There’s a trend sweeping through the U.S. auto industry, and it’s threatening to do to the cubicle what the crossover did to the sedan.
Several automakers — including Ford, Daimler and Toyota — say they’ve been so impressed with how efficiently some of their U.S. employees have operated while they have been forced to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic that they are now thinking about extending the arrangement, perhaps even making it permanent.
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.”
While remote work presents challenges, such as building and maintaining a strong company culture, executives say the potential for improving morale, talent acquisition and efficiency makes it worth exploring further.
Carter said, for example, that Toyota had experienced a measurable productivity increase from its 300-person call center in Plano, Texas, after employees there started working from home.
“Work-from-home works extremely well for some of our associates,” Carter said.