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Elon Musk Strict Return to Office Policy Hits Twitter

2 mins
Updated by Ryan James

In Brief

  • Elon Musk has told Twitter employees that they must return to the office at least 40 hours per week, in his first email to staff.
  • Always skeptical of remote work, Musk ordered employees and Tesla and SpaceX back to the office as soon as the pandemic lifted.
  • Contrary to Musk’s belief that employees are less productive working from home, many make greater use of the flexibility it affords them.
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Twitter owner Elon Musk said in his first email to employees that he expects them to return to the office.

Musk said employees must report to the office at least 40 hours per week, except in cases he personally approves. After dismissing roughly half the workforce upon acquiring Twitter last week, this marks the latest policy change Musk is bringing to the company. 

Previously, Twitter had pushed many employees to work remotely during the pandemic, and left the policy open when offices reopened in March. However, Musk has always been resistant to the practice, repealing it from his other companies when the pandemic lifted.

Resistance to going back to the office

On May 31, Musk told Tesla employees that they must “spend a minimum of forty hours in the office per week,” or leave. This included teams that had worked remotely even before the pandemic, as the company was focusing on building international hubs.

Consequently, Tesla had neglected to develop its office spaces or procure enough office equipment at facilities in Nevada and California. In the months following the return-to-office decision, the company still lacked the room and resources to accommodate employees appropriately. 

Even during the pandemic, Musk had been critical of employees working from home, believing the environment was not properly motivating. “All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard,” he said. Asked how he would respond to employees who disagreed, Musk said, “they should pretend to work somewhere else.”

Musk is not alone among chief executives who place a premium on employees physically meeting to perform their duties. One CEO said it was especially necessary for younger employees to learn from colleagues and develop. “It’s very important to get the younger employees in the office, collaborating and working hard,” he said.

Productivity of remote work

While remote work may inhibit some developmental potential for employees, Musk’s argument about productivity is flawed. “Most of the evidence shows that productivity has increased while people stayed at home,” said the London School of Economics’ Natacha Postel-Vinay. 

The economic and financial historian said that people often used the time normally spent commuting to work. This included starting earlier, as well as working later into the evening. Working from home also enabled workers more flexibility to sleep and spend time with family, “which meant they were happier and ended up more productive,” Postel-Vinay said. 

Conversely, morale among Tesla employees took a significant hit when Musk forced them back to the workplace. This was especially the case for those who had been working remotely before the pandemic. Musk subsequently ordered the company to surveil employees’ attendance, and create detailed weekly reports on absenteeism. Musk’s draconian approach is likely why some Twitter users have left the platform for alternatives out of concerns over his approach to free speech.

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