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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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab) in March.

Musk is known to push his employees hard. In a March 2020 email reported by BuzzFeed News (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) on March 6 of that year, five days before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab), 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, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.