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Musk’s recent edict to return to the office – lessons for HR

By Shandel McAuliffe | |5 minute read
Musk’s recent edict to return to the office – lessons for HR

Tesla’s Elon Musk has made headlines yet again, stirring up public debate about working from home versus working in the office.


According to an email to Tesla staff, Mr Musk made it clear that he expects his staff back in the office. And he’s not backing down. When @WholeMarsBlog tweeted an image of the email, with the question: “hey elon a lot of people are talking about this leaked email, any additional comment to people who think coming into work is an antiquated concept?”, Mr Musk (@elonmusk) replied: “They should pretend to work somewhere else”.

For HR and business leaders grappling with similar questions around how to handle where their employees work post-lockdowns, a collaborative approach may be wise.

Most people don’t like being told what to do. A basic change management principle is to bring people along for the ride, rather than enforce change on them without consultation.

So, a leader’s first step, if they want to change where people work from, should be to listen to what their employees have to say. This will shed light on where a business might face resistance to change, and the reasons why. Leaders need to be mindful that employees on the frontline are likely to have different perspectives about work to those in the C-suite, but their opinions are no less valid.

Once the business has a good idea about where its people stand in relation to WFH, hybrid working, and full-time office work, decisions can be made. And those choices need to consider commercial outcomes as well as talent retention – and the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Forcing staff to return to full-time office working – if there’s resistance – could cost a business dearly, especially in a talent-short market.

If there is a mismatch between the business’ need to have people in the office, for example, they’d like senior people to return so they’re more accessible to junior staff who are learning from them (a scenario recently covered by Lawyers Weekly), but their senior staff feel they are more productive and comfortable at home, then the business needs to find a compromise that works for everyone.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that a lot of progress was made over the past two years in terms of using tech to replace in-person work. The horse has well and truly bolted on remote work, so clever businesses need to use all the tools at their disposal to keep their staff happy and productive. And it shouldn’t ever just come down to the preferences of one senior leader.

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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