Voices: Finally, Elon Musk has said something we can all agree with

The name Elon Musk isn’t far from the lips (or should that be beaks?) of Twitter users these days. Ever since he took over the Twitterverse, my newsfeed has been ablaze with threats to leave and moans about Mastadon – a potential Twitter alternative.

The good news is that if you aren’t putting your heating on – and who is at the moment? – you can always get yourself toastie from the abundance of Elon Musk-related burns making fun of Mr “Bastion of Free Speech” Musk – who has a tantrum when someone makes a joke about him.

Yes, Elon may be the richest bloke in the world but he also tends to let his mouth say anything – regardless of sense or sometimes even truth. That’s why I was surprised when, this week, his email to staff containing six tips for productivity resurfaced and I realised it wasn’t complete trash. I mean, you’ll need to ignore the bit about following “logic rather than rules”, which is the kind of crap spouted by people who’ve always been wealthy enough to bend or break rules without significant consequence.

Musk hates work meetings. He thinks they’re a waste of time and resources. And this is the one thing I can agree on with the guy whose engaged in conspiracy theories and spreading Covid misinformation.

Apparently, back in 2018, Elon took a break from wearing his tinfoil hat to write a few gems of wisdom for Tesla staff. The six tips from the top keep on boomeranging into the public consciousness, maybe because we’re all so shocked that Musk has said something mildly sensible for a change.

Three of Musk’s tips are related to the futility of meetings:

  • “Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”

  • “Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

  • “Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

Admittedly, the final one does expose (yet more) of Musk’s privilege. Only someone with wealth and power – something Elon’s enjoyed throughout his life – can actually get away with walking out of a meeting without getting a call from HR.

Imagine the conversation: “Look, Janet, I know it was a departmental meeting compulsory for all staff but actually it wasn’t rude of me to leave, it’s rude of you to waste my time… what’s that? Yes… I understand what ‘performance management’ means… and I should consider this discussion a verbal warning? Um… I think we should be following logic not rules right now, Jan.”

But meetings are surely the dementors of the workplace, leeching the energy, motivation, and sometimes the will to live, from staff leaving them knackered, bored and desiccated. Meetings aren’t just joy-killers, their only function is often to maintain organisational hierarchies.

They allow managers to flex power over colleagues. I’ve been in far too many meetings when senior blokes were trying their best to talk over each other. They may as well have saved us all a couple of hours and just compared penis sizes and have done with it. As it was, the cacophony of verbal posturing was migrainous.

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I always remember a colleague stating officiously that they were a “big fan of getting everyone in the same room.” Dear god, I thought, this person’s a menace to society. Getting everyone in the same room is rarely a great idea – not even family members at Christmas – but, even when it is useful for work, it’s best for meetings to be short, infrequent, targeted and small. A bit of meeting hygiene goes a long way to keeping employees happy, I reckon.

One of my former workplaces had three and four hour meetings. What a gargantuan waste of time. Looking around the table at the glazed eyes, while some gobshite humblebragged their way through a presentation, I did wonder about the point of human existence. Surely being subjected to Martin from Estates banging on about the difference between charging cables for half an hour isn’t a good use of time – or indeed life?

Anyway, in my mind, despite his surprisingly sensible guidance on meetings, Elon Musk remains a humourless, over-privileged and obscenely rich megalomaniac – but hey, I’m sure he’s not too concerned about that.

In the meantime, the rest of us will keep schlepping our way to futile, hierarchy-confirming meetings because, frankly, unlike billionaire Elon, we don’t have much of a choice.