Elon Musk has made no secret of his disdain for remote workers—and he’s now using Tesla earnings calls to double down on his stance.
The Tesla CEO had plenty to address on the third-quarter 2023 call on Wednesday: Revenue at Tesla came in below analysts’ expectations, as did earnings, with Musk also discussing the headwinds facing his customer base.
The owner of X—formerly known as Twitter—still managed to find time to drum home the importance of showing up to your place of work, repeating a well-known anecdote that he sleeps on the floor of Tesla factories when necessary.
Musk’s unusual sleeping habits aren’t limited to the EV maker—the SpaceX founder has also slept in the head offices at X, after buying the platform in October last year.
On the call with analysts this week, Musk drew parallels between working from home and costs, saying affordability isn’t an “option” for the majority of buyers at the moment.
“I mean, this is, like, some real Marie Antoinette vibes from people who say, ‘Why is there no work from home?’” Musk said, referencing the indulgent French queen who allegedly responded to the plight of the poor with: “Let them eat cake.”
Musk, the richest man on earth, continued: “Like, what about all the people that have to come to the factory and fill the cars, or all [the] people that have to go to the restaurant and make your food and deliver your food?
“What are you talking about? I mean, how detached from reality does the work-from-home crowd have to be? While they take advantage of all those…who cannot work from home.”
The father of 11 known children continued: “You have to say, like, why did I sleep in the factory so many times? Because it mattered.”
Linking his point back to the increasingly shaky outlook for consumer confidence—in the face of Fed rates at historic highs and inflation still well above the 2% benchmark—Musk said cost is not an “optional” consideration for the majority of people.
Justifying the controversial decision to slash prices on vehicles and software, Musk continued that cost is a “necessary” consideration: “We have to make our cars more affordable [so] that people can buy it.”
Employees on Musk’s payroll won’t be surprised by their boss’s stance.
In June last year, Musk sidestepped the gentle tactics of his colleagues in Big Tech and ordered his white-collar workers back to their desks for a minimum of 40 hours a week.
Citing fairness, the leaked email from the Tesla CEO added the requirement is “less than [what] we ask of factory workers”—perhaps referencing staff in China who reportedly work 12-hour days, sleep on-site and have just one day off a week.
Likewise, after purchasing social media site Twitter for $44 billion last year, one of Musk’s first tasks was to get the platform’s hybrid and remote staff—which he calls the “laptop class”—back to their desks.
An email reportedly declaring that the “office is not optional” landed in Twitter employees’ inboxes around 2:30 a.m. on March 22, with staffers having previously received an email in November (also sent in the middle of the night) saying they‘d need to become “extremely hard-core” if they want to stay with the business.
The man reportedly worth $226 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, was forced to soften his stance on this “hard-core” culture, after more staff than he expected threatened to quit over the change.
“All that is required for approval is that your manager takes responsibility for ensuring that you are making an excellent contribution,” he wrote, adding that staffers should have in-person meetings with their colleagues not less than once per month.
One of Musk’s many rivals is Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates—with the former criticizing the latter many times over the past few years.
Gates is famously a hard worker, saying that he used to try to sleep as little as possible to compete with colleagues—and paid attention to which of his colleagues left the office last.
But in an interview with LinkedIn last year, Gates revealed he had changed his stance after seeing how businesses operated during the pandemic: “For a lot of activities a lot if the time, you don’t need to be in the office.
“I was impressed by how much we could get done on a global basis. The [Bill and Melinda Gates] Foundation operated at full speed, even though I haven’t been to those offices in a little over two years.”
Other CEOs echo Gates’ call for flexibility and experimentation moving forward: Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says employees can work remotely 90% of the time if they wish; Spotify famously has a “work from anywhere” policy, as does social media platform Reddit.
Other business titans have mandated staff return to the office—at least some of the time—in the name of efficiency.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Amazon CEO Andy Jassy have both told staff they may have to leave if they don’t comply with the companies’ return to office mandates.
Meanwhile Goldman Sachs wants staff in five days a week, while Big Tech giants like Meta and Google are cracking down on RTO by threatening disciplinary action or performance markdowns if staff don’t comply.
Subscribe to CHRO Daily, our newsletter focusing on helping HR executive navigate the changing needs of the workplace. Sign up for free.