Elon Musk tells SpaceX, Tesla workers they must be in office at least 40 hours a week: report

Elon Musk and the SpaceX team are recognized by Vice President Mike Pence at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center following the launch of the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station in May 2020.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and the SpaceX team are recognized by Vice President Mike Pence at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center following the launch of the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

It appears that fully remote work at SpaceX and Tesla is over.

Elon Musk, the CEO of both companies, sent memos to executives at SpaceX and Tesla dictating that all employees must show up to the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week, according to a New York Times report published on Wednesday (June 1).

"The more senior you are, the more visible must be your presence," Musk said in the memo to SpaceX executives, according to The New York Times. "That is why I spent so much time in the factory — so that those on the line could see me working alongside them. If I had not done that, SpaceX would long ago have gone bankrupt."

Musk, the world's richest man and a billionaire many times over, appeared to confirm the memos' accuracy via Twitter on Wednesday. "They should pretend to work somewhere else," he tweeted, responding to a follower who posted a screenshot of the leaked Tesla memo and asked Musk to comment on employees who preferred to work from home.

Related: 8 ways that SpaceX has transformed spaceflight

Working from home has become common across many industries during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and many big tech companies, from Apple to Airbnb to Shopify, continue to broadly support the practice. So Musk's stance against remote work has drawn criticism.

"The more relevant question isn’t whether Tesla executives are doing too little, but whether Tesla pushes factory workers to do too much," Quartz wrote of the new policy, echoing concerns that other outlets have also voiced about SpaceX. (Famously, during an early wave of the pandemic, Musk re-opened a Tesla factory against local regulations and health guidance.)

And it appears at least one union is gearing up to fight back. In Germany, the IG Metall union in Berlin-Brandenburg-Sachsen that builds Tesla cars "said it would support any employee who opposed Musk’s ultimatum," Reuters reported.

Musk, Time Magazine's 2021 person of the year, reportedly sent a follow-up email to executives talking about his own long hours at the factories over the years. But he is rarely at SpaceX and Tesla in person himself, according to The Times, which cited two people who worked with Musk and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"They expressed concerns about how the return-to-office policies would affect recruiting and retention at the companies," The Times said of the anonymous employees. 

Moreover, The Times said, the ban on remote work could have big implications for Twitter, which Musk is hoping to buy in the near future. Twitter reiterated support for remote work in a memo in March.

Musk is known to push his employees hard. In a March 2020 email reported by BuzzFeed News shortly before the pandemic shut down in-person work around the world, Musk told SpaceX employees they were more likely to die in a car crash than from coronavirus.

"The coronavirus panic is dumb," Musk wrote on Twitter on March 6 of that year, five days before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic.

In November 2021, Musk claimed that SpaceX may go bankrupt due to a shortage of the Raptor engines needed for its Starship vehicle. That memo, which was obtained by Space Explored, was sent to employees during the Thanksgiving weekend. It asked them to pitch in over the holiday unless they had "critical family matters" or couldn't physically make it to SpaceX's Los Angeles-area factory.

Starship is the next-generation vehicle that NASA picked to land astronauts on the moon a few years from now.

SpaceX also supplies cargo ships and astronaut vehicles for NASA, military satellites for the United States, and Starlink broadband satellites for remote customers around the world. In recent months, Starlink service expanded quickly in Ukraine to support the country after it was besieged by Russia starting Feb. 24.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace