Facebook says it will permanently shift tens of thousands of jobs to remote work

Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

In a move that illustrates how swiftly the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the global economy, Facebook said today that it would eventually begin allowing most of its employees to request a permanent change in their jobs to let them work remotely. The company will begin today by making most of its US job openings eligible for remote hires and begin taking applications for permanent remote work among its workforce later this year.

“We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview with The Verge. “We need to do this in a way that’s thoughtful and responsible, so we’re going to do this in a measured way. But I think that it’s possible that over the next five to 10 years — maybe closer to 10 than five, but somewhere in that range — I think we could get to about half of the company working remotely permanently.”

Facebook, which has more than 48,000 employees working in 70 offices worldwide, is the largest company yet to move aggressively into remote work in the wake of the pandemic. Twitter announced last week it would give most of its workforce the option of working remotely, and Coinbase followed with a similar announcement on Wednesday. Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke said Thursday that it would immediately begin a shift to permanent remote work. Google CEO Sundar Pichai told The Verge this week that the company is considering additional remote work flexibility beyond letting most employees stay home through the end of the year.

Collectively, the embrace of remote work upends decades of conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley, where the largest companies have been built on the idea of collaboration in close physical proximity. Until recently, Facebook paid new employees a bonus of up to $15,000 if they agreed to live within 10 miles of the office. Now many of them will be able to work wherever they like — although Facebook will reduce the pay of workers who move to less expensive areas.

In the near term, Facebook’s shift to remote work has been borne out of necessity. When the company begins reopening some of its offices July 6th, it plans to reduce occupancy to 25 percent of normal, the company said this week. And the added safety requirements for coming into the office, which include mandatory masks and temperature checks, are likely to keep many workers away for much longer.

But after surveying employees and talking with executives at other companies built on remote employees, Zuckerberg said he became persuaded of the benefits of a more distributed workforce. The move will open up Facebook jobs to a much wider pool of applicants, he said, and could have a positive effect on the environment. (Among other reasons, remote work could enable thousands of Facebook employees to abandon their daily hours-long commutes to and from its headquarters in Menlo Park.)

The move also forces Facebook, which is investing billions in creating next-generation tools for communication, to rely on those tools to get work done. In that sense, the move to remote work represents a high-stakes initiative to get Facebook employees to “dogfood” new products involving augmented reality, virtual reality, the company’s Portal smart display, and its Workplace collaboration tool — and to improve them more rapidly out of necessity, since the company is relying on them to get work done.

“VR and AR is all about giving people remote presence,” Zuckerberg said. “So if you’re you’re long on VR and AR and on video chat, you have to believe in some capacity that you’re helping people be able to do whatever they want from wherever they are. So I think that that suggests a worldview that would lead to allowing people to work more remotely over time.”

But the move also comes with risks. Since March, employees at Facebook and other large tech companies have been working on plans that were set in motion by workers collaborating together on campus. It remains an open question whether companies can be as creative or productive in the long term in environments where they aren’t brainstorming around the same conference table. (Some would say that Facebook has not been particularly creative in recent years, anyway.)

Zuckerberg said he expects to move slowly toward remote work, but would begin by making more of the company’s open roles available to remote workers. Others will likely continue to prefer working at a company office — particularly younger employees, Zuckerberg said.

Another effort to preserve team camaraderie will come from regularly inviting employees onto campus for “onsites,” Zuckerberg said — the on-campus version of the offsite retreats that were common in the business world until the pandemic hit. In fact, he said, travel costs associated with onsite meetings would likely cancel out many of the savings the company might otherwise expect from a reduced real estate footprint.

Still, many questions about the company’s shift to remote work remain. Facebook used to lure new employees with a campus designed by Frank Gehry and lavish perks; what will it offer employees who are working from home? How will a mostly remote workforce affect efforts around diversity and inclusion? How will younger employees find mentorship in a world where they rarely interact with their mentors in person?

Answering some of those questions will mean building new products, Zuckerberg said.

“I think the tools we have today are fairly transactional — that’s a weakness in the ecosystem,” he said. “Email and messaging — these things are designed for exchanging thoughts, but not hanging out in. It’s almost like what you really want is to have a team just spend unstructured time together.”

Zuckerberg has shifted from inviting top managers over for monthly dinners at his house to hanging out using the company’s new Rooms product, he said. He’s also experimenting with holding management meetings in VR.

Assuming that the COVID-19 risk eventually subsides, Zuckerberg plans to make at least a partial return to the office. The role of CEO has historically required travel and in-person meetings that might not be possible to do online. But Zuckerberg said that he, too, would likely continue to work from home more than he did before the pandemic.

“I do think I’ll plan to spend more of my time remotely over time,” he said.

Read The Verge’s full interview with Mark Zuckerberg about how he made this decision, what tools he wants to build, and whether he plans to return to the office when the COVID-19 threat subsides.

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Comments

I think Commercial real estate owners and developers are throwing up right now…….

It’s a lot of BS and pie in the sky stuff. They are saying the same thing about education too. It completely discounts human behavior.

Lets circle back this time next year. If/when a vaccine is available, most people will quickly forget the lessons we learned and yearn to be back in the office, at least part of the time.

Full time remote work is not really sustainable for most humans.

In what sense? I can imagine remote work may not be sustainable for many employers, but humans? As someone who has been working from home (with yes, certain challenges but many benefits as well) for years, I don’t know why it would be unsustainable for most humans. Also, working remotely doesn’t even necessarily mean working from home. There is no reason facebook couldn’t create small hubs in low-cost areas with small office footprints to support workers who live close to the offices but don’t necessarily work in them full-time. I’ve never understood why they don’t already do this. You could actually even have full or partial teams working in these locations so you still get some of the benefits of being in the same room without all the downsides of long commutes and expensive locations. You probably could save a lot of money doing it as people would likely be willing to work for less and office expenses would be lower.

First, I am talking specifically about WFH, which is what this article is referring to when it says "remotely". Your scenario of smaller hubs is a possible idea but I honestly don’t think companies want to pay to manage that large a property portfolio (whether in house or paying external property management fees)…not to mention that doesn’t alleviate our current situation.

Some humans (like yourself, apparently) don’t mind missing social interaction at work. Humans, as a species, are social animals. Working in isolation isn’t a sustainable behavior wrt to sanity. There is already a mental health epidemic regarding isolation and depression due to our current move toward online interraction.

I have no idea how the younger generation will feel, but generally speaking I don’t see people willing to work for less. If anything, a move to remote work means that in-demand jobs will be even moreso because companies are competing nation (or world) wide for qualified candidates.

It’s about time the bay area housing market gets killed.

All that means is that the rich will get richer. People with money know what that land is worth and once the prices drop low enough, those people will scoop it up with the confidence that prices will get right back up there.

This shift to remote work in the Tech sector is a giant positive in a lot of ways – especially for the environment and traffic (the latter will directly affect transportation networks and reduce the tax burden). But, it also poses a lot of new challenges such as – reduction in jobs (in automobile, infrastructure sectors), increased demand for widespread and reliable high-speed internet, mental health effects on remote workers, visa and immigration, etc. It’ll be interesting to see how the governments of different countries deal with these issues.

I feel like this whole situation will be used as cover for companies to cut a lot of their overhead expenses that mainly exist to benefit employees. Less investment in physical office space and facilities that make work easier and more comfortable, less compensation for rising living expenses because "you can just move somewhere else that’s more affordable now," an increase in the hiring of overseas employees in regions where its culturally acceptable to pay them less, etc. Of course, this is counterbalanced by taking commuters off the roads and possibly alleviating the housing crisis, but this is very much a give and take. There could be clear winners and losers, and it won’t be pleasant to be one of the losers.

This is completely about cutting costs. It’s cheaper to have them all be remote, but like other things cheaper doesn’t mean better. Also this is a way tp get your employees to work more hours.

The working more hours is absolutely true. I have heard multiple people say they don’t mind it because they aren’t sitting in traffic any more (often a result of their own decision to live farther from work). It’s like they have so much time they don’t know what to do with themselves. Good thing I am well versed in relaxation.

Quoted from Jennifer Senior’s NYT Opinion piece: "Farewell, Office. You Were the Last Boundary Between Work and Home."

"Working from home rather than the office is sort of like shopping on Amazon rather than in a proper bookstore. In a bookstore, you never know what you might find. You can’t even know what you don’t know until you wander down the wrong aisle and stumble across it.

But to me, the best arguments for the office have always been psychological — and never have they felt more urgent than at this moment. I’ll start with a subtle thing: Remote work leaves a terrible feedback vacuum. Communication with colleagues is no longer casual but effortful; no matter how hard you try, you’re going to have less contact — particularly of the casual variety — and with fewer people.

And what do we humans do in the absence of interaction? We invent stories about what that silence means. They are often negative ones. It’s a formula for anxiety, misunderstanding, all-around messiness.

"You need time to develop informal patterns with colleagues, especially if you don’t know them well," Nancy Rothbard, a professor of management at Wharton, told me. She added that power differences also complicate things, and not in a way I found reassuring.

More broadly speaking, even without an office, there will still be office politics. They’re much easier to navigate if you can actually see your colleagues — and therefore discern where the power resides, how business gets done, and who the kind people are."

This is why I am skeptical of this idea that everyone will be working remotely.

Meh, it really depends on what you do. I have worked alone/remotely for years now. I have a family/friends for social interaction, and phone if I need to discuss something with a co-worker. Otherwise I enjoy the silence and especially the lack of commute. It’s like adding 2 hours to my life every day. It’s not perfect, but the positives absolutely outweigh the negatives for me.

As for office politics, they may exist but I can largely steer clear, keep my head down, get my work done and enjoy my life.

I wholeheartedly support a bigger work from home option…but I also see this as yet another way for corporations to take advantage of their employees. In addition to the currently realized issue with little/no separation between office/home life, there is the larger issue of employers forcing their employees to pick up the tab for their lack of real-estate investment. With my wife and I both working from home, we are dedicating individual office space for ourselves which is essentially occupying 2 rooms in our house that we actually really need and paid for to live in. And we are among the lucky ones to even have that much space. Yes there are potential tax advantages out there but they aren’t designed for this sort of sea-change in the way things are done and also, taking advantage of tax write-downs/loopholes isn’t practical for everyone.

Call me cynical, but I don’t see these initiatives as wholly altruistic.

Something for all people to conisder:

Sure, they will adjust compensation and frankly, that seems fine to me. Companies (and employees) have always taken living expenses into account when hiring/accepting jobs. It’s only an issue if they don’t adjust it fairly. It could even benefit employees some, as they may drop out of higher tax brackets and pay less income tax. It all depends on what Facebook does…the devil is in the details.

I think that’s acutally worst in my opinion. Let’s say that an FB worker making 200k lives in Wyoming. That 200k would lead to more downstream effects that would actually benefit the states and the person’s quality of life. That can lead to better outcomes for basically everyone. The fact that FB wants to make people take pay cuts for CoL is dumb. Just pay and get better.

? Every other business works in this way, why shouldn’t Facebook? I’m sure it already does, actually. No doubt those working for Facebook in Silicon Valley already get paid better than those working in markets with lower CoL. Otherwise, they couldn’t survive.

I’m sorry, but Facebook decidedly shouldn’t be considering positive downstream impacts of overpaying employees working remotely. That’s not their job.

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