At Home Forever: Automakers Consider New Ways of Working

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
at home forever automakers consider new ways of working
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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  • FlimFlamMan FlimFlamMan on Jun 22, 2020

    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.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Jun 22, 2020

    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.

    • See 2 previous
    • Jthorner Jthorner on Jun 24, 2020

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

  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..
  • THX1136 I think that the good ole interwebs is at least partially to blame. When folks can get content for free, what is the motivation to pay to read? I'm guilty of this big time. Gotta pay to read!? Forget it! I'll go somewhere else or do without. And since a majority of folks have that portable PC disguised as a phone in their pocket, no need for print. The amount of info easily available is the other factor the web brings to bear. It's perhaps harder now to stand out. Standing out is necessary to continued success.In an industry I've been interested (and participated) in, the one magazine (Mix) I subscribed to has become a shadow of it's former self (200 pgs now down to 75). I like print for the reasons mentioned by another earlier. I can 'access' it in a non-linear fashion and it's easily portable for me. (Don't own a smarty pants phone and don't plan to at the moment.)I would agree with others: useful comparison reviews, unique content not easily available other places, occasional ringers (Baruth, Sajeev, et al) - it would be attractive to me anyway. I enjoy Corey, Matt and Murilee and hope they continue to contribute here.
  • Daniel J I wish auto journos would do more comparisons. They do some but many are just from notes from a previous review compared to a new review. I see where journos go out to a location and test drive and review a vehicle on location but that does absolutely nothing for me without any comparison to similar cars. I also wish more journos spent more time on seat comfort. I guess that doesn't matter much when many journos seem to be smaller folks where comfort isn't as important. Ergonomics are usually just glossed over unless there is something very specific about the ergonomics that tick the journo off. I honestly get more from most youtube reviews than I ever do about reviews written on a page.