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Elon Musk’s 40 Hours in Office Requirement Is Brilliant

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Elon Musk is a great social media troll and the world’s richest person. He likes to poke and provoke, but he also runs businesses that include a lot of hands-on work. He sent a memo to employees at Tesla. Someone leaked the memo (and I expect that someone may not work there much longer, but that’s a pure guess).

The memo is to the “ExecStaff,” which I assume means executive staff, and states: 

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. This is less than we ask of factor workers. 

If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly. 

Moreover, the “office” must be a main Tesla office, not a remote branch office unrelated to the job duties, for example behind responsible for Fremont factory human relations, but having your office be in another state.”

When someone tried to call Musk out for the memo on Twitter, he responded with a classic Musk troll-inspired response: 

Here’s why this is a brilliant move.

Tesla is a manufacturing company. 

Sure, electric vehicles are the cool wave of the future, but it boils down to manufacturing. As Musk points out, working 40 hours onsite is less than the executives ask of the manufacturing employees. 

Senior leadership should be there when employees of any level need to be onsite. I don’t know who Musk includes in his ExecTeam (I tweeted at him–maybe if I’m lucky, he’ll respond), but I doubt he’s referring to a junior analyst. These are likely the decision-makers and people making big bucks. These people decide when the factory workers work, where they work, and how long they work. They can’t claim to support and lead when they aren’t there.

Musk points out HR needs to be onsite.

Again, while we don’t know who Musk included in this memo, he uses “Human Relations” as an example. I’m a big believer in onsite HR, even though many HR people want to work from home. This is fine if they support remote people, but how can you be the people expert if you don’t know what the people do?

My first professional HR job was for Wegmans, a fantastic company that is almost always in the top few spots in Fortune’s Top 100 Companies to Work For List. I was as back-office as back-office can be–I did statistical HR analysis. I crunched numbers. But, like all employees, I spent time working in the stores, stocking shelves, helping customers, and cutting fish. This changed how I saw my turnover reports. I understood why one department struggled more than another. I know what people did. It allowed me to provide better, more thoughtful data analysis to the decision-makers.

Musk knows this. Even if you’re a compensation analyst, being out on the floor, and seeing what people do all day can make a real difference to how you approach your job. Without doing this, you’re making decisions on a job description written two years ago. Get out there and see and be seen.

Why this shows emotional intelligence.

Yes, people want to work from home. But Musk understands that you should never ask your employees to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself. This means executive teams need to be where the people are.

He said he would allow exceptions on a case-by-case basis, which is necessary to be a good manager. Sometimes there are good reasons for an executive or HR person to work from home. Sometimes there are medical reasons why someone should work from home. (And Musk should leave that decision up to HR and the legal team.) 

This move brilliantly shows that he values the people who do the actual work building cars. All the creative, technical, marketing, and accounting people don’t have jobs if there aren’t cars rolling off the assembly line. This puts manufacturing where it should be: At the center of the business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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