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Elon Musk Has Become the Office’s Complicated New Champion

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Everyone has an opinion about Elon Musk. The billionaire has become a household name because of his success in challenging the auto industry with Tesla, attempting to transform public transportation with The Boring Company, and changing the history of space travel with SpaceX. Now Musk has become the talk of the tech world because of his waffling bid to buy Twitter. He has at the same time become the face of innovation and of the callus, unlikable tech bro.

It was with that same polarizing personality that Musk approached his new company’s office strategy. He first fired off a late night email to employees telling them that “Starting tomorrow (Thursday), everyone is required to be in the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week.” He then did his best (kinda) to soften the blow by following it with, “Obviously, if you are physically unable to travel to an office or have a critical personal obligation, then your absence is understandable.”

Musk hit all of the talking points that the pro-office crowd has crafted over the years. “If you’re sitting in the same room and you can interact with people, it’s just way better than if you’re not sitting in the same room,” Musk said in a company interview, adding plainly, “there’s a reason to have offices.” Companies like Tesla, SpaceX, and now Twitter rely on innovation to stay ahead of the never ending list of competitors. Any advantage that a company can give their teams can mean the difference between leading and following. This was the reason that tech companies were so willing to spend on lavish offices, at least before the pandemic. 

Even though Musk mandated daily office attendance, he said that working from home wasn’t completely out of the question. “Now, if somebody’s contribution is so significant that they can overcome the communication difficulties of being remote, then they should absolutely remain at Twitter,” he said. “But it will be a higher bar.” For Musk that bar has everything to do with communication. For employees to remain remote, “they have to be that much better to overcome the communication issues of being remote.” Working remote, at Tesla, SpaceX, and now Tesla, “is on an exceptional basis for exceptional people.”

Musk may have a logical approach to the office but the return to work is as much about logic as it is about emotion. Even if Musk is right about the virtues of the office (and we think he may be), his somewhat Draconian approach to it has already created defectors and likely soured company moral. Productivity, communication, and innovation are his reasons for bringing the workforce back to the office but all of those can be negatively impacted by unhappy, unmotivated employees.

The world will be watching how Twitter performs—both as an organization and as a product—with all of the chaos that comes with Musk’s leadership style. If the company becomes a profitable platform for free speech, as Musk hopes, it may help demonstrate the wisdom of mandating office attendance. But if Twitter continues to sputter it could become the poster child for the shortcomings of full-time offices. While the return to work conversation is rife with emotion for some, if the end justifies the means it will prove that what makes a successful business leader is not always the same thing as what makes a likable one.



Part, if not most, of Musk’s allure comes from his wealth. It can be hard to even fathom how rich he actually is so someone created a useful interactive visualization to help put it in context. 

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