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This Auto CEO Won’t Put Remote Work in Reverse


For one week each month

Carlos Tavares

runs a global auto giant from his living room in Lisbon, surrounded by his grandchildren. The Portuguese executive started working this way long before Covid-19 started, and he expects it to continue once the pandemic is over.

As chief executive of

Stellantis


STLA 2.60%

NV, Mr. Tavares is responsible for some of the world’s best-known automobile brands: Jeep, Dodge, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. He took charge following the 2021 union of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Peugeot maker PSA Group, which Mr. Tavares had run since 2014. He got his start in the industry more than four decades ago with French auto giant Renault.

The company he oversees now faces a pivotal moment as it embraces a future of electric cars. Stellantis plans to introduce more than 75 battery-powered vehicles by 2030, including 25 in the U.S. Many of its rivals are doing the same, motivated by tightening air-pollution regulations, concerns about climate change and rising consumer demand for electric vehicles.

His plan for keeping workers engaged is a hybrid work model that allows roughly 75,000 employees who aren’t on the assembly line to operate remotely most of the time. He did the same at PSA, where roughly 18,000 had been working from home for years before the pandemic.

The North American headquarters for Stellantis, above, is in Auburn Hills, Mich. Employees who aren’t on the assembly line operate remotely most of the time.



Photo:

Nick Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

Not everyone in his industry is taking the same approach. Tesla Inc.’s CEO Elon Musk has already told white-collar staff to return to the office. But Mr. Tavares, 63, said it isn’t possible to return to a pre-Covid working life. Remote work yields more “high-quality time” for his workers as well as a greater balance. His own way to unwind is taking an hour-long walk at the end of the day and competing as an amateur race-car driver on the weekends.

He recently sat down with The Journal for an interview. Here are edited excerpts:

WSJ: You’ve been a proponent of hybrid work even before the pandemic. What initially prompted you to go in that direction?

Mr. Tavares: Health-related reasons were obvious [during the pandemic], but also even after the pandemic, the fact that you are giving back to people high-quality time with less commuting, you get more time during the day.

Q: What are some challenges of building a remote work model?

A: Remote working is just an opportunity to recreate a better [life] balance. I don’t see it at all as a risk. I just say, well, that pressure was growing by the day. By giving back one half-hour, or two hours, of high quality time per day, you are easing the process. In fact, I think people are working more than before.

Look at how tired you are at the end of one full day of remote work. You want to go out and have a walk for an hour just to refresh your mind because it was so intense. So why shouldn’t we trust each other? I think it’s the only way to go.

Q: How often are you working from home? And what’s your at-home office setup like?

A: On average, it’s one week per month. I have a very, very small desk in my living room. I’m sitting there with my iPad, and my grandkids are going by, but nobody sees them. I work on Portuguese time from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. Then I go for a walk for an hour.

Q: Is that your favorite thing about remote work? The walk after work?

Mr. Tavares: Yes. Then I pick up my phone and do all my calls, specifically to the U.S.

A: What’s your least favorite part? The lack of face-to-face contact?

Mr. Tavares: Absolutely, because I think it’s normal that we all feel that, because those interactions are valuable. That contrast is giving value to the fact that, yes, you can get together in a nice office, in good conditions to work together and brainstorm together.

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Q: In-person interactions may allow senior staff to mentor more junior employees. How do you maintain that in a hybrid model?

A: The junior employees, the fact they feel they need that human interaction and that coaching, it doesn’t need to be five days a week. You may want to get coaching once a week, you don’t want to have somebody on your back five days a week. It’s a matter of the quality of the time you use.

Q: You started a reevaluation of your real estate footprint. What does Stellantis look like in this newer era?

A: If we want to be serious about global warming, it’s not only about cars and trucks, it’s also about real estate and manufacturing activity. It does not mean the real estate won’t be used by somebody else. But it means that we offer those already existing facilities to people who, by the way, don’t have to construct them any more and generate more CO2, for instance, in manufacturing.

Q: Do companies need a headquarters in a more virtual world?

A: I already discussed that question with some of our people. Perhaps not. Are we ready for that? Not yet.

Q: You created a massive, global company amid the pandemic. How have you navigated that in a primarily remote environment?

A: One of our executives asked me one day, “What’s the culture of Stellantis?” I told him, “It’s not for me to decide.” We love diversity, we don’t identify any Stellantis culture. If I try to put you in a box of the so-called Stellantis culture, first, I will get it wrong, second I’m asking you all to be the same, which is counterproductive. When you look at our competitors, you have Japanese competitors all about Japan, you have the Germans, you have the Americans. You can always put a citizenship on one company. We have 170 different nationalities, and we love it.

Q: How do you unwind at the end of the day and create that work-life balance? How does Stellantis help employees create it?

A: I’m not sure I’m the most qualified to answer that. For me, being fully-connected is a way to be flexible in my life. I usually say that the only moment when you cannot call me is when I’m racing, because my phone is in my pocket, in my racing suit, but disconnected. What I’m trying to do with my team is not bother them through the weekends. I don’t ask them to answer me through the weekends. When it appears necessary, I do, but I try to make it as limited as possible. I always apologize for giving a call on the weekend, and I don’t ask them to answer an email through the weekend.

We’ll never criticize anybody in the company that did not give an answer through the weekend, because it is normal. If you want your people to be in game shape on Monday, you don’t give them calls or send them emails through the weekend. Or you can email saying, “Don’t answer me through Monday.” You can do that. I’m just processing my workload through the weekend, but don’t answer me through the weekend.

Write to Ryan Felton at [email protected]

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