Elon Musk recently declared an end to remote work at Tesla, announcing that all Tesla staff must return to the office full-time, according to an email sent to executive staff and leaked on social media. Musk said those who don’t want to come to office should “pretend to work somewhere else.” This strict, top-down approach rooted in mistrust and false assumptions goes against best practices. It speaks to an illusion of control that will undermine employee productivity, engagement, innovation, retention, and recruitment at Tesla.
False assumptions drive mandates
One of Musk’s false assumptions involves the idea that employees “pretend” to work from home. In fact, research using both surveys and behavior tracking from the early days of the pandemic has shown that remote work resulted in higher productivity. More recently, academics demonstrated a further increase in productivity in remote work, from 5 percent in the summer of 2020 to 9 percent in May 2022. That’s because companies and employees grew better at working from home.
Yet despite this easily-available evidence, Musk wrote in another leaked email that those who work remotely are “phoning it in.” He highlights the importance of being visible and cites his own notoriously long working hours as an example.
Such a focus on visibility in the office speaks to a highly traditionalist leadership mindset underpinned by the illusion of control. This cognitive bias describes our mind’s tendency to overestimate the extent to which we control external events.