Will working from home survive the coronavirus? Ford’s decision suggests yes
Ford is just the latest company to allow more work from home after the pandemic. Salesforce, Facebook, Google and other tech companies have said they will continue work-from-home policies indefinitely. Target Corp. will be leaving one of four offices in downtown Minneapolis as it switches to a hybrid model for 3,500 workers. He will keep other offices downtown.
Flexible remote working is hardly an equal opportunity advantage. It is disproportionately concentrated among the more educated and better paid workers. The jobs of lower paid employees usually require local work or direct contact with the public.
More than a third of Asian employees and a quarter of whites were working from home due to the January pandemic, according to a Analysis government data by the Conference Board, a business research group. Only 19% of black workers and 14% of Hispanics were able to do so.
Ford has discovered over the past year that employees and supervisors feel that more work can be done remotely, that they can still connect with each other, and that they have the means to do their jobs, said Kiersten Robinson, Head of Human Resources and Employee Experience. So when its hybrid program kicks off in July or soon after, Ford will give teams a choice of when to get to the office.
Robinson said a flexible schedule will also help Ford compete for talent.
“I think we are seeing a real change in the expectations of candidates,” she said.
Among the employees satisfied with the new policy is Kelly Keller, Ford’s chemical and materials compliance manager. Keller, who has been working a hybrid schedule since the pandemic erupted a year ago, would not want to start commuting to work every day again. Now, she typically works three days from home, then commutes for the next three working days, one hour each way, to a lab in Dearborn.
Sometimes when she’s home she takes her daughter to elementary school and starts working a bit late before finishing later in the day.
“I really appreciate the flexibility,” Keller said. “I would appreciate the opportunity to continue the hybrid arrangement, for sure.”
Of the workers she supervises, seven go to the laboratory every day; four work from home. Homeworkers, Keller said, have been more productive than they were before the coronavirus hit, as they often work during the time they should have been commuting.
“For the most part,” she said, “I think they put in longer days.”
A study last month, by Alexander Bick, an economist at Arizona State University, and two colleagues found that nearly 13% of workers surveyed planned to work from home full time after the pandemic – nearly double the 7.6% who had done so in February 2020. 25% expect to do so at least one day a week, up from 17% before the pandemic.
Business executives overwhelmingly report that remote working has been successful during the pandemic, according to a study by consulting firm PwC. About 55% said they plan to allow remote work to continue, according to a survey of 133 executives from mostly large companies. Only 17 percent said they wanted employees to return to the office as soon as possible. Another 26 percent said they preferred limited remote working only, but acknowledged that it has become popular with employees.
Ford and other companies have redesigned their offices, or are planning to do so, to reflect fewer cubicles and personal desks and more conference rooms and other spaces for workers, which may be on-site part of the week only, to collaborate.
A more flexible attitude in the workplace could a breath in the largest American cities. Many Americans are already capitalizing on remote work to move from New York, Los Angeles, Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area to Phoenix; Tampa, Florida; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; and other less expensive areas, real estate data shows.
One telling detail: Even as the number of homes for sale has fallen nationwide over the past year, the supply of homes for sale in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles has actually increased, according to the Redfin real estate broker. And the decline in the number of available homes has been much smaller than the national average in other major coastal cities, such as Seattle, Boston and Washington.
Many cities can also take a financial hit even if remote workers don’t budge. A university study estimates that spending by workers in downtown businesses will decline by 5-10% after the pandemic.
Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, said the pandemic had accelerated a pre-coronavirus trend: more Americans sought cheaper homes in lesser-known cities and suburbs.
Fairweather herself left Seattle last summer after wildfires in Oregon left the city’s skies smoky and dark. Originally, she, her husband, and two young children were planning to stay just a month in a small town in Wisconsin, near her family. Soon, however, they decided to make it permanent and Fairweather was able to work remotely.
“We loved the pace of life – we loved being near family,” she said. “It’s so affordable here.”
– Alexandra Olson contributed to this report from New York.