The Peculiar Hazing Ritual of In-Person Work

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

According to Musk, “You’re going to work-from-home, and you’re going to make everyone else who made your car come work in the factory? You’re going to make people who make your food that gets delivered—they can’t work from home?” Musk asked. “Does that seem morally right? People should get off their goddamn moral high horse with the work-from-home bullshit,” he said. “They’re asking everyone else to not work from home while they do.”

It’s as though Musk views in-person work as a kind of hazing ritual – he and others did it, so you have to do it too. Well, as my mom frequently said when I proposed doing something dumb because others did it, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” 

Picture this: Musk standing on the precipice of the Golden Gate Bridge, urging us all to leap into the frigid waters below simply because he took the plunge. While his bravado might be admired by some, it’s not a practical or sustainable model for the future of work. Here’s a thought: rather than Musk’s daredevil dive into the deep abyss of forced in-office work, perhaps we should consider a more measured, flexible, and hybrid approach to work, one that incorporates both remote and in-person options, as I tell my clients.

The Fallacy of One-Size-Fits-All Work

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

However, the problem with this fairness philosophy is that it assumes a one-size-fits-all approach to work. It’s like insisting 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 won’t suit the person with size 6 feet or the one with size 12 feet. Similarly, not all work can, or should, be done in the same way.

Work is not a monolith; it’s a mosaic of diverse tasks, responsibilities, and roles. It’s a kaleidoscope of different industries, each with its unique needs and nuances. A factory worker’s role inherently requires physical presence, while a software developer’s doesn’t. To lump them together and impose a uniform work model is like making a flamenco dancer and a sumo wrestler perform the same routine. It’s not just unfair; it’s impractical.

The Misguided Morality of In-Person Work

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

We don’t ask the baker to mine his wheat, nor do we demand the mechanic to forge his tools. Why? Because it’s inefficient and impractical. So why insist on a digital marketer or a software engineer being tied to a physical location? Isn’t it about time we focused on the output and not the location?

Musk’s argument also fails to consider the environmental and social benefits of remote work. Fewer commuting hours mean 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 switch Musk should appreciate?

The Irony of Musk’s Mantra

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

While there’s something to be said for dedication and hard work, we must remember that burning the midnight oil isn’t a sustainable or healthy work model. It’s like running a car engine without stopping – eventually, it’ll overheat and break down, which hopefully Musk knows something about. Instead, we should value work-life balance, mental health, and the overall well-being of employees.

Musk’s work ethic, no doubt, is exceptional. He boasts of only taking two or three days off a year. But let’s not forget, we’re not all Musk. For most people, such a work schedule is akin to a chef cooking with only a blowtorch – it’s not just dangerous but downright insane. Work is not measured by the sheer number of hours at the desk but by the efficiency and effectiveness of those hours. After all, a hamster can run all day on a wheel and still get nowhere.

The Inclusivity of Remote Work

Remote work is not just about convenience or flexibility; it’s also about inclusivity. It opens the doors for people who were previously shut out from traditional job markets, like those with disabilities, caregivers, and those living in remote areas. It’s like hosting a party and, instead of insisting everyone come to your house, you take the party to them.

It also allows companies to tap into global talent, unrestricted by geographical barriers. It’s like having a key that opens every door in the world – a key that enables organizations to harness a rich, diverse pool 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 in-person work like a compulsory hazing ritual, we should view it as one option in a spectrum of work modes. Hybrid work – a blend of remote and in-person work – is like the Swiss Army knife of work models. It’s adaptable and versatile, fitting into the nooks and crannies of our varied 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 jamming together to create a new tune. Other tasks, however, require deep concentration, the kind of focus that’s often easier to find in the quiet solitude of one’s home.

As we stand on the precipice of the future of work, we shouldn’t be goaded into a hasty leap into the past by the likes of Musk. Instead, let’s carefully chart our course, focusing on what works best for individuals and organizations alike. After all, if everyone jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you? Or would you, perhaps, choose a safer, more sensible path that leads to a future where work is not a place you go, but a thing you do – wherever you may be.

Key Take-Away

Embrace hybrid work for a flexible, inclusive, and efficient future. Avoid the outdated hazing ritual of in-person work. Choose what works best for all...>Click to tweet

Image credit: Ono Kosuki/Pexels

Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on June 4, 2023