Elon Musk bans remote work at Twitter

Elon Musk has banned remote work at Twitter in his first email to staff since buying the company, warning that the social media platform needs “intense work” in the office to turn round its fortunes.

“The road ahead is arduous and will require intense work to succeed,” he wrote in a company-wide email sent to employees on Thursday morning and seen by the Financial Times.

“We are . . . changing Twitter policy such that remote work is no longer allowed, unless you have a specific exception.”

Employees must be in the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week, except for those “physically unable to travel” or with “a critical personal obligation”, according to the email.

Musk added that he would review and approve any exemptions to the policy himself, instructing managers to compile lists of any staff seeking to continue remote working.

The new policy at Twitter matches Musk’s demands at another company he runs, Tesla, where in June he insisted staff should turn up for work at least 40 hours a week in the office or find new employment.

It comes a week after Musk cut around half of the company’s 7,500-strong workforce. Several senior leaders have now also left, raising fears over data security and compliance with privacy rules, particularly given the speed with which the platform has rolled out some new features since Musk took over.

The US Federal Trade Commission, a top consumer protection regulator, said on Thursday that it was “tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern”. Twitter signed a strict consent decree in 2011 pledging to better protect user data, which the regulator continues to oversee.

“No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees,” the FTC added. “Our revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are prepared to use them.”

On Thursday morning, Twitter’s chief information security officer, Lea Kissner, announced their departure. Separately, a company lawyer warned in the company’s Slack channel that Musk was taking a cavalier attitude to privacy regulations and that the company potentially risked significant fines from the FTC, according to a report from The Verge that was confirmed by a person familiar with the matter. Twitter’s chief compliance officer and chief privacy officer also left the company, according to the Verge report, which was confirmed by the person familiar.

Since taking the reins just a few weeks ago, Musk has appeared to double down on his “move fast, fail fast, move on” approach to running the company, introducing and ditching new features within hours, in addition to shaking up Twitter’s working practices.

The email to Twitter employees, which was initially reported by Bloomberg, was the first they have received directly from Musk since his $44bn takeover of the social media platform. Musk has instead used his personal Twitter account to publicly brainstorm new initiatives and products for the company.

The decision on remote work has been received with frustration by some staff who moved farther away from the office during the coronavirus pandemic and are now faced with long commutes, said two former Twitter employees.

Former chief executive Parag Agrawal had said in March, before Musk offered to buy the company, that staff could work from home “full-time forever”.

One Twitter employee said: “It’s not a massive surprise given how [Musk] does things at other companies. [The] manner of the comms and the lack of notice haven’t helped bring people with him.”

Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s former European vice-president, said: “It is an easy management mistake to conclude that employees working from home are less productive or collaborative than those in the office . . . [but] remote workers work more, not less. Generally when we feel like we can sustain a better work-life harmony, we find ourselves happier in our jobs. Musk might find that his team end up more frustrated by this additional jab at them.”

Last week Musk warned that the platform had experienced a “massive drop in revenue” since his takeover was completed.

Musk has also asked staffers to work round the clock on new products, including a subscription charge for users to get access to a blue tick on their profile, as well as features such as the edit button.

Twitter’s new office rules put it at odds with its social media rivals, who all have flexible working in place. At TikTok, staff were asked to return to the office for at least two days a week from September this year, while Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has encouraged remote working, with several top executives based away from the company’s headquarters.

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