Two trends touching upon employee productivity are clearly on the mind of at least one CEO. First, remote work has made it easier for more employees to secretly hold multiple full-time jobs, or be “overemployed.” Second, A.I. tools such as ChatGPT and GPT-4 can dramatically boost how much workers can accomplish in a day, fueling the former fear even further: Maybe remote workers are using them to perform multiple jobs, or simply freeing up time a company could be utilizing.
In a video address to employees that leaked online, James Clarke, the CEO of Clearlink, a Utah-based digital marketing firm, explained why he feels workers need to return to the office. Among his comments:
“Some of our developers could be working for two different companies. We don’t know. We hope that’s not the case, but we don’t know. Many content writers today are now exclusively using A.I. to write. I can do that in about 30 minutes of an eight-hour workday. So what do we need to do? Let’s put out 30 to 50 times our normal production.”
He could have a point. Ethan Mollick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school, recently ran an experiment to see what A.I. tools could accomplish when given a business project and 30 minutes. He described the results as “superhuman,” adding he would have needed a team and “maybe days of work” to accomplish the same thing.
Earlier this month, Clarke reportedly sent a memo stating that employees who live within 50 miles of the company’s new headquarters near Salt Lake City must start working in the office four days a week, beginning April 17.
In the video clip, Clarke praised an employee for getting rid of her pet to meet the in-office mandate. He also suggested many of the company’s remote workers were not “working hard at all,” claiming some had “quietly quit but are taking a paycheck.”
Clarke is not alone in issuing a return-to-office mandate or adopting a tougher tone with workers.
MillerKnoll CEO Andi Owen awoke to an onslaught of backlash this week after an outburst in which she told staff worried about bonuses to “leave pity city” was recorded and shared online.
And of course, Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk told employees last July that “remote work is no longer acceptable” and remote workers “should pretend to work somewhere else.”
Throughout this year, with the pandemic well in the rearview mirror, many CEOs have been demanding that workers who’d grown accustomed to remote work spend more time in the office, among them Bob Iger at Disney, Robert Thomson at News Corp, and Howard Schultz at Starbucks.
But those CEOs, in their memos to workers, didn’t express concerns about employees doing multiple jobs, or suggest that A.I. was creating underutilized free time. That makes Clarke’s statements particularly interesting. Time will tell if more bosses cite similar reasons for workers to return to the office.
Clearlink, asked by Fortune about the clip, responded:
“To help achieve our collective goals, Clearlink recently announced a return to office of four days a week for the majority of our Utah-based employees. We look forward to having these team members join us at our new world-class global headquarters in Draper, Utah, and appreciate the efforts of all of our committed team members—which includes those who work in office and those who will continue to work remotely—as we accomplish our best work together.”