Tesla employees describe what it's like to work in the gigantic Gigafactory

TeslaTesla’s Gigafactory, in Reno, Nevada, spans nearly 2 million square feet.
  • The Gigafactory is where Tesla’s batteries and drive units are made. It’s also where Tesla manufactures its at-home batteries, called Powerwalls, for its solar-energy business.
  • The enormousness of the place is an integral part of its culture. A half-dozen employees told Business Insider that working there could be gruelling and frustrating but also challenging and rewarding.
  • Things at Tesla’s Gigafactory can change at a moment’s notice – even your job, if that’s what Tesla needs.
  • We spoke with 42 Tesla employees about what it’s really like to work for one of the world’s most ambitious companies. In a word: intense.

Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory is just two years old, but its importance to the company cannot be overstated.

The Gigafactory is where the batteries and drive units – think electric-vehicle engines – are made before they’re sent to Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, to be put into the cars.

It’s gigantic and spans 4.9 million square feet spread across three floors. Inside, more than 2,500 employees work tirelessly alongside contractors and temps. The facility is big enough to drive through, but only vehicles being used for the production process are allowed on the floor.

Running such a large facility inevitably comes with issues. Several employees told us that bathrooms were frequently busy, and often a mess. One time, a former employee said, the bathroom in the men’s room was so busy that an employee put toilet paper down next to a clogged toilet and defecated right there.

Read the full story: 70-hour weeks and ‘WTF’ emails:

42 employees reveal the frenzy of working at Tesla under the ‘cult’ of Elon Musk

The crowding has extended to the surrounding area. If you’re moving to Nevada for Tesla, the company will put you up in temporary housing or a hotel, such as the Whitney Peak in Reno, for two weeks until you find a place of your own. Doing so has become increasingly difficult since the Gigafactory opened and added thousands of jobs to the area, said a former employee.

“The cheapest house we found was 15 miles away, and we’re paying $US1,200 a month,” one person described. “They have people who are preferring to live in their vehicles or little RVs at the rest stops, and some people sleep in their cars in the Tesla parking lot so they can save money. They had sleep trailers behind the building at one point [but] they had to take them down because too many people were sleeping in them instead of going home.”

The most difficult time to get into the Gigafactory is between 5:30 and 6 in the morning and again from 5:30 to 6 in the evening. That’s when everyone is going to work and a line of cars forms outside the factory gate stretching halfway down Electric Avenue.

Lines can be so long during crunch times that instead of properly scanning badges for entry, workers sometimes just flash them to security. Getting a parking spot is a constant challenge at the Gigafactory, same as it is at Tesla’s main Fremont factory and headquarters.

Sometimes, production is so under the gun that anyone can be drafted to start working the line after a few minutes of training. The jobs aren’t “rocket science,” one former employee said.

“It was on the spot, right then and there,” said one person who told us they were drafted from their regular duties. “It was literally, ‘Here – do this,’ and then, essentially, ‘Stand there for 12 hours and do that.'”

Such drafts can last for days, the person said. The shift was four days on, four days off, three days on, three days off.

Many workers at the Gigafactory said the culture is all about making the production-number goals. This hard work is fine for some employees, people told us.

“I probably work 70 hours a week, and I wouldn’t want to change a thing about it,” George Stewart, a battery production lead, said.

Stewart said he prefers it if the team that he manages “works the extra day and gets to 50 hours a week.” But he said there are no consequences if they don’t.

Although Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, can most frequently be found down at Tesla’s headquarters and car factory in Fremont, he regularly visits the Gigafactory.

As in Fremont, there are employees in Reno who are in awe of him. Some people call this “the cult of Elon.” These people fervently believe Musk is helping to save the world through his work with electric vehicles, solar power, and his other company, SpaceX. To some, every time he visits the factory it’s like the Beatles arrived in New York City in 1964 all over again. To others, a visit from Musk is a time to panic, to ensure that everything is in the correct place and operating to his liking.

But one thing everyone agreed on is that the Gigafactory, like the rest of Tesla, moves fast.

“Be wary that anything can change at a moment’s notice,” said one former employee who got caught up in the last round of layoffs. “And that things promised sometimes don’t happen for quite some time, or just don’t happen at all.”

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