Elon Musk's Demand Staffers Stop 'Phoning It in' May Cost Him Talent

Elon Musk’s demand that Tesla Inc. staff stop “phoning it in” and get back to the office has thrust the world’s richest person into the noisy debate over the future of work, and shows again that some CEOs remain tone-deaf to employees’ growing demands for flexibility.

“Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week,” Musk wrote in a message addressed to employees at the electric-car maker. That “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. The more senior you are, the more visible must be your presence.”

But that mandate might not be acceptable to some at Tesla, and will certainly spook staffers at Twitter Inc., which Musk is seeking to acquire, who have enjoyed a work-from-anywhere policy throughout the pandemic. In today’s tight labor market, with salaries soaring and workers quitting at a record clip, Musk’s policy could also cost him some talent.

“Companies that demand that their employees come back to the office are likely to face a set of problems,” said Brian Kropp, head of human-resources research at Gartner Inc., a technology-consulting company. “They will either have access to a smaller talent pool or will have to pay a compensation premium to force employees to come back.”

More than two out of three so-called knowledge workers -- data scientists, engineers, graphic designers -- prefer hybrid work, according to an ongoing survey of more than 10,000 white-collar workers from Future Forum. The research consortium is backed by Slack Technologies, a unit of Salesforce Inc. that offers a popular workplace communications service.