Tesla’s Return to Work Playbook

Yesterday Tesla published a blog post, “Getting Back to Work,” that emphasized the company’s desire to resume automotive production at its Fremont, California, plant.

The post links to Tesla’s “Return to Work Playbook”, a polished 38-page report on Tesla’s plans for regulation and compliance.

The document is clearly intended for government relations and press purposes, not as a how-to manual for staffing the plant properly. Those documents exist, too, and this playbook shows some examples, but this playbook is for the public, not Tesla staff.

Nonetheless, the playbook serves as a good read for those of us wondering what the near-term future of work will look like, whether in manufacturing or retail or offices.

The main steps include:

The most notable changes to me are the use of PPE, temperature checks, and eliminating large meetings.


There’s quite a bit of emphasis on cleaning and disinfectant. Most of what I’ve read in the news about COVID indicates person-to-person transmissions, not so much person-to-surface-to-person. Cleaning is always welcome, of course, but I wonder how much of an effect rigorous cleaning will have.


“Break/lunch areas — occupancy reduced by removing some chairs and table, posting signage and installing barriers in some areas.”

Temperature Screening

The playbook references both thermal cameras and thermometers. It sounds like the thermal cameras are passive sensors that alert whenever somebody passes by with a temperature. That seems genius, and is also much more invasive than Americans are typically used to in the workplace.


“Ensure common areas are closed (e.g. game areas, gym, bean bags, etc.).”

Fun is about to become a lot less important at work.


“Verify signs promoting carpooling have been removed.”

Beyond Tesla, I wonder if state-regulated HOV lanes will also go away.


“Do not shake hands or engage in any unnecessary physical contact”

We’ve all already stopped shaking hands, but it’s interesting to see a company explicitly prohibit the practice. I assume this will come back eventually, but I wonder how long.


“By entering into our work location, you agree that:

YOU have NOT tested positive or have been tested and are awaiting the results for COVID-19 in the last 14 days [my emphasis]”

I wonder how rigorously this will be followed. This means if the tests ever become widespread enough that you could just take them on-demand, you might not want to take them, lest you get banished from work until you receive a result. Perhaps there is a legal liability issue that drives this.


“All international business-related travel is currently curtailed and requires VP’s approval…Please refrain from booking and staying at alternative or home sharing rentals.”

Further evidence that Airbnb has a tough road ahead.


“Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can cause undue stress, so consider taking a break from it.”

Sound advice, I suppose, but let’s not cross the line into willful ignorance.

Conference Rooms

“Conference Rooms — occupancy is reduced to 1/3 capacity until further notice.”

That probably means that in order to have a 2-person meeting you’ll need a room originally designed for at least six people. That’s going to be hard to come by at most companies (I don’t know about Tesla specifically). I would guess this winds up being a major factor in causing white collar employees to continue to work from home. A meeting with a colleague sitting at the next desk might be easier to arrange via web chat from home, rather than scrounging a six-person conference room in the office and wearing masks.

It’s a brave new world out there.

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