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What it’s like working for Elon Musk

March 13, 2020, 1:06 PM UTC

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A few weeks ago, when the craziest thing to discuss was the insanely rich valuation of shares of the techno-automotive company Tesla, a document circulated on the web purporting to be the company’s employee handbook. I had glanced at the manual, naughtily titled “The Anti-Handbook Handbook,” at the time, thought about how much I admire Tesla’s approach, and set it aside.

Now that the world is falling apart in front of our eyes—Tesla’s shares, off 12% Thursday and down 42% from their high—I thought it’d be fruitful to revisit the quirky company’s rules.

Tesla prides itself on being “a high tech company unlike any other high tech company” and a “car company unlike any other car company.” That’s true enough. It competes against some of the most bureaucratic companies in the world, which is one reason is encourages its employees to thumb their noses at hierarchy. “Anyone at Tesla can and should email or talk to anyone else according to what they think the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company,” says the handbook. This explicitly includes Elon Musk. Apple was the same for a while, with many employees having a direct line to Steve Jobs. This is smart—if the company can really pull it off.

Tesla wants its employees to figure out what’s expected of them. “‘No one told me’ is an excuse that will never fly here,” it says. It also doesn’t want employees sitting around waiting for a formal review—”Talk to your supervisor for feedback.”—or to have unexplained absences: “Be the kind of person your team can rely on.”

Elon Musk’s company explicitly allows moonlighting, presumably the result of the boss’ extracurricular activities. “You may hold a job with another company as long as you perform your job here well and you aren’t compromising anything confidential or proprietary.” Repeatedly, Tesla tells its employees if they don’t live up to the company’s standards, they’ll be fired. But the standards allow for plenty of unusual flexibility.

Too few companies address the subject of fun head on. Not Tesla. “We want you to work hard, love what you do, and have fun,” the company writes.

As the business world shifts to work from home policies because of the coronavirus outbreak, many of us will discover the hard way how much we love our jobs and being around our colleagues. It’s instructive to read about the odd but charming ways of one unique Silicon Valley company.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Beep, beep. Big telecommunications companies say there has been no surge in Internet traffic—at least so far—countering concerns that employees and students forced to work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak would cause online gridlock. AT&T said its network "continues to perform well." Verizon said it had not seen a "measurable increase in data usage" since the outbreak. But it's early days. In Italy, Internet traffic has surged 70% during the day, Telecom Italia says. A big factor? Kids playing Fortnite.

Clickity, clack. Speaking of, ahem, working at home, Google says its G-Suite online productivity suite hit 2 billion monthly active users.

Drip, drop. Artificial intelligence startup Neural Magic sued Facebook last week, claiming that a former employee, Aleksandar Zlateski, stole trade secrets when he joined the social networking giant in July 2019.

Whoosh. The Pentagon will formally reconsider awarding Microsoft the $10 billion contract for its cloud computing project, known as JEDI. Amazon had sued over the selection, saying President Trump interfered in the process. Last month, Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith ruled that the Pentagon had incorrectly assessed pricing in the bids.

Toot, toot. On Wall Street, after all the plunging stocks finished plunging, Slack, Adobe, and Oracle managed to report quarterly results. Slack, sometimes considered a beneficiary of the current work-from-home rush, saw revenue jump 49% to $182 million. That wasn't good enough, and its stock dropped 5% in pre-market trading on Friday. Adobe's revenue rose 19% to $3.1 billion, but warned that COVID-19 might dampen future quarters. Its shares gained 7% on Friday morning. Slowest growing of all, Oracle said revenue grew 2% to $9.8 billion. Its shares jumped 8% on Friday.


The coronavirus pandemic has forced many companies to ask employees to work from home. It's a trend that was growing, albeit much more slowly, well before the outbreak. Tech writer Will Oremus has been working from home himself for a while and has an essay in One Zero about the implications for society of a more home-bound workforce.

Once coronavirus has forced companies and workers to figure out how to function without an office, office space will start to look more like a luxury on the corporate balance sheet — something that’s nice to have, but which can be cut if needed. When companies realize how much business travel they can do without, they’ll be tempted to slash those budgets as well.

After coronavirus, “We’ll never probably be the same,” Twitter’s head of human resources told BuzzFeed News. “People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way. Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.”


A few long reads that I came across this week:

Inside the Bizarre, Boozy World of a Junior VC in Silicon Valley (Marker)
Welcome to an industry filled with 21-year-olds, open bars, and very little business experience.

‘Space Jam’ Forever: The Website That Wouldn’t Die (Rolling Stone)
How a ragtag group of young coders skirted the studio and created a pop culture sensation that’s still standing two decades later.

Tea Boy to Tattooed Trader: A Secret Tipster’s Life and Death (Bloomberg)
James Harris was plugged into a network that included insider traders and operated on two continents.

We’re in the Middle of a Sports-Bra Revolution (Outside)
Technological advances and a growing line of research have paved the way for a new class of support systems that are comfortable, look good, and fit a wide(r) variety of bodies.


The economy’s hurting. What does that mean for startups who plan to go public in 2020? By Polina Marinova

Amazon tells employees to work from home if they can. Warehouse workers can’t By Jonathan Vanian

Verizon, AT&T spend the most at latest 5G airwave auction By Aaron Pressman

Bitcoin bloodbath: What people are saying about the crypto collapse By Jeff John Roberts

Coursera offers free online courses to universities worldwide during coronavirus pandemic By David Z. Morris

7 ways to make working from home easier during the coronavirus pandemic By Chris Morris

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a 50% discount for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


As we practice more social distancing and working from home, don't forget to clean that great portable germ collector in your pocket: your smartphone. There are plenty of lists out there now with recommendations, but I favor Wall Street Journal tech columnist Joanna Stern's educational and yet hilarious video. Turns out, our phones are less fragile than we thought. Stay healthy and safe and have a good weekend.

Aaron Pressman