Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk attends the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China, 29 August 2019.
Ali’s song Reuters
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has introduced a strict return-to-work policy this spring, abruptly informing employees in a May 31 email that they would need to “spend a minimum of forty hours per week in the office.” Everything else, he assumed, was “over the phone.”
Three months after the order, Tesla still doesn’t have the space or resources to bring all of its employees back to the office, according to people who work at the company in the United States and internal documents seen by CNBC. The people declined to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press on behalf of the company.
The back-to-work policy has also caused a drop in morale, especially among teams that allowed employees to work remotely as needed before Covid-19.
In general, before the pandemic, Tesla was open to remote work among office workers. As the company’s workforce expands, recent years have focused on building international centers and a new factory in Texas. It has not built enough new jobs or purchased enough office equipment at existing facilities in Nevada and California to provide all office workers and long-term contractors with forty-hour workweeks.
According to several current people who work there, Tesla recently wanted to bring its San Francisco Bay Area employees into the office 3 days a week, but the lack of chairs, desk space, parking spaces and other resources proved too much. (Part of this was previously reported Information.) Instead, Tesla returned the office schedule to two days a week.
Even simple supplies like keys and charging cords are in short supply. On days when more employees are scheduled to be on site, people will be taking phone calls outdoors in crowded conditions because Tesla has never built enough conference rooms and phone booths to accommodate so many employees at once.
The company now tracks employee attendance, and Musk receives detailed weekly reports on absenteeism.
In early September, internal records show, about one-eighth of employees routinely walked out in Fremont, Calif., home to Tesla’s first U.S. assembly plant. Across Tesla, the number was only slightly better, with about one in ten employees absent on a typical workday.
According to internal reports seen by CNBC, the numbers remained within that range from March 2022 until Musk’s orders. As you would expect, the number of absences increases on weekends and holidays.
Absenteeism at Tesla is measured using data from workers who walk in, with unscheduled absences divided by scheduled time off to tabulate daily results, according to internal records and people familiar with the reports sent to Musk.
Not all employees are tracked equally. Elon Musk’s direct reports, for example, do not count passing the badge for internal reports.
According to internal communications seen by CNBC, the return-to-work policy, however vague and informal, has led to a significant drop in morale among some employees.
Before the restrictions related to COVID-19, Tesla managers were usually finding out how remote work was suitable for their teams. Musk’s tough policies have eliminated that freedom in theory, though some executives can still cut deals for “exceptional” employees.
In early June 2022, right after Musk ordered 40 hours in place for everyone, Tesla made steep cuts to his number. Employees who were previously designated as remote workers but who could not relocate to be in the office 40 hours a week were given until Sept. 30 to relocate or receive severance pay from Tesla.
About a week after the internal offer, Tesla’s HR department asked people who lived far away if they planned to move and work at Tesla’s office 40 hours a week. Some who said they weren’t sure if they could move, or who said they definitely couldn’t move, were fired in June without notice, according to internal correspondence read by CNBC and two people directly familiar with the terminations.
The policy has also eroded some of Tesla’s power to hire and retain top talent. At least a few favored employees quit because they wanted more flexible arrangements, according to internal correspondence and two resignations confirmed by CNBC.
Some employees who used to live far from Tesla’s office are now living hours away from their families to meet the new requirements, one employee told CNBC.
That employee said they are most worried about immigrant workers at Tesla, who could lose their visas if the company suddenly decides to end their duties because of the attendance requirement.
They also worried about how Tesla’s reticence about telecommuting could affect the company’s diversity goals.
In its 2022 Diversity Report. released in july Meta revealed that: “U.S. candidates who accepted telecommuting offers were significantly more likely to be Black, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, Veteran, and/or People with Disabilities” and “Globally, candidates , who accepted offers of remote work were most often women.”
In Tesla’s latest 2021 Impact Report, published in May 2022, the company boasted that it makes employees feel connected even when they’re at work from remote offices.
The report says: “During the global pandemic, we focused a lot on expanding our community engagement and keeping our employees connected. In particular, we expanded our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and ensured that our programming was available in a remote work environment. . .We made sure our employees felt more heard and connected than ever before when they turned to virtual events to foster inclusion across locations, physical boundaries and time zones.”
The company did not disclose numbers on how many employees it allowed to work from remote locations before and after the pandemic began, or how that affected the demographic makeup of its workforce.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.