21-06-2022 | By Robin Mitchell
In a surprising move, Elon Musk recently announced that Tesla employees must return to the office for at least 40 hours a week or resign. How has the nature of work changed, what did Elon Musk say, and is Elon Musk seriously wrong on this point?
Before 2020, the office played a critical role for many businesses worldwide. Employees would be expected to get up early, navigate morning traffic, and then spend their working day at a desk. The benefits of having all employees at an office include team meetings, the ability for employees to quickly discuss manners relating to work, and for managers to keep an eye on their employees. For more hands-on professions involving physical products (such as electronics), being physically present in an office also allows for such parts to be handled and inspected.
However, the COVID pandemic of 2020 shook the world to its core, and the mass lockdowns around the world forced the vast majority of companies to either adopt a new method of working or close down. Thanks to the developments of the internet and cloud computing, many companies were able to continue operations with employees working from home, while those that couldn’t adapt either temporally or permanently shut down.
Fast forward to 2022, and while life has returned to some degree of normality, many businesses have continued their remote work practices after recognising the benefits it provides to companies and employees alike. The use of video conferences and private VPN services allow employees to access internal business networks while staying at home, and the lack of commuting will enable employees to work longer hours without feeling pressured.
In a somewhat remarkable statement, Elon Musk recently announced to employees at Tesla that they are expected to return to the office for a minimum of 40 hours a week or resign. Additionally, he also stated that employees who want to pretend to do work should do so at another company.
The statements made by Elon Musk have shocked many businesses and experts who are seeing a multitude of positive impacts of remote working. Considering that Elon Musk has also paraded the idea of renewable energies and reducing fossil fuel dependency, expecting office employees to return would result in increased CO2 emissions.
One reason for this mindset may come from the time when Elon Musk frequently slept at Tesla factories to prevent the business from going bankrupt. Essentially, by spending all his time at the site, he could make better use of his time and ensure that projects were executed correctly. Thus, if Elon Musk spends all night at Tesla to ensure its success, then maybe employees should be expected to at least perform their daily tasks at the office.
Elon Musk is well known for his forward-thinking ideas of grandeur for the human race and push for technological advancement. And yet, it would seem that Elon Musk is in the minority regarding remote work and the future of the office. This leads us to the question, “Is Elon Musk seriously misguided on remote work?”.
It is understandable why Elon Musk dislikes remote work; those that work remotely are often suspected of not working their full hours honestly, it can create a disconnect between different levels of management, and the idea of being paid a full salary to work from home seems unfair to those who are required to travel to their place of work. Furthermore, having in-person interactions is a very different experience than those over a video conference which is why trade shows and meetings continue even after COVID.
However, when considering the advances that technology has made and the positive effects on the environment and employee health by not travelling, it would seem that Elon Musk is seriously misguided on remote work. The reduction of CO2 as a result of no commuting not only helps reduce the impacts of climate change but also reduces the number of pollutants in the atmosphere known to cause respiratory diseases.
Employees being able to work from home are also introduced to flexible working hours, which can be highly beneficial for families, especially those with children at school. With mountains of evidence showing that stable homes with two parents improve the welfare of children, it would only make sense to try and encourage remote working from a social perspective.
Instead, it would seem that Elon Musk wants to squeeze every last bit of energy out of staff by keeping them at the office. Of course, employers should know that trying to maximise employee output is identical to government tax rates. Too much pressure and the quality of work collapses, too little pressure and no one works, but the right balance between work pressure, praise, and employee benefits produces loyal employees who want to work.
Personally, I believe this to be an extremely backwards mindset that doesn’t consider the future of economies, the importance of technology, and how more services will move to the cloud. The introduction of AR and VR will help people meet in a more natural way, the lack of travel will help to reduce the growing environmental concerns of pollution, and the ability for any two people to instantly interact will boost productivity. But above all else, remote work will help strengthen the household and allow parents to spend more time with children, with a positive impact on mental health.