction.
Seventy percent of Ford employees said they didn’t want to return to the office full time and preferred a hybrid approach.
Jennifer Kolstad, Global Design Director at Ford, has to figure out how to create the new way of working for the 117-year-old company.
All the time “at work”
Kolstad is certain of certain changes Covid-19 will make permanent. For one, the idea of just appearing in the workplace as a key to maintaining a job is over. The employment concept of “presenterism” – often defined by the example of people who come to work even when they are sick, only to prove that they are “at work” – is introduced by the Covid experience and the remote working experiment .
“It’s no longer, ‘If I don’t see you, you’re not working. … You are probably working more than ever before. The idea of’ at work ‘is being replaced by’ at work ‘… and so on Time, “said Kolstad on Tuesday CNBC @Work virtual summit.
Job choice is a new variable in employment and it will also be new capital for employers and employees to bargain for, said Kolstad.
“I think companies will have fewer choices than they imagine when there is a large contingent of companies that say remote working is acceptable to them because when all things are the same, they would rather not have the option” said Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of the collaboration software company Relaxedat the CNBC @Work virtual event. He noted that he had just hired his first executive who was not based in the Bay Area but based in Chicago.
“We’re going to create a new work landscape somewhere in the middle,” said Fords Kolstad. And there will be “new non-negotiable” ones, added the Ford executive.
Ford built a think tank to envision what the future will be and a big topic that has emerged is that after Covid there will be constant change even after a vaccine is available and companies need to build what it is referred to as “systemic resilience”. “
This idea, agreed by Vishaan Chakrabarti, Dean of the University of California at Berkeley College of Environmental Design who led planning for Manhattan during the Bloomberg administration after September 11, is important to keep focus, as changes after Covid are being considered.
“We usually wage the final war … protection from a physical terrorist attack when the next one could be a different enemy and the next pandemic could be completely different from Covid. So we have to be careful to be reactionary and think about what I do What really learned is that you don’t know where the next one is coming from, and that it isn’t what you plan to do because it was the final threat. “
The end of the open factory floor plan?
One scenario that Ford is investigating is called “hoteling,” a consolidation strategy in which certain workstations are replaced with a booking system that allows employees to reserve desks and collaboration rooms.
But Kolstad said Ford had much to learn about employee openness to collaboration zones in a post-vaccination world. “Will you feel fine? Probably at some point, but there will still be memories that it wasn’t too long ago that being around made me sick.”
Only entering and leaving workplaces remains unknown. “Are we all of a sudden readjusting all elevators because we have to put people in elevators to move them vertically around buildings? This is really expensive and I don’t know yet,” said Kolstad.
Rethinking the office could be the fate of the open office design approach, where employees are as close together as possible, which defines many modern workplaces, Chakrabarti said. (Michael Bloomberg was a big proponent of open floor plans as the Mayor of New York City and at his company.)
“We can question that … we need to improve the workspaces. We are a very developed economy and we don’t put widgets on our desks and the workplaces have to be pleasant,” he said. “We have gone too far to ‘put as many people as possible into offices.’ … if we can have a few people at home, we can give them more room to breathe in the office. “
But he added, “We don’t have a single customer who thinks they have to be two meters away forever and you may never touch a door again … there is interest in newer buildings with better technology and toilets more touchless doors and elevators that you can control with your phone … but I don’t think we’re going to get into that hypochondriac state in any way. “
‘Incorrect selection’ in remote labor migration
The changes that are being considered inevitably precede the disadvantages of working remotely.
“We try to identify the things that we will never get out of a plastic screen, which are meaningful relationships, and we try to understand deeply what it takes to be innovative and human connections are required to make us do it “said Ford’s Kolstad. “Never remotely. You can only get it in physical communal spaces and in the reality of getting together,” she added.
“Does technology create new questions? Sure, remote work is possible, but to quote Jerry SeinfeldIt’s just not that great. I don’t know that many people who love this life. Everyone is excited to say that we can come together and innovate again. All smart business people know what is important in great business is human capital, and I don’t think the best and brightest want to sit at home all day, “said Chakrabarti.
Kolstad emphasized that process companies like Ford now go deeper than layout and furniture that is moved. “This is not about desks and chairs. We are talking about a change in behavior and culture.”
“Most of us are hungry for face-to-face meetings, be it in the office, at happy hour, or at lunch,” said Chakrabarti. “But we should also talk about what remote work people enjoy … horrible commuters that most people have, and most people don’t miss that,” he said. “We need to improve the way we move around so that there isn’t such a binary choice between not commuting and not being face-to-face. It’s a wrong choice.”
Slacks Butterfield distinguished between the pandemic-triggered work-from-home phase and a permanent work-from-home future.
“When you’re a working single parent with young children and out of school, whether you work from home or not, you’re in an impossible situation,” said the CEO of Slack.
In a country like Japan, where people tend to live in smaller spaces, the idea of remote working as a permanent solution may be less attractive. “You need to rebuild the country so that people can work from home in Japan,” he said.
Slack’s CEO believes that 90-minute commutes and the use of large spaces in offices “that are like factory farmhouses” may not make sense in many places and for many roles. For employees who sit at desks with headphones on most days and work on individual projects, there is reason to reconsider the use of desks. You may not be able to work in a coffee shop today, but that option will come back in the future.
Slack is still on 800,000 square feet of office space and ten-year leases. Therefore, the company needs to rethink the use of offices and bring teams together.
There are certain physical characteristics of an office that cannot be remotely restored, Butterfield said. “There’s still a power projection with a logo on the side of a building.”
According to James Suzman, anthropologist and author of WORK: From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, the history of work has spanned several revolutions that lead up to the first human use of fire and agriculture.
Right now, Suzman says, there is no way companies can know how the work landscape will change, but work is at a tipping point.
“Businesses are in a ‘fog of war,'” said Suzman at the @Work virtual event. “They’re fighting right in front of us,” he said. “Nobody has the answers.”
This includes how we balance long distances and are closer to family, instead of missing out on the friction in the office and the dynamics of collaboration.
“Can you establish a culture without personal commitment? There is a very real need for commitment. The joy of completing a project together or facing failures together. This is what builds teams,” said Suzman.
But companies and employees have to “give up” the dogma in the new normal.
“It’s pointless to be tied to a specific place. … Far deeper currents than just Covid,” he said, adding that automation and AI, as well as environmental restrictions on growth and energy use, will lead to a completely different world of work.