JUNE 1, 2022
Tesla’s white collar staff face a stark choice: return to the office like their colleagues on the assembly line, without exception—or start cleaning out their desks.
In a leaked email from Elon Musk sent on Tuesday entitled “Remote work is no longer acceptable”, the polarizing centibillionaire said only in extreme cases where this was deemed impossible would he personally decide whether to reconsider his decree.
“Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla,” he wrote in an email shared by Tesla shareholder Sam Nissim.
Many proponents of working from home (WFH) argue it can improve quality of life. Yet there are also those that believe it can foster social inequality, warning it creates a two-class workforce where yuppies enjoy all the advantages flexibility has to offer while blue collar employees have none.
In a possible reference to Chinese staff building cars during 12-hour shifts while sleeping on the shop floor during a COVID lockdown, he added: “This is less than [what] we ask of factory workers.”
Musk went on to add that it wasn’t sufficient to clock in at just any Tesla site, it had to be one that aligned with one’s assigned duties.
Being in charge of human resources at the carmaker’s Fremont assembly plant in California while working out of a corporate office in a completely different state would not count, he clarified.
The email did not mention a deadline by which time Musk’s instructions to staff must be applied, so it is conceivable the orders are effective immediately.
Tech companies like Tesla that rely heavily on software programmers and artificial intelligence developers working behind a computer have been exploring whether it makes sense to require employees to return to the office.
Alphabet’s Google search engine business took a hybrid approach, for example, asking its staff to come in three days a week. It offers no such choice to workers employed at contractors like Google Maps’ business partner Cognizant, however.
By comparison, Salesforce, which pioneered the use of business software running remotely via the Cloud, sees flexibility as recruiting tool. It doesn’t care where its top talent works so long as they are in the same time zone, its co-CEO told a German paper recently.
Musk’s dim view of WFH
Musk himself seemed to telegraph his dim view of WFH last month, when he responded to news that Apple delayed its return to work plan by tweeting a meme that suggested that employees who work from home were in fact just lazy dogs.
Twitter users were divided over Musk’s missive on Wednesday.
Some argued that Tesla could end up sacrificing too many brains among its 110,000-strong staff as people quit rather than conform to his orders. Others saw little risk, citing the company’s claim in its 2021 impact report that it had more than 3 million job applicants globally last year.
Asked whether the leaked email was in fact authentic, Musk confirmed its veracity and made it crystal clear he had zero tolerance for those demanding the right to retain privileges long viewed as a necessity during the pandemic.
“They should pretend to work somewhere else,” he replied dismissively.