IIt was almost 100 years ago when Henry Ford cut the work week to five days from six and adopted an eight-hour workday. Ford thinks its workers will be more productive in less time; critics were skeptical. The result is a schedule that endures to this day.
Last week Ford Motor, which employs some 183,000 people and produced 3.9 million vehicles last year, triggered the most significant shift to its job since the early days of its eponymous founder. Under its new hybrid model, 25,000 salaried workers are instructed to come to the office when collaboration is needed and work from home when heavy work is on the agenda. (Additional non-location-dependent employees follow a hybrid model where local Covid regulations allow, and more than 100,000 workers build vehicles at Ford facilities.) No master schedule; each team, usually a group of under 20 people, decides when and where they will work. It’s a more progressive model than some coastal tech giants and significantly more than some Wall Street proponents.
It’s an exciting time, as the company is set to launch an electric version of its best-selling F-150 truck—part of a $50 billion effort to compete with Wall Street’s beloved Tesla.
In support of the new work model—and in a sign that there is no turning back—Ford has converted about 33% of its workplace in southeast Michigan, or about 3.35 million square feet, into what it calls “collaboration centers”, designed specifically for support the new definition of work. Features include video conferencing, an online workspace reservation system, and a meditation area. There is a concierge to help workers who might, for example, forget their iPhone charger; IT support; information booth for new workers; and an enhanced cafeteria with an online ordering system. Conversion to a collaboration space is in progress.
Supporting this choice is internal Ford research, which found that 95% of the 56,000 global respondents prefer hybrid jobs and also that 91% of employees agree that “Ford pride remains high” in the fourth quarter of 2020. In September 2020, the company held a meeting at -house “future-of-work think tank” of 50 business unit leaders and external experts in subjects such as neurology, urban planning, anthropology, diversity and health. The think tank came up with principles that include “promoting interaction and collaboration regardless of location” and “maintaining well-being.”
Ford continues to survey and study the impact of its hybrid strategy. One early takeaway: Many workers go to the office for only part of the day, which is evidence that they use the office primarily to interact with other people.
To learn more about Ford’s new model and what it can bring to other workplaces, we spoke with Jennifer Torony, director of human resources, North America. Here is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for space and clarity:
Do you keep track of what the different teams are doing?
We did. This will take several different forms. Right now, when we’re just starting out, we’re gathering employee sentiment. That’s things like: How do you know the resource meets your needs when you log in? What do you think about our new collaboration center? Do you have problems with technology? Etc. We have a small team dedicated to looking at and reviewing those sentiments to see if we need to adjust anything in the near future. In the long term, we will incorporate these types of questions into our employee surveys.
Do people come one day, a week, two days a week, four days a week? Do you have a taste of it yet?
It’s too early to say right now as we’re only into the second week. We hope to see what the trend is over the next few months. I can tell you what day of the week is the most popular, which is Thursday. Another trend we’re seeing—and again, in the early days—is that employees usually come in for a few hours. For us, that means that we did a great job educating our employees about what hybrid meant before. Hybrid is really meant to come to the scene when you need to collaborate. For example, if you’re having a meeting or face-to-face collaboration session with your team on the spot for a few hours in the morning, it’s a good idea to be able to break away and head out of the office again to your house to pick up the head-down meeting.
Where did the idea for a collaboration center come from?
There is a lot of research done through internal focus groups, think tanks, etc. to think about what the main office environment would look like and how we could design it to be collaborative. For most of the collaboration centers we use, we recreate the environment inside the building. For example, the Rotunda Center is a building that was once a Ford building, but to be honest, most of our employees have never worked there. The building was completely rebuilt with hybrids in mind and collaboration in mind. Most rooms are non-bookable, but you have plenty of team conference rooms. You have collaboration spaces with movable whiteboards and sofas, so employees can actually sit down and have a breakout session to think about something.
When you walk into the Rotunda Center, you really see the light. Some of us are used to a very traditional old cube environment, which is a bit dark. It’s really designed to have lots of natural light and openness. You don’t see the cube in the collaboration center. We also have spaces where employees can go out and collaborate—if the weather is nice, since we live in Michigan. We have an outdoor terrace and even our food service has an outdoor area. For example, in our world headquarters building, we have a barbecue terrace where employees can gather when the weather is nice. They really are around to make sure that when employees come in, they feel happy to come in, and the experience is great.
We’ve also included lots of welfare rooms. There’s a welfare room, a space for new parents, a focus room. Maybe you’re in the office to collaborate, but you have to go on a call. We have several dedicated focus spaces you can use to do this.
For many, this is their office. It’s not like they have an office and a collaboration center, right?
That’s right. For our location-independent folks, this is where they will work for hybrids. We ask everyone to sign in to one of these five collaboration centers. Some of the education we do is to help employees understand what is available in each collaboration center. If they are trying to decide between one or two of them, we try to help decide which space is good for them. For example, we have a completely renovated room, which used to be a conference center, but everything has been renovated. It’s the Ford Experience Center now. If you have a larger team meeting, like an entire department with a few hundred people, that’s a new space for you to use. We really want to make sure everyone understands the best place for them when planning their trip to the workforce.
It’s probably too early to tell, but I’m assuming you’ve asked people what they think about it. How are you?
This will be good. They love it. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how much they love the food service. One of the things we hear is how important food is. We all know that, but we’re learning to offer healthier options and adapt food service to the employee experience in a better way. Another new feature is ordering food online. The team built and launched it, and it’s very popular. Think about when we worked remotely from home, when you could order a DoorDash or other delivery service. It’s basically the same thing.
Employees are also pleased that we have added a concierge in the collaboration center. Wherever you go, you’ll find someone there to help you, whether you’ve forgotten the charger for your iPhone or you don’t know where the conference room you’ve scheduled is, or what time the cafeteria is. Either way, there’s a concierge there to help.
We also have IT support. Those of us who have worked remotely are all used to our home setups, so sometimes when you get back to the office you need a little refresher. A lot of the new hires from the last few years haven’t been in the Ford building, so we’ve set out the next few weeks to actually provide them with information. We have an information booth set up for potential new employees, where they can talk to IT people, hear about well-being, talk about food service options, talk about collaboration technology, etc. good feedback from employees.