As pandemic lingers, Ford again delays return to office, adds new remote work option

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Nearly a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a massive shift to remote work and amid another resurgence of the virus, Ford Motor Co. on Wednesday said it is once again pushing back its return-to-office plans — and introducing even more flexibility into its work-from-home policies.

Ford Motor Company Henry Ford II World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, on September 2, 2020.

The Dearborn automaker informed thousands of salaried employees Wednesday that they should not expect to return to campuses until at least January. The change is due in part to the uptick in key COVID-19 metrics amid the spread of the highly-contagious delta variant and lagging vaccination rates in parts of the U.S. and around the world.

The announcement applies to non-site-dependent employees in North America, South America and "most" of Ford's International Markets Group, which includes dozens of countries. In the meantime, as the COVID-19 situation evolves, the company said it would "explore opportunities for team members to return on-site and experience the hybrid model."

Ford announced in March that even post-pandemic, it would move many salaried workers to a more flexible hybrid model under which employees and managers will together determine how, when and where work is accomplished.

Under that policy, the expectation is that employees will divide their time between remote and in-person work. What that looks like for individual employees will be based on the nature of their projects. Employees might work on their campus two or three days a week, for example, to meet and collaborate with co-workers. When they need to focus on an individual task, they might opt to work at home.

The shift to hybrid already is having an effect on how Ford configures its physical workplaces. As the automaker continues a massive renovation of its research and engineering campus in Dearborn, for example, it's introducing "collaboration centers" in which employees can reserve spaces to meet with co-workers.

Meanwhile, the Blue Oval also announced it will introduce a policy providing additional flexibility to tens of thousands of white-collar employees: short-term remote work.

Under that policy, employees whose jobs are not site-dependent can ask their managers for permission to work at an alternate location within the country where they're based. They can take advantage of short-term remote work for up to 30 days per year without having to come on-site for that period.

A Dearborn-based employee, for example, might get approval to work from a warmer climate for a month of Michigan's winter, or they might ask their boss if they can take their work with them and head Up North for a few weeks.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski