Elon Musk is a household name. Known as the real-life Iron Man (he even had a cameo in Iron Man 2), the billionaire is set to become the world’s first trillionaire by 2024. He’s held up around the world as an example of someone ahead of the curve, a left-field thinker who sees things that others don’t. This is why it was surprising to see him do something that seemed to be…well, not smart.
What Did He Say?
In a leaked email sent to Tesla’s corporate staff, Elon wrote, ‘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. This is less than we ask of factory workers.’
When Twitter User @wholemarsblog asked, ‘hey Elon, a lot of people are talking about this leaked email; any additional comment to people who think coming into work is an antiquated concept?’ Musk replied, ‘They should pretend to work somewhere else.’
Needless to say, this response caused a stir resulting in a flurry of retweets and shares, pithy comments, and news headlines.
Was He Right?
Musk has a reputation for being a visionary and has a long career of strong successes; he sold his first video game at the age of 12, and since then, there have been a string of household name successes like PayPal, Tesla, and of course SpaceX.
When it comes to this comment, though, Musk is flying in the face of scientific studies and the experience of people running remote teams around the world. Rather than ‘pretending to work,’ remote workers are more productive. This isn’t just because they’re able to concentrate better away from the office. It’s also because remote teams take less time off sick – partly because they don’t have to endure the daily toll on their commute health and partly because it’s easier to come into work when you’re sick when you don’t need to get out of bed.
Of course, Tesla may have just made a lot of really bad hiring decisions, and all their execs decided that working from home was the perfect opportunity to embrace the home working stereotype and watch Netflix in their PJs, but it seems unlikely. So what other reason could there be for Musk’s statement?
There are two predictions to consider why Elon Musk might have said something that flies in the face of logic and reason. One, he may not be as clever as we think he is, and two – he may be as clever as we think he is.
The evidence for option 1 can be found in other things that Musk has said and done that could be considered unwise. For example, he called COVID health restrictions ‘fascist’ and kept his Fremont plant open in spite of health orders that it be closed. There were also some dubious sketch choices when he hosted SNL.
Option 2 seems a bit more compelling. We all know that remote work isn’t just about productivity; in the post-pandemic world, it’s also a really important part of employee retention. Even before we’d all tasted it, most people wanted the chance to work from home at least part of the time.
Now people have seen that remote working is possible and experienced the no-commute lifestyle, working from home has become a hugely popular perk. So logic would tell you that if staff were not only told that they could no longer work from home but were openly insulted by their CEO, they might start looking for other jobs.
Is it a coincidence that just a few days after Musk sent this first memo, he announced that he had ‘a super bad feeling about the economy’ and was going to lay off 10% of Tesla staff? We might be having a tinfoil hat moment here, but is it possible that for some reason, Tesla needed to lose some staff, and Musk made his statement to either get people to quit or find out where his staff loyalty lay?
Who Agrees with Elon?
When it comes to needing a return to the office, most of the other tech leaders disagree with Mr. Musk. For example, Apple was trying to get their staff to return to the office three days a week but has been forced to extend their deadline for hybrid arrangements – supposedly because of a rise in COVID cases. However, many say it is because the staff has threatened to quit. Other companies like Meta and Airbnb have gone in the totally opposite direction and adopted ‘work from anywhere’ policies.
But his ‘super bad feeling’ has a little more support. Jamie Dimon, CEO of Morgan Chase, has recently said that a ’hurricane is right out there down the road coming our way.’ While the Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs said, ‘The overheating of the labor market has raised the risk of recession meaningfully.’ I’m no economist, but that definitely sounds super bad.
Is Elon just expressing his own opinion or experiences with remote workers, or is he wrong? Or is he just many moves ahead of the rest of us and trying to get the pawns to sacrifice their jobs to stop him from having to make layoffs?