Chief executives, trying to bring employees back to the office, argue that working from home leads to less engaged and less productive workers. But Tesla CEO Elon Musk is going one step further, calling the practice “morally wrong” in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday evening.
Musk argued that tech workers—whom he characterized as the “laptop class”—were unfair in demanding privileges that other people, like service workers or factory employees, could not enjoy. “You’re going to work from home, and you’re going to make everyone else who made your car come work in the factory? You’re going to make people who make your food that gets delivered—they can’t work from home?” Musk asked. “Does that seem morally right?”
“People should get off their goddamn moral high horse with the work-from-home bullshit,” he said. “They’re asking everyone else to not work from home while they do.”
During the U.S.’s stay-at-home orders in the early days of the COVID pandemic, white-collar workers were able to hunker down while workers deemed essential—often lower income or from minority populations—had to venture outside to go to work. In-person work sometimes led to COVID outbreaks in sectors like the meatpacking industry where working from home was not possible.
Musk has long been a critic of remote work. Last June, the Tesla CEO ordered staff back to the office full-time, even as other companies were gingerly trying—and often failing—to get employees back in the office just a few days a week. Musk cited fairness in an internal email, noting that asking corporate employees to come in for 40 hours a week was “less than [what] we ask of factory workers.” (Musk also joked on Twitter at the time that Apple employees who refused to come into the office were being lazy.)
Musk also ended Twitter’s permanent remote work policy last November, in one of his first acts as the social media company’s CEO, though he later softened his demands when more employees than expected were willing to quit over the issue.
Tesla’s CEO has also praised those who went beyond standard working hours, celebrating employees in the company’s Shanghai factory for “burning the 3:00 a.m. oil” even as U.S. workers “are trying to avoid going to work at all,” in an interview last May. Tesla’s Shanghai factory at the time operated under a “closed-loop” system amidst China’s tough COVID-prevention regime, with workers sleeping and eating on-site to prevent any disruption to production due to an outbreak.
Musk claimed on CNBC that he took only two or three days off a year, and otherwise did at least some work seven days a week with only six hours of sleep a night. (Musk was seen partying at a music festival in Mexico last weekend hours before a meeting with Emmanuel Macron, joking with the French president that he had to “sleep in the car” beforehand.)
Working from home
Bosses and employees are still debating how long workers should be in the office. More companies are pushing for employees to come in at least part of the time. CEOs argue that working from home hurts company culture, and claim that fully remote workers lose opportunities for feedback and mentoring, hurting their growth.
Employee surveys consistently report that workers think they are more productive at home.
The battle may be reaching an equilibrium around hybrid work, where employees come into the office for part of the week. The number of U.S. firms demanding in-person work five days a week dropped over the past three months, from 49% to 42%, according to data from Scoop Technologies, an analytics firm tracking workplace strategies.
Still, companies are trying to get their employees to come in more often.
On Tuesday, AT&T CEO John Stankey told Bloomberg Radio that the telecoms company would require managers to work in-person three days a week, starting as early as July in some cases. The company will also be closing some of its offices, potentially requiring some employees to relocate.
Also on Tuesday, asset manager BlackRock asked employees in an internal memo to start coming in four days a week, up from three, arguing that remote workers missed both “teaching moments” and “market-moving moments” while at home.
“See you in the office!” BlackRock wrote, according to the Financial Times.