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The Biz Journals: Tesla CEO Elon Musk unloads on remote work. But experts say it’s here to stay, including We Are Rosie’s COO, Nikki Coleman

Originally posted in The Business Journals by Andy Medici, June 2, 2022. Photo by Diego Donamaria.

 

 

Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk has made it clear how he feels about remote work.

The mega billionaire, SpaceX founder, cryptocurrency enthusiast and potential Twitter Inc. acquirer outlined his feelings in emails sent to staff on May 31, stating that everyone at Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA) is required to spend a “minimum” of 40 hours per week in the office, and that office must be where colleagues are located, “not some remote pseudo office,” according to the emails obtained by electric car news site, Electrek.

“If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned,” Musk reportedly said in the emails.

He said the more senior an employee is, the more visible they need to be in the physical office.

“There are of course companies that don’t require this, but when was the last time they shipped a great new product? It’s been a while,” Musk wrote in the email. “Tesla has and will create and actually manufacture the most exciting and meaningful products of any company on earth. This will not happen by phoning it in.”

But data and experts say remote work, or a hybrid work environment with some days in the office and some days out, is here to stay. Fresh data from payroll and benefits platform Gusto Inc. found the number of fully remote workers has increased by 240% since 2021. Every state in America saw at least a 10-percentage-point increase over the last year in the share of fully remote workers — and nearly six in 10 companies now have at least one remote worker.

And employees are increasingly making long-term decisions around remote and hybrid work, which allows them to move further away from their on-site job location. The median distance between an employees home and work location has increased 6% since the start of the pandemic, according to Gusto.

“This demand for flexibility and autonomy and control and when and under what circumstances we work is becoming an expectation, not a perk,” said Gusto Economist Liz Wilke.  “The question isn’t will this be the future — it’s going to be the future. The question is how can businesses embrace this in a way that really maximizes their retention and their talent strategy.”

Lucy Suros, CEO at Articulate Inc., a platform to distribute and create online training, said in an email her company of more than 400 employees has been working remotely since 2002, and many of Musk’s assumptions are false. 

Mr. Musk’s statement that employees who want to continue remote work ‘..should pretend to work somewhere else,’ reveals an old-fashioned notion that real work only happens in an office,” Suros said. “Moreso, it hints at a culture of mistrust: That remote work is merely pretending to be working while actually doing other activities.”

She said Articulate’s products are used by all of the Fortune 100 and more than 115,000 organizations, and all the work is done remotely. She said there is a misconception that good communication and collaboration magically happens when people share an office — an idea she called “ludicrous.”

“Remote work forces companies to face the harsh truth: you must intentionally and programmatically build cultures where communication is clear, truthful, and safe; where collaboration is inclusive, empowering, and effective; and where people are engaged and productive because they feel seen, heard and valued,” Suros said.

The battle over the role of the office continues as big companies push back their return to the office plans. Tech giant Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) delayed its own plan for workers to return to the office three days a week beginning May 23, singling out a resurgence in Covid-19 cases, according to Bloomberg.

Average occupancy in the 10 major cities measured by building security company Kastle Systems International Inc. hovered at about 43.4%, relatively unchanged in recent weeks. including a low in the San Jose metro area of 33.7% and a high in Austin at 59.9%. The Los Angeles metro area had an average occupancy rate of 41.5% and Dallas was at 50.6%.

Meanwhile, 50% of employees working remotely would look for a new job if they were required to come into the office full time, according to a separate Robert Half survey of 1,000 professionals. Another survey found that most workers would rather have remote work than a promotion.

“Every CEO should set a remote work policy that they feel works best for their company” said Nikki Coleman, chief operating officer at marketing firm We Are Rosie. “But if they are holding on to outdated policies and not listening to what their employees want, they should be prepared to see an exodus.”

Coleman agreed remote work and flexibility in hours worked each day are becoming non-negotiable items for many people — including the most talented.

“Flexibility allows people to have the quality of life they are looking for. CEOs who recognize this are going to attract top talent and keep them for much longer than those who do not adapt to how people, mindsets and ultimately business has changed,” Coleman said.

Highly paid remote work is spreading even faster than some experts anticipated, with about 24% of all professional job postings advertising remote work. The new data comes from Ladders Inc.,  a job firm that specializes in positions that pay $100,000 or more. The company analyzed the 50,000 largest employers in the United States and Canada (beyond its own listings) and zeroed in on jobs that pay more than $80,000 a year.

Ladders originally had anticipated that professional remote jobs would grow to 25% of all job postings by the end of 2022 — but it seems that moment will come much sooner. The rapid acceleration could put even more pressure on businesses attempting to navigate the return to the office while reducing turnover risk.