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Elon Musk Bans Remote Work, Mounting Clash Over Return to Office

In an email to his employees, Elon Musk has demanded that his workers return to the office. Musk, the world’s richest man, sent a pair of similar memos on Tuesday to his employees at SpaceX and Tesla to spend time in the office.

In his email to SpaceX employees, Musk wrote that they need to spend “a minimum of 40 hours a week in the office.” Those who did not do so would be fired.

“The more senior position you have, the more visible must be your presence. That’ is the reason I spent plenty of time in the factory that those on the line could see me working beside them. If I had not done that, the company would have bankrupted long ago.”

In his memo to executive staff at Tesla, Musk stated that “anyone who wishes to work remotely must be in the office for at least 40 hours a week. And those who decline should depart Tesla,” he added. The memo was also posted by two pro-Tesla accounts and Twitter, which the billionaire seemed to have confirmed.

The Debate

The twin notes made by Musk directly wade into a fractious debate over the right way for corporations to bring employees back to the office. Over the past few years, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, and several other organizations had announced and then delayed return-to-office days as surges of the coronavirus complicated plans. Read More

While remote work has become normalized, the issue became more fraught with the coronavirus vaccines rolling out and a near abatement of the pandemic. Some companies expect employees to return to the office. However, plans continue to fluctuate.

For instance, last month, Apple had suspended its requirement that workers must return to the office in May for at least three days a week amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, Airbnb has announced that its employees never have to return to the office.

Return to Work

Many employees at SpaceX and Tesla had already been back in the office. In 2020, while nonessential workplaces were closed in California during the early days of the pandemic, SpaceX’s HQ in Hawthorne used its exemption as a government contractor to continue its operation. In a March 2020 email, Musk had told employees that they have a higher risk of being killed in an accident than dying from the COVID-19.

In May of the same year, Musk had also attacked local officials in San Francisco for not letting him open Tesla’s factory. In the end, he reopened the Fremont factory anyway, in defiance of instructions provided by health officials.

Tesla, which had over 99,000 employees at the end of last year, has relocated its headquarters from Palo Alto, California, to Austin, Texas, despite maintaining a large manufacturing and operational presence. Musk said in a recent interview that SpaceX hires around 12,000 employees.

The Response

According to Nick Bloom, Musk’s orders to the staff at SpaceX and Tesla, an economics professor at Stanford University, were among the harshest in the tech industry. Instead, he added, many IT businesses are considering hybrid models in which workers can work from home for a portion of the time.

Bloom predicted that SpaceX and Tesla would lose 10% to 20% of their current workforces and that recruiters would try to entice staff away by providing jobs with more flexible work schedules.

Musk said in an email to SpaceX staff on Tuesday that companies that don’t need employees to return to work won’t be able to ship “a wonderful new product.”

“SpaceX has created and will continue to create the most exciting and impactful products of any space company,” he said. “It’s not going to happen if I call it in.