Boeing’s plan to bring 737 engineers back to the office draws both scorn and praise

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Boeing’s latest move back to the office – this time for its standby 737 operation – is receiving a now-familiar pushback from the workers involved, but also grudging praise from at least one industry expert.

On Wednesday, Jason Clark, vice president of manufacturing and supply chain engineering, told 737 fully or partially remote program engineers to be ready to return to their offices in Renton four days a week, according to employees who attended the online meeting.

The policy will be officially announced in a subsequent email as early as next week, participants said, and could affect up to a few thousand Seattle-area employees, according to the engineering union, Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

“As we increase production rates, hire thousands of new employees and continue our aircraft development work, it is beneficial to have teams in the office more often to support our commitments to our customers and collaborate in person, including sharing best practices and responding quickly to emerging needs,” according to the statement, which Boeing also provided on June 25 after reports that procurement officers would also be required to be on duty.

But several engineers who attended Wednesday’s meeting said Clark provided little justification for ending the current remote work policy, which they say allows teams to set individual work schedules as needed. of the project.

They said Clark provided no data to show remote workers were less productive or contributing to production or delivery delays. Clark “even acknowledged that he didn’t know any data to support this,” said a mid-career 737 engineer who attended Wednesday’s meeting and who, like other people interviewed for this story , asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job.

Instead, the new 737 office policy seemed focused on reviving Boeing’s office work culture and sending a signal to worried customers that the aerospace giant is committed to resolving production and delivery issues, several participants said.

Clark told engineers that customers visiting Boeing facilities were put off by the lack of engineers, attendees said.

Clark told attendees that some visiting airline executives “were not happy … to see empty engineering sections,” said another mid-career engineer who was at Wednesday’s meeting.

Several participants asked Clark if the benefits of an internal culture and improved customer image “outweighed the risk of losing people, and he said ‘yes’ outright – just ‘yes’,” said said one participant.

A Boeing spokesperson was unable to confirm whether Clark made the statements and did not say whether they reflected company policy.

Tensions over the future of remote work at Boeing echo those at many other organizations as employers and workers challenge the form of office work after more than two years of adjusting to the pandemic.

Many tech companies have slowed their return-to-office plans, in part to avoid the loss of highly skilled employees who prefer remote work to long commutes and office distractions. Even local governments like the city of Seattle are struggling to persuade employees to give up remote work.

In the case of Boeing, however, at least one industry expert thinks the company is right to bring some engineers back to the office.

Richard Aboulafia, veteran industry analyst and managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, said that while there is no single workplace prescription for all companies or all types of jobs, in companies like Boeing and in roles like product development or aircraft certification, “having this team in the workplace is absolutely critical.

Aboulafia also agreed that for Boeing, which is struggling to regain the trust of some customers, a dispersed engineering team “isn’t a great look.” Although the pandemic is far from over, “things are looking up and customers want to see in a [original equipment manufacturer] it’s fully engaged,” Aboulafia said.

Yet Aboulafia, who has been a vocal critic of Boeing management, said he sympathizes with the company’s engineers who don’t hear a compelling case for an office-based team culture because of “the complete absence of leadership in terms of the company’s future”.

“If you really had a message from above, it was, ‘We’re going to dominate this industry again. [and] here’s how we’re going to do it. … It would inspire people to come together and share ideas,” Aboulafia said.

Without it, he added, “Yeah, I would kind of like to stay home and be closer to my coffee machine too.”

Coverage for the economic impacts of the pandemic is partially underwritten by Microsoft Philanthropies. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over this and all of its coverage.

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