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Elon Musk, Twitter and Lessons on the Home Office Debate

By Fabrice Serfati - IGNIA Partners
General Partner and Managing Director

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By Fabrice Serfati | General Partner - Thu, 03/09/2023 - 16:00

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In the very disturbing but, at the same time, very entertaining saga of Elon Musk at the top job for Twitter, there have been multiple episodes that have come to my attention (the latest about the relevance of his tweets!). After the “let that sink in” PR stunt on his takeover of the company, his first action as a CEO was to email Twitter staff in order to end remote work. “The new rules, which kick in immediately, expect employees to be in the office for at least 40 hours per week,” he wrote in early November. 

But just on Jan. 25, Musk had a change of heart and ordered the Seattle office to close and all employees to continue to work from home. “As part of ongoing cost-cutting measures under new owner and CEO Elon Musk, Twitter is closing its Seattle offices as its bosses instruct employees to work remotely or home office. This is despite Musk's earlier claim that remote workers are only "pretending to work" and banned remote work on Twitter upon taking over in early November,” a Forbes article noted. 

These two episodes were particularly interesting to me, because, even if we thought that the “home office” debate had been archived after the pandemic, I believe that it is still causing a stir among founders and CEOs, with many for or against.

The idea that Musk is still grappling with the fact that, yes, home office means cutting costs for companies, and that yes, people can actually be working and not “just pretending” while at the same time being at home seems to me very descriptive of the times we are living. As a board member for various companies, I have seen many founders and managers unsure about how to handle this, now that the COVID restrictions seem gone for good.

My position is that remote working is good for the company, for the employees and,overall, for society. Of course, in order to let your people do home office, you need to have several things that Musk does not have for Twitter (or Tesla, since home office has been restricted there too). 

First of all, you need to have very clear objectives for your company, followed by perfectly established roles for your employees. With these two, you will be able to measure whether they are pretending or actually working (that being a must whether from home or from under your own nose at the office). For example, as Musk’s takeover happened, he did not spend a day to deeply understand Twitter’s objectives, metrics and why they were what they were, and why new monetization policies had not been implemented before. I find it demeaning of him to believe that it was because no one had thought of it. Maybe he thought that the red tape at Twitter had restrained them from action.  Really, it is hard to tell. Anyway, the results of the paid blue checkmark were soon to be seen. 

Second, you need to have deep trust in your team, know that you have the best people in the game, and that they are, like you, deeply motivated by your culture. Since Musk started his rant against Twitter and its policies, and then menaced the company through Twitter to buy it, he has denoted great contempt for anyone working there; so, of course, from day one, there was no trust. Plus, the uncertainty created made people scared of losing their jobs at any moment. That’s not a great motivator for any team. 

Imagine being a soldier, knowing you are in a war, in this case the social media war, and then suddenly you have a new commander who comes in and shouts at you that everything you’ve done has been wrong, stupid and lazy, you need to put in double the effort,and expect no growth or betterment. In the meantime, you see some of your best teammates sent back home, and then called back already demoralized, and probably you just expect to be sent home with nothing else but shame … not a great war tactic, I believe. 

Finally, and, of course I’m over simplifying for the sake of the length of an opinion column, you need to give them all the tools in order for them to be able to get to those objectives. Only those companies with these two certainties can feel OK with a full-time home office arrangement. Is this easy? Of course not. These tools take time and money to be implemented. 

To this day, as has been reported by The Information, there are several companies that help you do that: Pave, Rippling, and Deel. In Latin America, I would add Worky, andHitch. These firms are helping other companies transition to the new reality and in the process discovering their own  business models. They help you create world-class teams, manage them with HR policies, create compensation plans according to data and mostly contribute in creating a higher engagement, increased communication and employee satisfaction. 

Also, they might help you recruit internationally, one of the big upsides for Latin America since it has finally been acknowledged as a fantastic source of talent, as stated by Bloomberg Línea recently. 

For Latin America, of course it is fantastic news. But it is also a heads-up for local founders because the perks and possibilities good talent will be looking at might be  remote work flexibility. I truly believe that now is not the time to start “Musking” your teams but it is the time to be fortifying your work from home policies, to a point that you as a founder can sleep soundly knowing that wherever your people are, they are well motivated and passionate soldiers to your cause.  

Photo by:   Fabrice Serfati

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