With a deadline looming for Twitter employees to either sign a pledge to work extra hours or request severance, Elon Musk eased a return-to-work mandate he’d issued a week ago, telling employees Thursday they’ll be allowed to work remotely if their managers assert they are making “an excellent contribution.”
Musk’s initial return-to-work order has been a source of tension since it was issued on Nov. 9. That email told employees they were expected back at their desks the next day. At a follow-up staff meeting on Nov. 10, Musk said that “exceptional” employees could continue to work from home, as many have since the pandemic began. But the return-to-work order remained a source of grumbling for Twitter staff who’d remained at the company after Musk ordered layoffs Nov. 4 that eliminated approximately half of Twitter’s jobs.
There was no word on why Musk revised his back to work order now. But one Twitter staff member said the numbers of employees seeking to leave had alarmed Twitter’s managers, who had formed “war rooms” to determine which employees should be asked to stay on.
Resignations and departures were already taking a toll on Twitter’s service, employees said. “Breakages are already happening slowly and accumulating. If you want to export your Tweets, do it now.”
Recent departures have left multiple critical systems down to two, one, or even zero engineers, according to a former employee, familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
Hate speech and other abuse was also likely to spike, employees said. Most of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Policy team was expected to resign, consisting of up to 40 people.
The easing of the return-to-work order is the latest change in Musk’s initial decisions regarding Twitter. Musk also has halted one of his initiatives that imposed an $8 monthly subscription fees on accounts labeled with Twitter’s blue checkmark.
Musk is facing pressure to push up the value of Twitter — which some analysts have said was actually worth about half of what he paid. Twitter is also expected to owe roughly $1 billion in annual interest — on top of recouping the investments of Musk’s many equity partners.
Musk has said he wants to increase the platform’s ability to make money, focusing on ways to drive revenue and slashing costs. Musk, who is also CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, is known for his companies’ hard-charging cultures and has famously described spending nights in a sleeping bag on the factory floor.
On Wednesday, Musk took the stand in Delaware Chancery Court in a trial over a shareholder lawsuit stemming from a compensation package he received as Tesla CEO. He also defended some of his actions at Twitter, including bringing in Tesla engineers to evaluate Twitter’s engineering staff.
Musk said in a Wednesday email outlining the severance offer that Twitter would be more of an engineering-focused operation going forward — and while the design and product management areas would still be important and report to him, he said, “those writing great code will constitute the majority of our team and have the greatest sway.”
“Wow, this is a lot of people saying goodbye,” one current employee said Thursday, referring to internal posts on the company’s Slack channels. Musk had set a 5 p.m. deadline Eastern time for staff to sign the pledge to work harder or leave with severance.
Nitasha Tiku and Faiz Siddiqui contributed.