Ford Motor Company announced on Wednesday that roughly 30,000 white collar workers will have the choice for when, if, and how often they will return to work in their office. Since beginning a work from home strategy in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, a date to return to working at their office has been pushed back from January 2021 to July 2021. A full return to the traditional office-job model may never happen for the carmaker.

In the March 19 virtual town hall meeting with employees, Ford CEO Jim Farley and board of directors executive chairman Bill Ford discusses the adoption of a hybrid work structure. Most office staff will have the option to work from home at their discretion with video conferencing taking a central position in collaborative efforts and meetings. While some meetings and projects will require in-person attendance, the choice to work from home or attend the office will be up to the individual the rest of the time.

Around 100,000 of Ford’s 186,000 employees are already back to work at physical locations, mostly at its manufacturing plants.

The decision to move toward the hybrid work model comes after months of employee surveys, a process that has been almost weekly for the 118-year-old carmaker. Ford’s chief people and employee experiences officer Kiersten Robinson said to CNBC of the plan, “We’ve been doing a lot of work in mining the lessons learned over the last 12 months and the impact on how we think about the evolution of work at Ford.

“The nature of the work we do really is going to be a guiding element. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 12 months, it is that a lot of our assumptions around work and what employees need has shifted.”

No commitment to permanent change

It’s a shift away from the traditional work model for one of the most traditional carmakers in the industry. While manufacturing will always require employees to be in the facility – as long as it’s operated by humans – it appears Ford has discovered that office space is ready for a change.

The corporate office interiors are to be reconfigured, largely doing away with individual offices and taking on a Silicon Valley-like appearance with common workspaces better suited to collaboration. These Collaboration Centers are planned for the Ford World Headquarters, the Rotunda Center, and the Ford Product Development Center. In general, it would appear that less corporate office space will be required, at least for the immediate future.

However, Ford is not willing to commit to this work structure permanently but rather as a progressive step to address the current challenges they face; challenges that aren’t unique to just Ford, and ones that could require further adaptations.

Robinson said, “We’re not calling this the ‘future of work,’ we’re intentionally calling it an ‘evolution’ because we’re going to continue to learn as we go and use those learnings to adapt our practices and policies around flexible work, as well as other areas.”

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