Executives push back against Elon Musk’s ‘tone-deaf’ return-to-office ultimatum

Elon Musk wants Tesla employees back in the office. But other CEOs argue that flexibility is the key to acquiring competitive and inclusive talent.

Elon Musk laughs at the 2022 Met Gala.

CEO and leaders push back against Elon Musk’s return to office policy. John Shearer—Getty Images

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This week, Elon Musk became the latest spokesperson for the push to return to the office.

“Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week,” Musk clarified in a follow-up memo outlining his decision to make Tesla Inc. employees get back to the office or start packing. He added, “If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.”

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This week, Elon Musk became the latest spokesperson for the push to return to the office.

“Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week,” Musk clarified in a follow-up memo outlining his decision to make Tesla Inc. employees get back to the office or start packing. He added, “If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.”

Following Google and Goldman Sachs’ RTO policies this spring, Musk’s declaration makes Tesla the latest company to eschew working from home. But not every CEO or exec is standing on top of their desks and applauding Musk’s email, with many advocating that remote work boosts productivity and employee happiness. 

Just ask Craig Corn, CEO of Reverse Mortgage Funding, LLC, a fully remote company that rejects the 40-hour-a-week in-person model that Musk touts. Corn tells Fortune that while Musk’s RTO policy may be valid for essential factory workers, his belief in an executive’s role for in-person visibility is overinflated.

“Instead of chasing their own celebrity or brand, company executives should focus on accessibility,” he says, adding that putting in face time isn’t as important as it once was, as executives can use video tools to connect. “Most employees don’t need—or want—their executives working beside them.”

Reverse Mortgage Funding instead focuses on remaining flexible to be competitive. As company president David Peskin explains, flexibility helps maintain a diverse, healthy, and engaging work environment—especially for fully remote companies competing for top talent across the nation.

Customers want to work with companies that represent their “own backgrounds, experiences, and values,” he says, making it all the more essential for employers to offer work from home policies.

Workers won’t stand for an RTO mandate

An ultimatum in a company-wide memo doesn’t always ring of flexibility, points out Paul McKinlay, head of remote for Cimpress and Vista, which he says has seen a 300% uptick in job applicants since the company began embracing hybrid and remote work two years ago. He says that Musk “was on the wrong side of history” with his RTO policy, predicting that it will prompt a mass resignation at Tesla.

“What Musk fails to see or acknowledge is that working remotely has been proven to improve people’s quality of life—and teams’ productivity,” he says, adding that the ultimatum is “tone-deaf” given the future of the workplace.

Tony Jamous, CEO and founder of fully remote company Oyster, a software platform built to help remotely run companies, is of a like mindset. He argues that those looking for greater talent might lose out on talented workers from across the globe who are looking for flexibility.

After all, CEOs are still operating within a Great Resignation. As Jamous puts it, “This is even more important given the current climate in which we still have near record job openings and all of the leverage in favor of the talent.”