Ford Rethinks the Office, Betting Work Will Be Partly Remote Longer-Term

Ford is trying to prepare for a future in which many, if not most, employees won’t come into the office every day.

Photo: Sean Proctor for The Wall Street Journal

Thousands of office employees at Ford Motor Co. F -1.73% have come back to work in recent weeks to retrieve their things. All of their things.

With its white-collar employees working remotely at least until January because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ford is taking advantage of its empty buildings to reconfigure the workplace for a new era in which employees will have more options to do their jobs remotely, a company real-estate director said in an interview this week.

Most of the roughly 30,000 employees who work at or near Ford’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters have returned to the office this summer to clean out their desks and workspaces, all while donning face masks.

Ford has emphasized to workers the collect-and-clear exercise that began in July has nothing to do with layoffs.

Rather, the No. 2 U.S. auto maker is trying to prep for a future in which many, if not most, employees won’t come into the office every day, said Jackie Shuk, a global director at Ford’s real-estate arm.

Many office workers are visiting the office for the first time since March, when Ford closed its corporate campuses because of pandemic-related lockdowns.

Some employees say they have worked in the same space for many years, requiring them to dig through stuffed filing cabinets and troves of personal items with little sense of when or where they will be back in the office.

“For a lot of people this has been surreal,” said a marketing employee at Ford’s headquarters. “I think most people like the idea of more flexibility. But we haven’t been told where we’re returning to.”

Ford’s Ms. Shuk said an on-site care team has been helping workers move boxes and load chairs and computer equipment into their cars. “It was definitely emotional for some,” she said. “The biggest thing we’ve heard is, ‘I miss my co-workers.’”

The reshuffling at Ford is among the more-assertive moves being taken by companies rethinking office life longer-term, as the pandemic has shown remote work to be more productive and feasible than initially thought.

With Covid-19 cases still rising in the U.S. this summer, many companies have pushed back their timelines for returning workers to offices.

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