Mitsubishi to U.S. employees: Work from home forever

Mitsubishi Motors North America is taking a page from Silicon Valley in the war for talent.

The Japanese automaker said it will allow most of its 300 U.S. employees who are not site-dependent to work from home indefinitely, with no required minimum number of days in the office.

Automakers have become more flexible with their remote work policies in pandemic times but many still require employees to come into the office a few days a week. But Mitsubishi is going all-in on a work-from-home policy that reflects a shift in the traditional work environment for a post-COVID world.

“This is a critical moment to embrace change, motivate and retain our talented employee base,” Mitsubishi Motors North America CEO Mark Chaffin told Automotive News last week. “Companies tend to get hyper-focused on customer satisfaction but then lose sight of what it takes to ensure employee satisfaction. We committed to ourselves that we wouldn’t do that.”

A grand experiment that was forced on corporate America with the onset of the pandemic is gradually becoming the new normal. Several companies are pivoting from a hybrid model to a full remote one as they see greater engagement and productivity from employees unshackled from their cubicles.

According to a Gartner survey of more than 250 executives released in late March, companies estimate that 58 percent of their employees split their time in and out of the office, with 24 percent preferring to work remotely full time.

The high-tech sector led the way in rethinking how and where work gets done. Several brands, including Meta, Slack, Airbnb and Twitter, have adopted remote-first work policies.

Requiring employees to return to work is a “doomed approach,” Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told The Washington Post late last year. “Work is no longer a place you go. It’s something you do,” Butterfield said.

The auto industry, meanwhile, is being more cautious — watching how hybrid work arrangements affect long-term employee productivity and corporate culture.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. said some of its salaried employees would move to a new hybrid schedule that will continue with remote work even after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

Toyota Motor North America experienced a measurable productivity increase from its 300-person call center in Plano, Texas, after employees started working from home.

Businesses see remote work giving them new flexibility to go to where the best talent is, rather than expecting new employees to accept the disruption of relocating.

Chris Reynolds, who oversees Toyota’s manufacturing and human resources functions, said flexible work-from-home policies allow companies to broaden the geographic footprint of their recruiting efforts.

“If we’re now working from home and can do things virtually, do I care whether you’re in Plano, Texas, or Detroit, Mich.? I may not, depending on the job, as long as you can get to Plano periodically to meet with your team,” Reynolds told Automotive News‘ during the height of the pandemic.

For Mitsubishi, workplace flexibility is also about sourcing talent from beyond the automotive sector.

“We need to think of ourselves as a company that innovates,” Mitsubishi North America human resources chief Katherine Knight said. “If people start to notice us as being competitive with tech companies [in workplace benefits], they may look at our jobs and realize, ‘Wait a minute, not all of these jobs require automotive experience.’ ”

Mitsubishi expects that at least 90 percent of its U.S. employees will be eligible for its work-from-home benefit.

The intent is to offer maximum flexibility, Knight said.

“There may be people who decide to work from home one day a week; when their child is having a sick day; [or] work from home in the morning and come to the office in the afternoon,” she said.

Mitsubishi executives wave off concerns about productivity decreasing with employees distracted by crying babies or the temptation to catch an afternoon baseball game on television.

“Through the COVID transition, our employee team has proven that we can both be productive and run a successful business from HQ or the home office,” Chaffin said.

But maintaining company culture and replicating serendipitous interactions in office hallways and breakrooms is more challenging with many employees working from their basements and kitchens. Mitsubishi said it has a plan to address that.

“We were mindful that we would have to make sure that people working from home 100 percent of the time, or 90 percent of the time, are included in employee programs and not left behind,” Knight said. “Our training programs and employee engagement activities are maturing to include people working from home as much as possible.

“Will the Halloween party experience be the same? No, probably not,” she said. “But in terms of people’s ability to work, their training [and] promote-ability — they will not be left behind if they are working from home.”

It’s uncertain how the HR experiment will pan out. But one thing is clear: The days of being tied to an office cubicle Monday through Friday are over, even post-pandemic.

“There are so many different ways to work that are valid,” Knight said. “For those who truly benefit from [remote work], they will continue to do so. And that’s OK.”

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