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What Leaders Can Learn From Elon Musk's Ultimatum to Tesla Executives Holding solid leadership fundamentals is vital when nations worldwide emerge after the pandemic's impact.

By Steve Taplin Edited by Chelsea Brown

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A strong work ethic and passion may be the winning formula for many companies and businesses, but flexibility and empathy offer diverse advantages for workers and employers. While this works for most entrepreneurs and companies, flexibility and empathy play a significant role in moving forward in difficult times.

Elon Musk's recent "return to the office, or leave" directive to Tesla employees raises concerns over his leadership, compassion and empathy for workers. Holding solid leadership fundamentals is vital when nations worldwide emerge after the pandemic's impact.

Thanks to technological advancement, workers can still engage and fulfill their obligations safely in the face of pandemics or other unexpected disasters. Musk's letter to his employees leaves a lot for top managers to analyze. Some may view it as a lack of trust and respect for workers, prompting a provocation of the community's collective analysis and thinking.

Today, many mainstream tech companies do not require employees to return to the office full-time, especially after some regions' resurgence of Covid-19 cases. Tesla's return to office directive to all workers seems to undermine the tremendous technological progress made through remote working.

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Improve Workplace Flexibility

The importance of flexibility and empathy in the workplace

Empathy and flexibility in the workplace help an organization quickly adapt to unexpected circumstances when they arise. These core leadership fundamentals can bring changes that establish critical plans to overcome the unanticipated obstacles.

On the contrary, Tesla's CEO's ultimatum to workers and company executives creates a stir among workers. Several people felt this violated ethical leadership approaches and efficient management practices. It also appears to undermine workers' values, choices, flexibility and control, all fundamentals for quality of life.

The pandemic may have several downsides to our lives and the economy. Still, its impact goes a long way in establishing the essential place of technology, flexibility and empathy. While it is excellent for the quality of life, it is also "giving people more choices and greater control over where they work," according to a recently published Forbes article.

Related: What Is Empathy, and Why Is It So Important for Great Leaders?

Establishing clear expectations and technological solutions

Over the months and all through the pandemic, nations worldwide have struggled to regain their original place of productivity. Most companies navigated to remote technological solutions despite the lack of clarity, ambiguity and unpredictability. Some capitalized on nearshore outsourcing, and others have focused on setting demanding clear expectations regardless of the outcome, like Musk's ultimatum to his workers.

Most employers like working with people who have and understand clear-cut expectations and a strong point of view. However, many still agree that times have changed, and technological solutions in the workplace, like remote working, should begin taking a more permanent state. For many CEOs, it is significant and ideal for continued productivity.

Many companies may find it challenging to establish clear expectations in pandemic times. But they can capitalize and gain significant grounds in recovery through remote working. Companies executives like Facebook, Instagram and Airbnb, site this move as an economical way of advancing flexibility and safety. It also keeps current workers happy while attracting and retaining more talent.

Moreover, businesses adapting to technological changes take calculated steps in their approach, especially in remote work. These flexible solutions, such as hiring a nearshore software development company, portray company owners and executives as compassionate, particularly during the renewed surge in Covid-19 cases.

Related: Workplace Flexibility Can Impact How You Attract, Hire, And Retain Talent


U.S. companies are turning to and will continue to witness a permanent shift to work-from-home setups. While Musk doesn't seem to be a fan of remote working, his directives may cause more attrition than recovery.

In unexpected circumstances like the pandemic outbreak, remote working plays a core role in empowering flexibility and empathy in established businesses. Musk may have successfully established four companies, but, his recent order and achievements appear to cloud his better judgment of a leader's empathy, compassion and flexibility in difficult times amidst failure to embrace changing times.

It's evident that some operations require physical presence, and his workers are lauded for unlimited creativity and inventiveness. However, more CEOs have realized that remote working has little impact on employees' ability to deliver, and in most cases, it even increases productivity. In addition, other top executives like JP Morgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, indicated that remote work is becoming more permanent and acceptable in American business.

At the moment, CEOs should move to establish hybrid work schedules where workers can come to the office two to three days a week and work the remainder remotely. The transition to this technological solution is rapidly increasing currently, with about 30% of U.S. office employees working from home.

While a strong work ethic and passion are core determinants of success, empathy and compassion still portray leadership's core fundamentals in unexpected situations that endanger workers in changing times. In the face of the pandemic, Musk should prioritize workers' safety and retain talent, especially during the Great Resignation.

Musk's return to office plan is a recipe for a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. While it is a technology company that may require physical presence still, a consideration of implementing proven solutions like remote will sustain the company's goals and productivity. It will also set him as a compassionate leader. Additionally, instead of threatening workers with a back-to-office order, initiating a hybrid return-to-office plan in safe phases while creating and leaving flexibility for employees to work remotely is the ultimate solution.

Steve Taplin

CEO of Sonatafy Technology

Steve Taplin is the CEO of Sonatafy Technology (www.sonatafy.com), a premier nearshore software-development-services firm that provides its clients with expertise in cloud solutions, web and mobile applications, ecommerce, big data, DevOps practices, QA, IoT and machine learning.

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