Elon Musk said working from home during the pandemic 'tricked' people into thinking they don't need to work hard. He's dead wrong, economists say.

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Elon Musk said working from home during the pandemic 'tricked' people into thinking they don't need to work hard. He's dead wrong, economists say.
Elon Musk at the 2022 Met Gala.Andrew Kelly/Reuters
  • Elon Musk said COVID-19 "tricked people into thinking that you don't actually need to work hard."
  • Working from home didn't make workers less productive, three economists told Insider.
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Elon Musk is not a fan of remote work.

The Tesla CEO issued an ultimatum to Tesla staff on May 31: return to the office full-time or find work elsewhere.

Tesla's return-to-office drive appears to be in full swing now. Insider's Grace Kay reported Tesla has begun tracking workers using their badges, sending automated emails to workers who are absent from the office.

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The Information reported Tesla's office return has been hampered by a lack of physical space, with some workers struggling to find a desk.

So why is Musk so determined to get everyone back in the office?

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The Tesla billionaire has made it clear he believes remote work allows people to avoid hard work.

When asked on Twitter how he would respond to people who might think in-office work is antiquated, the Tesla billionaire replied: "They should pretend to work somewhere else."

Musk also tweeted in May: "All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don't actually need to work hard."

Musk, who railed against lockdown mandates and defied shelter-in-place orders to send workers back to his California Tesla factory in May 2020, might have the wrong idea about remote work.

Insider spoke to three economists, all of whom said remote work during the pandemic did not damage worker productivity.

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"Most of the evidence shows that productivity has increased while people stayed at home," Natacha Postel-Vinay, an economic and financial historian at the London School of Economics, told Insider.

"People spent less time commuting so could use some of that time to work, and they also got to spend more time with their family and sleeping, which meant they were happier and ended up more productive," she added.

Musk did not reply when contacted by Insider.

Data shared with Bloomberg in February 2021 by VPN provider NordVPN Teams suggested that in many economies, working from home meant people worked longer hours.

Albrecht Ritschl, an professor of economic history, also said cutting out commuting was a bonus to worker productivity, and added that working from home led to fewer hours spent in "pointless meetings."

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"Time spent at the office is not the same thing as working hard," Ritschl said.

Almarina Gramozi, a lecturer in economics at King's College London, said the largest surveys of workers in the US and the UK found workers were at least as productive at home as in the office — although she said a similar study in Japan found workers did report lower productivity working from home.

All three experts said productivity occasionally dipped in some cases, but not because people were shirking.

People with children at home during the pandemic often had to split their attention between work and childcare, leading to a decrease in productivity, Postel-Vinay and Ritschl said.

Gramozi also added productivity isn't just down to individual employees.

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"Productivity levels depend substantially on the support that employers offer, technology adoption, and on the type of work that would allow it to be easily conducted remotely," she told Insider.

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