Business leaders trying to get their employees back into the office argue that working from home results in less engaged and less productive workers. But Tesla CEO Elon Musk went a step further, calling the practice “morally wrong” in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday night.
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Musk argued that tech workers — whom he called “laptop class” — were unfair to demand privileges that other people, like service workers or factory workers, couldn’t enjoy. “You’re going to work from home and get everyone else who made your car to work at the factory? You’re going to make sure folks making your food get delivered — they can’t work from home?” Musk asked. “Does that seem morally right?”
“People should get off their damn moral horse with the homework bullshit,” he said. “They’re asking everyone else not to work from home during this time.”
While the US was under lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees were able to stay at home while workers deemed essential — often lower-income or from minority backgrounds — were forced to go outside to work. Face-to-face work has sometimes led to COVID outbreaks in industries where working from home was not possible, such as the meat processing industry.
Musk has long been a critic of remote work. Last June, Tesla’s CEO ordered employees to return to the office full-time, while other companies tentatively tried — and often failed — to bring their employees back to the office for just a few days a week. Musk cited fairness in an internal email, noting that asking company employees to work 40 hours a week is “less than (what) we ask factory workers to do.” (Musk also joked on Twitter at the time that Apple employees who refused to come into the office were lazy.)
Musk also ended Twitter’s permanent remote work policy last November in one of his first acts as CEO of the social media company, but later softened his demands when more employees than expected were willing to quit over the issue.
Tesla’s CEO also praised those who worked over standard hours in a recent interview, and hailed workers at the company’s Shanghai factory for “burning the 3 a.m. oil,” despite US workers ” try not to go to work at all”. May. Tesla’s Shanghai factory at the time was operating under a “closed-loop” system amid China’s strict COVID-prevention regime, with workers sleeping and eating on-site to prevent production disruptions due to an outbreak.
Musk claimed on CNBC that he only took two or three days off a year and otherwise worked at least part-time seven days a week and slept only six hours a night. (Musk was spotted partying at a music festival in Mexico just hours before meeting Emmanuel Macron last weekend, and joked with the French president that he had to “sleep in the car” beforehand.)
To work from home
Bosses and employees are still debating how long workers should stay in the office. More and more companies are urging employees to join at least part of the time. CEOs argue that working from home hurts company culture, claiming that employees who work fully remotely lose opportunities for feedback and mentoring, which hurts their growth.
Employee surveys consistently show that workers feel they are more productive at home.
The struggle may be to strike a balance around hybrid work, where employees come into the office part of the week. According to data from Scoop Technologies, an analytics firm that tracks workplace strategies, the number of US firms requiring in-person work five days a week has fallen from 49% to 42% over the past three months.
Nevertheless, companies try to get their employees to come more often.
AT&T CEO John Stankey told Bloomberg Radio on Tuesday that the telecom company would require its managers to work in person three days a week, in some cases as early as July. The company will also close some of its offices, which may require the relocation of some employees.
Also on Tuesday, asset manager BlackRock issued an internal memo urging employees to come four days a week instead of three, arguing that home-based telecommuters missed out on both “teaching moments” and “market-moving moments.”
“See you in the office!” BlackRock wrote loudly Financial Times.
This story was originally published on Fortune.com
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