By on June 22, 2020

If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that you can keep people isolated in their homes without any negative consequences whatsoever.

Sure, we’ve seen articles from scientific journals like The Lancet warning that similar experiments run on a much smaller scale resulted in psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, general irritability, emotional exhaustion, paranoia, drug abuse, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms, but where’s the evidence of that happening this time?

Don’t answer that.

Employers the world over are already seeing the benefits of remote work and have begun to consider how to make it a long-term proposition. In addition to protecting companies against any new COVID-19 outbreaks, stay-at-home orders mean paying for less office space and utilities. Automakers are starting to think this is a pretty sweet deal — especially with productivity not having taken much of a hit — and are now considering whether to extend at-home employment indefinitely. 

Mercedes-Benz USA has already informed employees in Atlanta to work remotely for the remainder of the year. That’s almost 900 people working from home until at least 2021. “Working remotely was the exception — for the foreseeable future, it will become the norm,” MB-USA CEO Nicholas Speeks told Automotive News in May.

But Benz is far from the only manufacturer exploring the possibilities of what can be done from beyond the cubicle. This is a broad trend that’s hardly limited to the automotive sector. Ford says it wants to take its employees’ temperature (not literally, it’s already doing that) on the concept. Last week, the Blue Oval announced it was cooking up a survey for U.S. staff about where they’d like to work after September. Their options will be home, office, or a combination platter of both — the latter of which we’re inclined to believe will be the most popular.

Curious about the concept, AN compiled interviews from the last few months in which manufacturers addressed updated business models that include working from home. It also asked Katee Van Horn, CEO of VH Included Consulting and Coaching and former HR manager, if these changes would endure.

“I think we will not be returning to the way things were,” she said, adding that the technologies necessary for remote work have now reached a point where it appears sustainable.

Obviously, that doesn’t pertain to line workers who have to drag themselves to the factory floor everyday (seems unfair). But office jobs can be done almost anywhere without any major upset — at least that’s the theory. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t sound like a basket of roses for the community at large… and seems perfectly designed to upend the economy. Van Horn suggested there would be major implications in terms of compensation, real estate values, and quality of life if the trend takes hold.

“I’m sure there will be good and bad things about it, but it’s similar to the electronic revolution, where you have this mini computer that you now carry around in your pocket that you can access anything that you want anytime,” she said. “I think there are going to be some major shifts from a financial perspective, and that’s going to be interesting.”

From Automotive News:

Such a dramatic shift in the hidebound world of office work could bring with it myriad effects to the way large companies, including automakers, manage day-to-day operations: their hiring practices, staffing levels, company culture and even their needs for commercial real estate.

“Work-from-home is something that we had tested and tried on a very small basis” pre-COVID-19, said Bob Carter, head of sales for Toyota Motor North America and a member of the automaker’s top management team on the continent. “I’ll admit that maybe my management was a little bit old school, where I was a little reluctant,” he said. Carter was concerned that “in a work-from-home environment in operations, we’re going to lose a lot of this efficiency that we’re famous for. But I can tell you proudly that our people have really stepped up.”

Toyota said that productivity actually increased in some corners of the company. That in itself should be enough to revise the system so some people can just keep working from home. It’s also telling that a traditionalist organization like Toyota is even considering making these kinds of changes, as we’d have figured it’d be the last to embrace something so outside-the-box.

On a person-to-person basis, this may be just the ticket for helping businesses save money while keeping folks from bringing their bad cough into the workplace. In fact, studies show people working from home tend to be cheaper to employ and spend more time at their desk. But there seem to be widespread issues with doing it on an international level — especially with stressors being exacerbated by the pandemic. Having large groups of people working from home would be fine if the rest of the world was left broadly the same, and that isn’t the case for large portions of the planet. Many economists and mental health experts fear societal pressures combined with at-home work will lead to accelerated burnout in the months ahead.

At least you won’t have to endure that morning commute.


[Image: ErsinTekkol/Shutterstock]


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17 Comments on “At Home Forever: Automakers Consider New Ways of Working...”

  • avatar

    While I can’t see it for trades and STEM people, I can definitely see it for the dead-weight types, like marketeering.

    That said, it maybe worth keeping them in-house where you can keep an eye on them, since they’re so prone to selling company secrets to the highest bidder.

  • avatar

    Multiple studies have shown working from home is more efficient. Half of the distractions come from water cooler talk among co-workers you encounter in the halls or break room. Plus when I’m at home I can’t be late due to traffic or weather, so my hours actually go up. A quick after hours meeting? Sure why not. I spend 80% of my office time sitting in front of a computer – so the location of that computer shouldn’t matter. The savings in office leases alone should make the ever present bean counters over joyed. I assume this has offset the additional IT staff & equipment upgrades.

    Our team at work has been pitching the work-from-home idea to management for at least 2 years only to have it shot down again and again. Now suddenly its not only acceptable, but might become the recommended way moving forward. Seems keeping employees healthy is now an actual priority.

    • 0 avatar

      “Multiple studies have shown working from home is more efficient.”

      I guess they didn’t survey many people with a Brazzers subscription. (don’t Google it)

    • 0 avatar

      I think there is (or has been) a control factor with regards to WFH being shot down in many workplaces. Management will now have to find other methods to “herd the sheep”, so to say.

  • avatar

    Said this at the beginning of COVID but will reinforce.

    Once heard Zig Ziglar say “Everyone with nothing to do, wants to do it with you.” (In regard to personal productivity and avoiding time-wasters.)

    Back when my college kids were infants, my wife worked from home in a job that you really couldn’t do from home – they raised the ‘quota’ back at the office based on her level of productivity at our dining room table.

    In a ‘work from home’ situation:
    – The producers will get called on to do *more* – more assignments, more meetings, more time.
    – The slackers will be able to slack more effectively (but lose the critical ‘face time’ component of artful slacking).
    – And a large percentage of middle management who were ‘shepherding’ the producers might look suddenly lost.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      “In a ‘work from home’ situation:
      – The producers will get called on to do *more* – more assignments, more meetings, more time.
      – The slackers will be able to slack more effectively (but lose the critical ‘face time’ component of artful slacking).
      – And a large percentage of middle management who were ‘shepherding’ the producers might look suddenly lost.”

      This is the most accurate summary of this I have read yet. Yes, that dude that everyone loves because he cracks people up is in serious trouble when they have to produce.

  • avatar

    Most of this premise is ridiculous.
    It violates one of the basics of the Toyota system (genchi genbutsu) and is guaranteed to lead to major problems.

    • 0 avatar

      Every workday I “go and see” what the stock market is doing. Are you telling me I should be booking flights to do this?

      • 0 avatar

        Those are numbers on a screen. Nobody is making hardware in the stock market. You’ve identified the crucial reason why making cars is so difficult, as the Silicon Valley geniuses figured out. Even Musk and Straubel were sleeping at the battery plant in Nevada for a while.

        FWIW the lack of genchi genbutsu was one of GM’s biggest problems in the 80s. They did get an education from NUMMI.

    • 0 avatar

      “Toyota said that productivity actually increased in some corners of the company.”

      If it will save the company a lot of money, they will do it and find people that are willing to do it (in some corners of the company). I can see this happening to a lot of companies worldwide, let alone in the US.

    • 0 avatar

      Genchi genbutsu still applies when physical products are being made. But there is no “real thing” or “real place” involved with most white collar work done sitting at a computer and on the phone.

      There is also the issue of hopefully fewer and less time consuming meetings. How many hours are wasted showing up at a meeting just to be seen being there???

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @JMII–Agree since COVID-19 I have not been in the office since the end of March. I was working 4 days a week at home. I get more work done and for the most part work longer hours but I have more time since I don’t have to commute. Additionally I don’t have to spend much on clothes and food and my vehicles hardly get driven thus making them last longer. My employer went thru a major downsizing of office space in late 2018 and for the most part everyone is happy since they get to work at home more often. The cost savings of reducing space reduced annual costs over 2 million since they were able to consolidate employees from 3 buildings into 1. Overall a Win Win for everyone.

  • avatar

    Because of this apparently impending work-from-home revolution, I could see firms/companies/etc. in high cost of living cites, such as NYC, being able to slash salaries drastically by hiring remote workers from lower cost of living areas. A 100k salary for a remote worker in NYC compared to a 70k salary (for the same job) for a remote worker that resides in Kansas City would be a no-brainer cost savings from a corporate standpoint.

  • avatar

    It has begun already. I know of two companies who decided NOT to re up commercial leases. The revelation of not spending three hours a day in motion, packed on a train has occurred to more than a few of my fellow suburbanites. A recent attempt by one of my offices to locate a webcam failed-they are back ordered to forever.

    The problem tho is total loss of any cross pollination. You aren’t going to meet new people on Zoom, and lots of random conversations and meetings won’t occur.

    • 0 avatar

      Gone will be the days of “the elevator pitch”.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s been interesting for me. I’m collaborating with a mechanical engineer in the UK. He’ll design a part, I’ll get it electronically, then 3D print it. I can test the part, give and give some feedback. He can then make more changes, then I can download the new design. While I don’t have one yet, they even have 3d printers that produce aluminum parts.

    • 0 avatar

      Personally I think in person random conversations have been vastly over-rated. Plus, now you have more time for random conversations online.

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