South Africa has been hit by a wave of coronavirus infections, although most people have antibodies.

Elon Musk demands that his employees return to the office.

Mr Musk, the world’s richest man, sent a pair of similar memos on Tuesday to push his employees at SpaceX, the rocket company he runs, and Tesla, the electric car maker he runs, spending time in the office.

In his email to SpaceX employees, Mr. Musk told workers they were required to “spend at least 40 hours in the office per week.” Those who didn’t would be fired, he wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The New York Times.

“The more senior you are, the more your presence should be visible,” Musk said. “That’s why I spent so much time at the factory, so people online could see me working alongside them. If I hadn’t done that, SpaceX would have gone bankrupt a long time ago.

In his memo to Tesla executive staff, which was posted by two pro-Tesla Twitter accounts and that the billionaire seemed to confirm, Mr. Musk also wrote that “anyone who wants to do remote work” must be in the office at least 40 hours a week. Those who refuse should “leave Tesla,” he added.

Credit…Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

With his twin notes, Mr. Musk jumped straight into a heated debate over the right way for companies to get workers back into the office during the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past two years, Apple, Meta, Microsoft and many other companies have announced and then delayed back-to-office dates as coronavirus outbreaks have complicated plans. Remote work has become normalized.

The problem has become more difficult as coronavirus vaccinations have increased and a reduction in the pandemic seemed close. Some companies have started saying they expect workers to return to the office. Yet plans continued to fluctuate. Last month, Apple suspended its requirement that employees return to the office in May at least three days a week due to a resurgence in Covid-19 cases. Airbnb recently told its employees that they never have to return to the office.

Mr. Musk, Tesla and SpaceX did not return requests for comment.

Many Tesla and SpaceX employees had already returned to the office in some capacity. In 2020, as “non-essential” workplaces in California closed at the start of the pandemic, SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., used its exemption as a government contractor to stay open. In a March 2020 email, which was previously reported by BuzzFeed News, Mr. Musk told SpaceX employees they were at a higher risk of being killed in a car accident than of dying from the coronavirus.

In May 2020, Mr. Musk also attacked local San Francisco Bay Area officials for not letting him reopen Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California. Tesla sued Alameda County, where the plant is located, and reopened it anyway, in defiance of health officials. ‘ instructions.

Tesla, which had more than 99,000 employees at the end of last year, moved its headquarters to Austin, Texas from Palo Alto, California, although it still has a significant manufacturing and operational presence in California. . SpaceX employs about 12,000 people, Musk said in a recent interview.

Nick Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University, said Mr Musk’s guidelines to employees at SpaceX and Tesla were among the strictest of tech companies. Many tech companies have instead considered hybrid models in which employees can work from home for part of the time, he said.

Mr Bloom said he expected SpaceX and Tesla to lose about 10-20% of their current workforce and recruiters to try to poach employees by offering jobs with more flexible work options.

Many Tesla and SpaceX employees who work in high tech may believe in Mr. Musk, but there are also people “who are in more mainstream businesses like IT, finance, HR and payroll” , Mr. Bloom said. “They can say, ‘I don’t design cars. I pay the employees, and I can do it somewhere else.’ »

Annie Dean, head of distributed work at Atlassian, an Australian software company, called Mr Musk’s view “outdated”.

“This mindset is regressive and ignores the past two years of digitally driven collaborative work,” Ms. Dean, who was a former remote work manager at Facebook owner Meta, said in a statement. E-mail.

Mr. Musk has long been known as a demanding boss. At times, he tried to lead by example by working hard, holding meetings late at night, emailing around the clock, and even sleeping at the Tesla factory to help ramp up production in 2018.

It’s unclear whether Mr. Musk will stick to his own rules of spending 40 hours a week in the offices of Tesla and SpaceX. He is rarely in the office and travels often, said two people who have worked with him and who spoke on condition of anonymity. They expressed concerns about how back-to-work policies would affect recruitment and retention at companies.

Mr. Musk is also striking a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter. He didn’t say what he expects from Twitter employees in terms of time spent in the office. In 2020, Jack Dorsey, then Twitter’s chief executive, informed employees that many of them would be allowed to work from home permanently.

Adrian Zamora, a Twitter spokesperson, said Twitter has no plans to change its flexible working policy.

In his email to SpaceX employees on Tuesday, Musk suggested that companies that didn’t require workers to return to the office wouldn’t be able to ship “a great new product.”

“SpaceX has and truly will and will manufacture the most exciting and meaningful products of any company in space,” he said. “That won’t happen by phoning him.”

Cade Metz contributed report.

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