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Tesla struggles with Elon Musk’s strict return-to-office policy

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk attends the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China August 29, 2019.

Song Aly | Reuters

Tesla CEO Elon Musk issues a strict return-to-office policy this spring, which notified surprise employees via email on May 31 that they would need to “spend a minimum of forty hours in the office each week.” Anything else, he suggests, is “call it up.”

Three months on from the executive order, Tesla still doesn’t have the room or resources to get all of its employees back into the office, according to people who work for the company in the United States and internal documents seen by CNBC. . These people declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the press on behalf of the company.

The return-to-office policy has also caused morale to drop, especially among teams that allowed employees to work remotely as needed before Covid-19.

All in all, Tesla opened the door to remote employees in pre-pandemic office roles. As the company’s workforce has expanded in recent years, the focus has been on building international hubs and a new factory in Texas. It didn’t build enough new workspaces or buy enough office equipment at its existing Nevada and California facilities to put all of its long-term office workers and contractors on forty hours a week. .

According to several people who currently work there, Tesla recently wanted to bring its employees in the San Francisco Bay Area to the office 3 days a week, but the shortage of chairs, workspaces, parking spaces, and resources Other forces proved too much. (Some of this has been previously reported by Information.) Instead, Tesla puts the incredible back office work schedule back two days per week.

Even simple supplies like dongles and charging cords have been in short supply. On days when many employees were scheduled to work on-site, crowded conditions forced people to make calls outdoors, as Tesla never built enough meeting rooms and phone booths to accommodate many participating employees. join at the same time.

A hit to the spirit

The company is currently surveying employee attendance, and Musk receives a detailed weekly report on absenteeism.

In early September, internal records show that about one in eight employees were out on a typical day in Fremont, California, where Tesla’s first vehicle assembly plant in the US was located. Across Tesla, that number is only marginally better, with about a tenth of employees absent on a typical workday.

The numbers have remained in that range as of March 2022, prior to Musk’s order, according to internal reports seen by CNBC. Absence rates spike on weekends and around holidays, as one might expect.

According to internal filings and people familiar with the report sent to Musk, absenteeism at Tesla is measured using data from workers to facilities, with unplanned absences divided for scheduled time off.

Not all employees are tracked in the same way. For example, reports directly to Elon Musk do not count their badge swipes for internal reports.

The return-to-office policy – murky and informal – has caused morale to plummet for some employees, according to an internal announcement by CNBC.

In the face of COVID-19 restrictions, Tesla managers often find the level of remote work that works for their team. Musk’s hardline policies have removed that freedom in theory, although some executives can still create deals for “special” employees.

In early June 2022, shortly after Musk requested all 40 hours on the job site, Tesla slope cut to its first number. Employees who were previously designated as teleworkers but were unable to move to the office 40 hours a week have had until September 30 to transfer or receive a severance package from Tesla.

About a week after making that offer internally, Tesla HR asked people who live far away if they planned to move and work at the Tesla office 40 hours a week. Some who said they weren’t sure if they could move, or who said they certainly couldn’t, were fired in June without warning, according to internal letters from CNBC. and two people directly familiar with the termination of the contract.

The policy has also drained some of Tesla’s power to recruit and retain top talent. At least some of the favorite employees have left because they want more flexible arrangements, according to internal correspondence and two resignations confirmed by CNBC.

Some workers who live far from Tesla offices are now living away from their families for hours to accommodate the new requirements, one employee told CNBC.

The employee said they were most worried about migrant workers at Tesla, who could lose their visas if the company suddenly decided to end their role on the job change mandate.

They also worry about how Tesla’s closed-minded thinking about remote work could affect the company’s diversity goals.

In the 2022 diversity report, Released in July, Meta revealed that: “U.S. applicants accepting remote job offers are substantially more likely to be Black, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, and Pacific Islander. , veterans and/or people with disabilities” and “Globally, candidates who accepted remote job offers were more likely to be women.”

In Tesla’s most recent 2021 Impact Report, published in May 2022, the company prided itself on how it keeps employees feeling connected even as they work. from remote offices.

The report said, “During a global pandemic, we’ve focused a lot on expanding community engagement and making sure our employees stay connected. ..We make sure our employees stay connected. Our members feel more heard and connected than ever before as they revolve around virtual events to promote inclusion across different locations, physical boundaries, and time zones.”

The company did not give figures on how many employees were allowed to work from remote locations before and after the pandemic began, or how that would affect the demographic mix of its workforce. motion.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

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