It’s safe to say Elon Musk is a busy man. Between vanquishing the internal combustion engine, crashing rockets, boring tunnels under LA, and fending off the looming AI dystopia, the on-off richest man alive is, shall we say, an active sort. Yet, believe it or not, he doesn’t even have an office.
How does he stay on top of his insane workload without one?
Join us today as we gather around the watercooler for a sneaky chat about why Elon Musk doesn’t have an office.
Last year Elon Musk was speaking to a gathering of chief executives and posed this rhetorical question.
Are CEOs in corporate America focused enough on product improvement?
“I think the answer is no.”
But fear not, Elon Musk told the assembled worthies, because he has the answer. ‘Spend less time in conference rooms, less time on finance, less time on PowerPoint, and more time trying to make your product as amazing as possible.’
Musk certainly practices what he preaches. ‘I don’t have a desk,’ he says.
‘I move myself to wherever the biggest problems are.’ Like an old-time military general, Musk understands the raw inspirational power of a present, hands-on boss.
‘I believe one should lead from the front line,’ he’s said. And that’s why I’m here. When Tesla was going through what he called ‘production hell’ during the birth of the Model 3, the CEO assumed direct and full oversight of manufacture, down to the last weld.
So even if he did have some lavish Mr. Burns-esque office to work out of, he’d spend vanishingly little time in it.
‘I am personally on that production line, trying to solve problems’ he said during an especially tricky phase of Tesla’s development. We are working seven days.
I have personally been here, on Zone 2 module line at 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday, helping diagnose robot calibration issues.No task is too menial.
With this ferocious workload comes an expectation others will put their backs into it and pull random all-nighters – and he isn’t afraid to tell shirkers that he is no 9 to 5 place of business
When Musk isn’t wrangling with wayward machinery, he’s supervising software rewrites or cajoling his battery team into teasing out ever-greater efficiencies, in amongst the troops and seldom
behind a desk. Staff that works directly with him need a thick skin and probably wish he did have an office
so he’d go there once in a while and get off their backs.
Instead, he’s a force of nature on the floor, berating anybody he reckons shy of the mark, summarily dismissing any worker luckless enough to cross him on a bad day. Fellow tech giant Steve Jobs had a similar reputation, Indeed, it’s reported Musk’s junior managers sometimes warn recruits to give the big boss a wide berth, lest he barks a question in their direction and be dissatisfied with the answer.
Musk takes price in his brisk style and is skeptical of hiring MBA types.
‘The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, he’s said. And it should not be through the marketing department.
‘It needs to be through engineering and design.’ So the message is delivered where it counts or works elsewhere.
For his part, eager beaver Musk makes a point of never slinking off on holiday and setting an example to his team.
‘I don’t believe people should be experiencing hardship while the CEO is off on vacation,’ Musk told interviewer Gail King back in 2018.
He can’t fix a malfunctioning factory robot from behind a desk.
But even tasks you’d think make sense from an office – like crucial conference calls with rich, jittery investors – Musk prefers to take on the factory floor.
He’ll even catch a nap there from time to time. yeah, I’m sleeping on the factory floor,’ he said during one especially a dicey spell at Tesla.
‘Not because I think that’s a fun place to sleep.
It’s terrible because I don’t have time to go home and shower.’
Occasionally he’ll treat himself to forty winks on a conference room couch, prompting fan Ben Sullins to launch a crowdfunding crusade to buy his hero a new couch.
‘Wow, thanks for the couch!’ a presumably bleary-eyed Musk tweeted in appreciation. Sullins needn’t have worried, as this workaholic is no stranger to a night at the office. Back in the day, when founding his first company Zip2 with brother Kimbal, the Musks didn’t have the money for both an office and an apartment. So they slept at the office.
‘We showered at the YMCA and we were so hard-up that we only had one computer,’ Musk recalled in 2014.
“The website was up to during the day and I was coding it at night, seven days a week, all the time.”
It’s reasonable enough to wonder how on earth, without an office, he manages such awesome productivity.
For a start, he avoids phone calls if at all possible, preferring email or text on his phone. He uses a jealously-guarded secret email address to dodge tiresome spam.
He loathes corporate jargon, believing offices and phony office-speak are detrimental to meaningful productivity and progress. It’s said he parcels or ‘batches’ tasks into five-minute chunks. And while his public profile might lead you to believe he’s never out of the news he says he prefers to duck such things.
’80% of my time is on engineering/design,’ he’s tweeted. ‘And just 20% on other stuff.
‘I don’t spend my time pontificating about high-concept things; I spend my time-solving engineering and manufacturing problems.’
He often skips breakfast and favors wolfing down a quick lunch in meetings. He once had quite the caffeine dependency, but wisely weaned himself off some eight daily cans of Diet Coke, with strong coffee chasers. ‘I got so freaking jacked,’ he remembers, ‘I seriously started to feel like I was losing my peripheral vision.’
Still, fundamentally Elon Musk’s secret to getting things done without an office is plain old-fashioned graft. Back in 2010, he put it thus:
‘Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week…‘If other people are putting in 40-hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100-hour workweeks, even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.’
At this point, you might wonder how he remains so unruffled and carefree.
Truth is, he’s a nervous wreck. ‘I’m definitely under stress, so if I seem like I’m not under stress, then I’m gonna be clear, I’m definitely under stress.’
But that’s just the nature of saving the world, it seems. Or as the man himself puts it:
‘Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.’
What do you think?
Is ditching traditional office structures the secret to getting things done?
Let us know in the comments.