Elon Musk Questions Whether Remote Work is ‘Morally Right’ — But Here’s Why That Logic is Flawed.

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Elon Musk, the enigmatic billionaire and CEO of Tesla, recently dismissed remote work as “morally wrong” in a CNBC interview, comparing it to a privileged indulgence of the “laptop class.”

According to Musk, “You’re going to work from home and have everyone else who made your car come to work at the factory? Don’t you work from home?” Musk asked. “Does that sound morally right? People should get off their goddamn moral high horse with the work-from-home bullshit,” she said. “They’re asking everyone else not to work from home while they’re doing it.”

It’s as if Musk views in-person work as a kind of hazing ritual: He and others did it, so you must too. Well, as my mother often said when she suggested I do something stupid for others to do, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Picture this: Musk is standing on the precipice of the Golden Gate Bridge, urging us all to jump into the frigid waters below just because he took the plunge. While some may admire his bravado, it is not a practical or sustainable model for the future of work. Here’s a thought: Instead of Musk’s plunge into the deep abyss of forced office work, perhaps we should consider a more measured, flexible and hybrid approach to work, incorporating remote and in-person options, such as I tell my clients.

Related: Employers: Hybrid work isn’t the problem, your guidelines are. Here’s why and how to fix them.

The single job fallacy

Musk’s argument is based on the concept of fairness. He argues that if factory and service industry workers can’t work from home, why should tech workers enjoy that privilege? It’s like being aboard the Titanic as it just hit an iceberg, blocking everyone’s access to lifeboats and saying, “well, not everyone can have one, so no one should.”

However, the problem with this equity philosophy is that it assumes a universal approach to work. It’s like insisting that everyone wear a size 10 shoe because that’s the most common size. But we all know the discomfort of ill-fitting shoes. A size 10 will not fit a person with a size 6 foot or a person with a size 12 foot. Similarly, not all jobs can or should be done in the same way.

Work is not a monolith; it is a mosaic of diverse tasks, responsibilities and roles. It’s a kaleidoscope of different industries, each with its own unique needs and nuances. The role of a factory worker inherently requires physical presence, while that of a software developer does not. Grouping them together and imposing a uniform work model is like having a flamenco dancer and a sumo wrestler perform the same routine. It’s not just unfair; it is impractical.

The wrong morality of in-person work

Musk calls remote work “morally wrong,” a sentiment that is as perplexing as a zebra questioning the ethics of its stripes. Remember: work is a contract, an exchange of time and skills for remuneration. It is not a moral battleground.

We do not ask the baker to remove his wheat, nor do we require the mechanic to forge his tools. Because? Because it is inefficient and impractical. So why insist that a digital marketer or software engineer be tied to a physical location? Isn’t it time we focused on the output and not the location?

Musk’s argument also ignores the environmental and social benefits of remote work. Fewer commuting hours means less traffic, less pollution and more time for workers to spend with their families. It’s like trading in a gas-guzzling monster truck for a sleek, eco-friendly electric vehicle. Now, isn’t that a change Musk should appreciate?

The irony of Musk’s mantra

Musk, the champion of innovation, is strangely traditional when it comes to work. He celebrates his Shanghai factory workers for “burning the 3:00 a.m. oil” and criticizes American workers for seeking flexible work options. This is akin to applauding a marathon runner for wearing leather boots instead of performance shoes.

While there is something to be said for dedication and hard work, we must remember that burning the midnight oil is not a sustainable or healthy work model. It’s like running a car engine without stopping; over time, it will heat up and break, which hopefully Musk knows something about. Instead, we should value work-life balance, mental health and general well-being of employees.

Musk’s work ethic is undoubtedly exceptional. He brags about taking only two or three vacation days a year. But let’s not forget, we’re not all Musk. For most people, this work schedule is akin to a chef cooking with only a blowtorch: not only is it dangerous, it’s downright crazy. Work is not measured by the number of hours at the desk, but by the efficiency and effectiveness of those hours. After all, a hamster can run around on a wheel all day and still get nowhere.

Related: You should let your team decide their approach to hybrid work. A behavioral economist explains why and how you should.

The inclusion of remote work

Remote working isn’t just about convenience or flexibility; it’s also about inclusion. It opens doors to people who were previously outside traditional labor markets, such as people with disabilities, carers and those living in remote areas. It’s like throwing a party, and instead of insisting that everyone come to your house, you bring the party to them.

It also allows companies to tap into global talent, unrestricted by geographic barriers. It’s like having a key that unlocks all the doors in the world, a key that allows organizations to tap into a rich and diverse set of skills and perspectives. This diversity leads to innovation, resilience and competitive advantage, like a well-tuned orchestra playing a captivating symphony.

Embracing a hybrid future

Instead of treating face-to-face work as an obligatory ritual, we should see it as an option in a variety of ways of working. Hybrid work, a combination of remote and in-person work, is like the Swiss Army Knife of work models. It is adaptable and versatile, adapting to the corners of our different lives.

Hybrid work recognizes that not all tasks are created equal. Some tasks require collaboration and benefit from the spontaneous interactions of an office environment like musicians coming together to create a new tune. Other tasks, however, require deep concentration, the kind of focus that is often easier to find in the quiet solitude of the home.

As we stand on the precipice of the future of work, we shouldn’t make a hasty leap into the past for the likes of Musk. Instead, we carefully chart our course, focusing on what works best for individuals and organizations. After all, if everyone jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you? Or maybe you’d choose a safer, more sane path that leads to a future where work isn’t a place you go to, but something you do, wherever you are.

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