In a recent article (paywall), Elon Musk has once again turned his wrath to remote workers. Elon has a lot of good ideas, but also many bad ones, such as naming his child “X AE A-XII”. This is certainly proof that we don’t need to take everything he says seriously.
Elon has said that those who want to work remote are “detached from reality” and give off “Marie Antoinette vibes” (I will forgive his apparent misunderstanding of history). His argument, to the extent he even articulates it, seems to have two angles:
- First, it is “morally wrong” to work remotely because so many people in the world cannot do their jobs from home.
- Second, the productivity of remote workers is not the same. (I’m extrapolating a bit here.)
I don’t think the first argument is terribly serious. Just because some people (food service workers, factory workers, etc.) cannot work from home does not mean I should not. Long before remote work, some people worked in clean offices while others worked in filthy coal mines. We can debate the injustices of life, but I’m not convinced this disparity should guide office policies.
As to the second, well, as manager of many large teams, I can say that some of my most productive workers are fully remote, i.e., they work entirely from home. I can think of two or three of my most respected and productive employees who have this arrangement. Because they don’t live near a Cisco office, they have no choice. I recently promoted one of them to prinicpal, a major accomplishment that is not given out lightly. So, we cannot say that working from home automatically means lack of productivity.
On the other hand, I’ve had some very poor performers who worked from home. This was particularly the case during the lockdowns. I remember one engineer who seemed to be doing nothing, and when I checked her calendar it was empty. She took a job elsewhere, finally. But I, as any good boss should, was well aware of her lack of contribution and would have done something had she not taken the initiative herself.
Does being in the office guarantee productivity? Not at all! I can sit around and watch YouTube videos at work just the same as I can from home. I remember a guy who sat near me many years ago, and had a rearview mirror on his monitor. He was always playing Solitaire and every time I, or anyone else, walked by his desk he would glance in the mirror and minimize the game. He wasn’t fooling anyone.
For me, the noise and distractions of the office often make productive work difficult. Thankfully, post-lockdown, several Cisco buildings are virtually empty, and I decamp to one of them if I need to get actual work done. Pre-COVID I used to head out to a coffee shop, put in earphones, and get productive work done there. Open offices are the worst for this. They make serious work nearly impossible.
Then there’s this… Let me be open about it. I never agreed with the lockdowns. When they first implemented them, I wrote every congressman, city councilman, county supervisor, the health department, the governor, the president, and pretty much anyone I could think of with my opposition to what seemed to me a lunatic idea, and totally unneeded. Now you can disagree with me vehemently, you can think I’m a jerk, and that’s fine. But here’s the point: Almost all the large corporations bought into it. They could have fought these mandates, but they went along with them, shut their doors, and embraced remote work. Many started marketing campaigns (and still have them) around hybrid work. You cannot go 100% in for the thing and then make a 180 degree shift a few years later because you regret your decision. The outcome of the lockdowns–a lot of people unwilling to return to the office–was entirely predictable. I think corporations need to embrace the world they created, and live with the consequences of their choices. Your workers want to be remote, let them be remote. Sure, give them incentives to come into the office and be together. Encourage them to do so. But accept the reality of the new world.
Elon Musk reopened his factories mid-lockdown. He may not know how to name a child, but I’ll at least give him points for consistency.