Elon Musk’s back-to-office order sets SpaceX up as SoCal test case

Musk memo to workers: “If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned”

Elon Musk (Getty Images, iStock, Twitter)
Elon Musk (Getty Images, iStock, Twitter)

Memos from Elon Musk to SpaceX office staff: Either get to your desk for 40-plus hours a week or pack it up for another job.

The founder of the Hawthorne-based rocket company and Tesla, now based in Austin, has issued edicts demanding everyone work from the office full time or find a new job, according to company memos cited by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The company mandate issued to Tesla employees also reflect similar directives issued to SpaceX workers, according to multiple reports.

The world’s richest man wrote that “remote work is no longer acceptable,” and added on Twitter that those who think offices are antiquated should “pretend to work somewhere else.”

In the first of two memos, Musk wrote that “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,” he noted.

SpaceX, founded in 2002 in Hawthorne, now employs 9,500 engineers and scientists at offices in Los Angeles County, plus workers at an Orange County office in Irvine, according to its website.

Tesla kept its Fremont factory open in defiance of local health orders in 2020. The company has since moved its headquarters to Austin but maintains major engineering offices in Palo Alto.

It’s unclear if he would institute similar rules at Twitter, which he agreed last month to buy for $44 billion. Mandating an office return would be a major change, after Twitter said most employees can stay remote forever soon after the pandemic began.

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Musk has since raised questions about the social media company’s fake accounts and said the deal is “on hold.” Twitter officials maintain they expect the deal to close.

Remote work has been the subject of ongoing debate ever since the coronavirus pandemic led wide swaths of the U.S. workforce to work from home and embrace virtual meetings over Zoom.

Many studies have shown that remote work has no discernible impact on productivity — and may even improve it.

Nick Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University and one of the leading experts on remote work, estimated last month that 25 percent to 35 percent of U.S. workers still work from home.

While Tesla’s rules are stricter than many large companies that are allowing workers to stay home at least part-time, according to the Chronicle.

Many tech giants have settled on a hybrid approach, arguing in-person collaboration is essential. Google announced in March it expected employees to return to the office three days a week. Apple told employees the same, though recently paused the plan after coronavirus case rates began to surge in the Bay Area and elsewhere.

Others have embraced the idea of working remotely, citing both the benefits for employees – including flexibility and reduced commute times – and competitive advantages in hiring for their employers.

Last month, TaskRabbit, the worker-for-hire app, said it would be closing all of its offices, allowing employees to work from wherever they wanted. “Coming in just for the sake of coming in, I don’t think is going to work,” CEO Ania Smith told the Chronicle.

[San Francisco Chronicle] – Dana Bartholomew

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