Tesla’s stand against remote work at odds with employee needs?

Our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at Elon Musk’s edict for Tesla employees to return to the office permanently at a time when the world’s largest trial of the four-day working week is taking place

This week thousands of workers from 70 UK companies began the world’s largest trial of the four-day working week. As we’ve reported previously, this is a pilot organised by four-day week campaigners in partnership with the Autonomy thinktank and researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.

The trial is based on the 100:80:100 model – 100 per cent of pay for 80 per cent of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100 per cent productivity. And it comes at a time when demand for a four-day week is growing after the pandemic.

‘Six out of ten UK workers would like more flexibility in their working life…’

According to a new report from ADP Research Institute, six out of ten UK workers would like more flexibility in their working life, such as condensing hours into a four-day week. The drive for greater flexibility is leading nearly one in three workers (29 per cent) to actively seek to change their job or find another industry sector to work in.

But while the demand is clearly there for more flexible work arrangements, not every high-profile employer or business leader shares those progressive sentiments. It is ironic that the great four-day week experiment kicks off just days after Elon Musk announced to his Tesla workforce 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’.

Elon Musk is the latest big-name boss to swim against the tide and lash out at remote working in the hybrid era. Despite Musk’s progressive outlook on innovation, his attitude to remote work has been criticised by many as being behind the curve. In fact, Musk’s comments even provoked a Twitter spat with Australian billionaire and co-founder of Atlassian, Scott Farquhar, who said he would be happy to poach Musk’s employees for remote jobs at his software company, which has allowed permanent remote work since mid-2020.

Musk (who is set to buy Twitter, incidentally) made it clear that he wants everyone back in their central office space, commenting that ‘the office must be where your actual colleagues are located, not some remote pseudo office. If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.’ His provocative memo to Tesla employees is in contrast to the less rigid approaches that other leading tech companies such as Meta, Google and Twitter itself are taking – these firms are at the very least piloting hybrid working models.

‘Musk has powerful allies in the debate about the benefits of forcing people back to the office…’

In the current race for talent as employees everywhere rethink their priorities and vote with their feet, how risky an approach is this for Musk to take? He’s got powerful business allies in the debate about the organisational benefits of forcing people back to the office, among them Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon who has railed widely against the ‘aberration’ of remote work. But those benefits must be weighed against the cost of replacing employees – and they are plenty of them – who seek greater flexibility elsewhere.

One thing we’re unlikely to see at any Tesla corporate facility any time soon: a pilot for a four-day working week.

Tech & Trends

While we’re on the subject of tech, WORKTECH’s upcoming event in London, Tech&Trends22, will focus on the impact of emerging technologies on business operations and how people will work.

The event briefing, taking place on Tuesday 28t June at Accenture’s London HQ on Fenchurch Street, will cover topics such as humanising buildings and workplace experience as well as discussing hybrid working and how technology can impact the employee experience. Read more and book your ticket here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 8 June 2022.
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