The Ford company logo will appear over the Chicago assembly plant on February 3rd. Ford enables many workers to work remotely – not just during the pandemic, but as a routine. But of course, factory workers cannot register to work from home. Scott Olson / Getty Images Hide caption
Scott Olson / Getty Images
Scott Olson / Getty Images
Last month, Ford announced that employees who worked remotely could stay away – at least temporarily – even after the pandemic ended.
“Must be nice to her,” thought Marcie Pedraza, an electrician at a Ford plant in Chicago. Like many workers in the United States, from factories to grocery stores, working from home has never been an option for them. And that’s a challenge for companies feverishly rewriting their remote working guidelines: How do you feel fair about the change if not all employees can benefit from it?
That gap between those who have to show up for work and those who can log into Zoom wasn’t that great in the past. Just before the pandemic 3% of employees Registered full-time from home. The rest of us commuted – whether in a luxury car or Jalopy, by bike or bus, to a factory, an office or a studio.
But since last summer found a study 42% of the US workforce worked from home. The pandemic had changed dramatically at an astonishing rate.
“In 24 hours, we’ve grown from fewer than 1,000 people working remotely worldwide to around 80,000,” said Kiersten Robinson, chief people and employee experience officer at Ford Motor Company. “I was really surprised at how quickly we were able to adapt to remote work. I would never have expected that.”
Engineering, design, and marketing could all be done from home, it turns out. But assembly … not so much.
“Cars have to be built,” says Pedraza. “You have to do that personally.”
Pedraza says that some of her work could be done remotely – she does a lot of paperwork – and as a single mom, she would love any flexibility. But when she asked about work from home last year, she said her boss told her that hour workers were not eligible. It was disappointing, but not a surprise. She says remote working is a luxury she cannot afford.
The past year has been an ongoing crisis in which many companies and workers find their way under difficult circumstances. And not everyone loves to work from home. For many employees, however, remote working was a significant silver lining. For some, like people with disabilities or caregivers, it was life changing, opening up new job opportunities or allowing them to keep working when they might otherwise have had to quit.
While some companies are preparing to call employees back to the office as vaccines are widespread, others – including Ford and rival GM – are relying on remote working in the long run.
Ford, of course, participated in another labor revolution more than a century ago. Henry Ford transformed factories with the moving assembly line, and the rise of the automobile helped transform cities (and commuters).
Now, according to Ford, even after the pandemic is over, employees can work remotely if their jobs allow. Instead of assigned desks, employees reserve office space when they need it – a process known as “hoteling”.
Many other companies have similar strategies. a recent study Almost 80% of companies plan to maintain some level of remote working after the pandemic. But unlike tech companies, for example, a manufacturer like Ford also has to think of its huge pool of workers who have to show up in person.
Robinson says they are trying to think of new amenities to provide workers in factories so they aren’t completely excluded from the changes to Ford workplaces.
“When you finished your shift, what if we didn’t have to stop at the grocery store to pick up groceries for your family, but had groceries available that you could pre-order to take home with your family? ” She asks.
Brett Fox of the United Auto Worker union has some ideas for everyday improvements in factories.
“The air conditioning would help a lot,” he says, noting that the factory floors get hot in the summer. That would be an expensive upgrade, he admits. He also suggests changes to break rooms or improved ventilation to make the plants more comfortable.
“They allow your pay brackets to work from home,” he says, putting the automakers on the case he would bring. “Of course our members cannot work from home. So we have to do everything we can.”
Of course, big differences between office and factory work are as old as offices and factories.
However, inequality has only been increased by the pandemic. And not just for car factories.
“Retail, hospitality and front-line workers – those traditionally most at risk have suffered the most,” said Zara Ingilizian, consumer industry director at the World Economic Forum. She says there are ways to eradicate this inequality, from improving workplace safety to providing more training and career opportunities for workers.
It also points out that there are some tasks that we all assume must be done in person that ultimately technology can prove those assumptions are wrong.
“At some point the train operator may be able to drive the train from home,” she says.
Not every job can be done remotely. However, Ingilizian argues employers need to be more expansive so that workers who risked the most during the pandemic are not excluded from a wave of post-pandemic improvements in the workplace.