Ford Motor Co. is allowing tens of thousands of employees to continue working from home indefinitely, underlining the impact of theon employment practices at some of America's largest companies.
About 30,000 employees of the automaker who were shifted to remote work during the pandemic can carry on in those roles for the foreseeable future, Ford told CBS MoneyWatch. The remote option, announced to employees last week during a staff meeting, only applies to salaried office workers, not manufacturing jobs at auto plants.
Ford has 186,000 employees worldwide with 30,000 of them in white-collar or managerial roles in areas such as human resources, information technology and accounting. The company employs another 56,000 hourly workers in U.S. factories and maintains 65 manufacturing plants worldwide.
Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, emptied out in mid-March last year as the pandemic erupted. This year, office spaces will remain empty until at least the summer.
"We expect a gradual return to campus for some employees beginning in July," a Ford spokesman said, adding that those who go back will be "focused on collaboration and in-person work, with significantly reduced capacity so employees can retain social distancing."
Ford's plant workers have continued to work on-site during the pandemic but with increased safety protocols, including masks and COVID testing.
More choices for workers
Ford is the latest in a growing list of companies that now offer employees either a fully remote schedule or a "hybrid" option, which means an people can choose to work at home some days and come into the office on others.
"Our goal is to give employees further flexibility, allowing people to work where they feel most productive and comfortable, while also encouraging employees to work from home as the virus and related variants remain concerning," Microsoft Executive Vice President Kurt DelBene wrote in a blog post Monday.
Microsoft, Twitter and the others are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. A recent survey by the firm of 201 corporate human resource executives found that 79% plan to institute a hybrid model once the pandemic is under control.
Companies have been using software to track employee productivity while they worked remotely during the pandemic, and the data is encouraging. As a result, hybrid and fully remote jobs will will be "the route a vast majority of companies will go to," Challenger said.
"The coronavirus has fundamentally changed the way companies do business nowadays," he added. "You're going to see very few companies going back to the way it was."