Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk attends the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China August 29, 2019.
Aly Song | Reuters
Tesla CEO Elon Musk enacted a strict return-to-office policy this spring, informing employees suddenly by email on May 31 that they would need to “spend a minimum of forty hours in the office per week.” Anything else, he suggested, was “phoning it in.”
Three months since this edict, Tesla still doesn’t have the room or resources to bring all its employees back to the office, according to people who work for the company in the United States and internal documents seen by CNBC. The people declined to be named because they were not authorized to talk to the press on behalf of the company.
The return-to-office policy has also caused a decline in morale, especially among teams that allowed employees to work remotely as needed before Covid-19.
In general, Tesla had been open to remote work among employees in office roles before the pandemic. As the company’s workforce expanded in recent years, the focus was on building out international hubs and a new factory in Texas. It did not build enough new workspaces or acquire enough office equipment at existing facilities in Nevada and California to bring all office employees and long-term contractors in forty hours per week.
According to several current people who work there, Tesla recently wanted to bring its employees in the San Francisco Bay Area to the office for 3 days per week, but a shortage of chairs, desk space, parking spots and other resources proved too much. (Some of this was previously reported by The Information.) Instead, Tesla set staggered in-office schedules back to two days per week.
Even simple supplies like dongles and charging cords have been in short supply. On days where more employees are scheduled to work on-site, crowded conditions send people to take phone calls outdoors, as Tesla never built enough conference rooms and phone booths to accommodate this many employees in attendance at once.
A hit to morale
The company is now surveilling employees’ attendance, with Musk receiving detailed weekly reports on absenteeism.
In early September, internal records show, about one-eighth of employees were out on a typical day in Fremont, California, the home of Tesla’s first U.S. vehicle assembly plant. Across all of Tesla, that number was only slightly better, with about one-tenth of employees absent on a typical workday.
The numbers have remained within that range since March 2022, pre-dating Musk’s orders, according to internal reports viewed by CNBC. Absenteeism spikes on weekends and around holidays, as one might expect.
Absenteeism at Tesla is measured using data from workers badging into facilities, with unplanned absences divided by planned time off to tabulate daily totals, according to internal records and people familiar with the reports sent to Musk.
Not all employees are tracked the same way. Direct reports to Elon Musk do not have their badge swipes counted for the internal reports, for example.
The return-to-office policy — murky and informal as it is — has caused a significant decline in morale among some employees, according to internal messages seen by CNBC.
Before COVID-19 restrictions, Tesla managers generally figured out how much remote work was appropriate for their teams. Musk’s hardline policy eliminated that freedom in theory, though some execs may still be able to carve out deals for “…….