When Elon Musk speaks his mind, it tends to be controversial.
Whether it’s random tweets like “One word: Doge” which sent the crypto coin in a frenzy, saying “funding secured” on Twitter which got the SEC coming after him, or sharing his recommendation “to figure out a special administrative zone for Taiwan that is reasonably palatable” that got Taiwan politicians upset, what Elon Musk says can make headline news, whether you agree with him or not.
Earlier this month, Elon Musk once again touch on a sensitive topic – working from home. In an interview with CNBC, he said that working from home is “morally wrong”.
As most of us already know, Elon Musk is no fan of working from home, with his first email to Twitter workers after taking over the company to stop work from home. But why did he said that it’s “morally wrong” to work from home (WFH)?
What’s Morally Wrong With Working From Home?
Saying someone is “morally wrong” is a big statement. And with many Singapore workers likely to be working from home on some days (judging by the Monday and Friday lunch crowd at the CBD), this is also likely to be a touchy subject for some.
Beyond just the productivity concerns, Elon Musk’s main reason for saying that working from home is “morally wrong” is that he thinks workers who are asking/fighting for such WFH arrangements are likely only thinking about themselves, while still expecting other workers such as those in F&B, retail and the hospitality sectors, to show up to their workplace.
Elon Musk calls these workers the “laptop class”. There is a good chance this would include you and I who do most of our work on our laptops, and thus, can WFH or even work from anywhere.
Could Elon Be Right?
In Singapore, a lot of hiring managers we spoke to in the service line (e.g. F&B, hospitality) have shared with us their challenges of finding workers in Singapore. One of the biggest challenges they face is that, unlike white-collar office roles, jobs in such service sectors rarely afford workers the chance to WFH. A chef and a barista can’t work from home.
While hiring workers in these industries has never been easy, this problem may have worsened post-pandemic.
With more office jobs now offering a WFH option, the divide between office jobs that allow WFH and service-related jobs that are not able to have widened. Many workers including younger Gen Z would shun away from such jobs that don’t allow WFH, in favour of jobs that do.
Are We Guilty Of Double Standards?
Nobody likes to be seen as having double standards. A way to evaluate if we ourselves are guilty of having double standards would be to ask ourselves some of these questions.
If we get to work from home twice a week, are we okay for MOE teachers to also teach from home twice a week (which means our kids will be learning from home twice a week).
If we are arguing for 4-day work weeks, should the same standards apply to people in the service line such as polyclinic staff such that the polyclinics also open one day lesser each week (e.g. close on weekends and open on half-day on Friday).
If the answer we have for either of the statement above is no, then perhaps Elon Musk does have a point. And that it’s just easier to demand for employee welfare that benefits us personally, while depriving others of the same entitlements.
Improve Employment Benefits For Those Who Don’t Currently Enjoy Them
Personally, I am a fan of working from home and hope it continues, or at least to have some form of hybrid work arrangement. It gives me more time and control over my schedule and allows me to balance my work and family responsibilities.
However, I do recognise that I (and many others who also WFH) are fortunate. And that’s because not everyone gets to enjoy this. Teachers, doctors, soldiers, drivers, F&B staff, delivery workers and many other blue-collar workers that we see around us daily whenever we head out on our off/WFH days continue to work at their workplaces.
While I don’t agree with Elon Musk that it’s “morally wrong” for people to WFH if their jobs and companies allow them to, I think those of us who are able to WFH should also accept the privileged position we are in.
The next frontier of improving employment benefits should be aimed toward service staff who don’t currently enjoy employment benefits like having the flexibility to work from home. And while it may be unrealistic in our lifetime for some of these roles to be done from home, we can still improve employment work benefits for these workers in other ways like in the form of them enjoying shorter 4-day workweeks while regular office workers can continue to work a hybrid 5-day workweek.
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