Why WFH When You Can Live in the Office Like Elon Musk?

    The office is the best place for collaboration, creativity and efficiency. But being bossy about RTO isn’t good strategy.
    | Updated on: Nov 11 2022, 19:07 IST
    In Pics: Your Twitter has been changed forever by Elon Musk
    1/7 Twitter top officials fired: As soon as Musk took over Twitter, he fired the top executives including CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde. That was the first decision taken by Musk at Twitter. On Friday, Twitter also laid off 50 percent of its employees and Musk defended the step by saying that this is being done in an effort to place Twitter on a profitable path. (AFP)
    2/7 Charges for Blue Tick: Twitter users who want a verified account will now have to pay charges for the same as Twitter will now charge $8 for Blue Tick. Musk supported the decision by posting a number of tweets regarding the same. He believes the subscription fee will give Twitter 'a revenue stream to reward content creators' while the company will not have to depend on advertisers. (REUTERS)
    Elon Musk
    3/7 Twitter Content Moderation Council: Twitter will set up a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints. The council will be accountable for all main content-related decisions. (AFP)
    4/7 Advertisers: General Motors, General Mills, Audi of America, Oreo maker Mondelez International, Pfizer Inc and Ford are some of the corporate companies who have distanced themselves from Twitter. Several advertisers have suspended ad spending on Twitter altogether. (REUTERS)
    Elon Musk
    5/7 Changes to Twitter's homepage: Musk requested that users who have logged out of Twitter and visit the homepage of Twitter's site to be redirected to the Explore page which shows trending tweets and news stories, according to a report by Verge. (REUTERS)
    6/7 Vine: Musk put up a poll on Twitter asking people if he should bring back Vine. (AP)
    7/7 Removal of Days of Rest: Days of Rest has been removed from the calendars of the Twitter employees. It can be known that the Days of Rest refers to the monthly days off to let employees rest and recharge. (AP)
    Elon Musk
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    As Elon Musk calls Twitter workers to office, does it offer any quantifiable advantage over work from home? (MINT_PRINT)

    It's no surprise that Elon Musk is ordering Twitter Inc. staff back to the office within a month of taking the keys to the social media company. Workers at Tesla Inc. are fully familiar with their billionaire boss's strict preference for being present. But combine this with a weakening economy and pressure from Wall Street leaders for office working, and it helps normalize the use of force rather than nudging to get people back to HQ.

    Any advocacy for the primacy of office working in the tech sector is significant. Remote working is enabled by technology, so the industry as a whole has a vested interest in promoting it — just as real-estate developers want their own staff in offices singing the merits of shiny glass buildings.

    The Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes shows hybrid working is popular across all demographics. And tech workers appear particularly accustomed to remote work. The pandemic even led to tech startups in San Francisco seeing staff decamp to other cities, as Bloomberg Opinion's Parmy Olson has detailed.

    It's been hard enough for tech employers to formalize attending the office on a majority of days — Apple Inc. delayed such a policy earlier this year — let alone full-scale office-hood. And that's seemingly what Musk wants. He expects workers to spend at least 40 hours a week on site, subject to case-by-case exceptions, Bloomberg News reported. Many people could — and do — cram that into fewer than five days. But the ordinary observer will translate the edict as: Don't work from home, live in the office. (Quite how Musk himself would spend 120 hours a week in the offices of his three main ventures in another matter.)

    That puts the Tesla-Twitter-SpaceX boss in line with investment banks on the issue. Finance execs have generally made clear their expectation that office-based working is the norm and hybrid arrangements the exception.

    In industries that rely on intellectual capital, that stance does make sense. Nearly three years since the emergence of Covid, the reasoning should be well understood. In the know-how profession, being in the same space gets the job done better: Casual enquiries are easier, information flows faster, serendipitous encounters spark opportunities. Co-location retains institutional knowledge. Cultural cohesion just happens, whereas remote-only firms must resort to off-sites to replicate the effect.

    Is brute force the best way to get people back? As the pandemic abated in the US and Europe, the banking industry went from using workplace perks as carrots to a more coercive read-between-the-lines approach based on bosses' pro-office messaging.

    A weaker labor market will embolden leaders to be more explicit about their preferred solution to the equation. The last few weeks have seen thousands of job losses announced in tech; the omens for finance are bad too. But in any industry that relies on talent, employers should not overestimate their bargaining power.

    Some workers, most obviously those with family care responsibilities, need flexibility of either location or hours, or both. You can't negotiate with need: They will take their skills elsewhere. Bosses risk narrowing candidate pools. Never mind that headcount is going down; the market for the very best talent is always tight. This goes beyond advancing gender balance: A recent study by McKinsey & Co. suggested that hybrid working initiatives could have a disproportionately positive effect on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts more broadly — as well as on performance.

    Even if bosses have the economic power to set terms, that does not mean they should use it. Far better that workers should want to come to the office and find their job easier there. Where it seems otherwise, it's often to do with things employers don't control, or only indirectly control: the time, cost and hellishness of the commute, the amenities surrounding the office, the flexibility within the building to accommodate tasks that require quiet concentration as well as sparky collaboration.

    Yes, the office is better. But don't just force it on your workers, Elon. Make them want to come in.

    Chris Hughes is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering deals. Previously, he worked for Reuters Breakingviews, the Financial Times and the Independent newspaper.

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    First Published Date: 11 Nov, 19:07 IST
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