It's established by now that the pandemic sped up auto retail's digital transformation.
Digital retailing, closing deals by videoconference and remote e-contracting are just some of the things dealerships are now doing on a larger scale since the coronavirus crisis abruptly changed the way they operate.
Here's one more for the list: telecommuting.
Flexible schedules, including work-from-home arrangements, became more common this year, particularly in locations that were closed by state and local business restrictions early on in the pandemic to limit transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. And they're yet another digital change remaking dealership operations — possibly for good.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents to an Automotive News survey of the 100 stores on our 2020 Best Dealerships To Work For list, which was published this week, said they have allowed more employees to telecommute. (We at Automotive News largely have been doing the same since mid-March. I'm writing this column from my living room.)
It's not an easy transition to make, particularly for an industry that historically has built relationships with customers by connecting in person. It's difficult to shake hands with a customer over a computer screen, for instance, and some dealership respondents to the survey said remote work arrangements likely won't be permanent.
But spending time in close proximity with other people also isn't recommended right now. Some dealerships that tried telecommuting said they found ways to keep employees productive while at home.
Employees from the business development center to the sales floor at Faulkner Subaru Harrisburg in Pennsylvania worked remotely during the pandemic, relying on technology to stay connected, General Manager Doug Jones told Automotive News.
"It has worked out very well," Jones said in his response to our survey. "We have learned that many of our employees can be just as productive working from home."