Facebook will become much friendlier to remote work, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a live broadcast Thursday to employees that was shared publicly.
"We are going to be the most advanced remote working company on our scale," said Zuckerberg. "I think it is very possible that in the next five to 10 years, about 50 percent of our people may be working remotely."
Right now, of course, more than 50 percent of Facebook employees are working from home due to the pandemic. The company has told workers that they will be able to work remotely until the end of 2020. But even after the COVID-19 threat subsides, Facebook will accept more remote workers than it was before the pandemic.
In practical terms, this means two major changes in corporate policy. One is that many new Facebook jobs will be open to people living anywhere in the US. Although Zuckerberg says Facebook will focus its recruiting efforts on particular geographic areas.
Facebook will work to build three new talent "hubs,quot; in Atlanta, Dallas and Denver. Facebook won't necessarily set up offices there, at least not right away. But according to Zuckerberg, Facebook plans to "focus the recruiting energy,quot; on those cities in an effort to "reach hundreds of engineers,quot; at each location. He hopes that will allow for the development of local communities that help further recruitment.
Facebook will also seek to recruit more people whose homes are less than a four-hour drive from Facebook's existing engineering offices in Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York and elsewhere.
"Basically we will adjust the salary,quot;
The other Facebook change in corporate policy is that some Facebook employees, those with long seniority and strong performance reviews, will be eligible to apply for remote job status and move to another metro area. They can do this to be closer to family or to move to a city with a lower cost of living. But this option comes with a catch.
"Our policy here has been for years, that is, that (compensation) varies by location," said Zuckerberg. "We pay a market rate, and that varies by location. We are going to continue that principle here."
In other words, a Bay Area engineer who chooses to move to Omaha or Birmingham would receive a cut in wages.
Zuckerberg did not elaborate on the size of the cut. Theoretically, it could be small enough that moving to a lower cost area would still improve a worker's standard of living.
And not everyone will be eligible to become a remote worker. Lawyers who have to appear regularly in court, for example, will not be able to relocate. Neither do moderators who have to deal with graphic or disturbing content. Zuckerberg says they will need to stay on site in order for them to get mental health support.
Right now, in the midst of the pandemic, Facebook is giving employees broad freedom about where they work. But on January 1, Zuckerberg said, "We are going to need everyone to tell us where he is working from now." He added that "basically we will adjust the salary to your location at that time."
Zuckerberg says Facebook "will mostly depend on the honor code for this," but not entirely. Facebook will verify IP addresses to help detect people lying about where they live.
"Unfortunately there will have to be serious consequences for people who are not honest about this," said Zuckerberg. One reason for that, he said, is that Facebook needs to know where its employees live for tax purposes.
Remote control friendly policies could have drawbacks
Allowing people to work remotely has obvious benefits. Employees gain more flexibility to live close to friends and family. Facebook can expand your talent pool to include people who are unwilling or unable to move to a big city.
But Zuckerberg also recognized that switching to remote work could have some significant downsides. Facebook recently surveyed its employees to assess how they felt working from home during the pandemic.
"While most people say individual productivity is at least as high, if not more, than before, people report a less sense of alignment," said Zuckerberg. "That is less ability to build social ties and connections, to build culture. It is more difficult to have group creativity, things like whiteboard, more fluid conversations."
"It is unclear at this time how much we are withdrawing from existing bonds that were built prior to this COVID period that have the potential to fray or break over time," he added.
The death of the distance could be exaggerated, again
During the 1990s and early 2000s, many people predicted that the Internet would cause "death from a distance." People thought that as communication tools improved, people could work from anywhere, and as a result, economic activity would become less concentrated in urban centers.
Instead, during the years 2000 and 2010, the opposite occurred. Well-paying jobs were increasingly concentrated in a handful of large cities, raising property values to astronomical levels.
The internet seems to have played a role in this. In various industries, the Internet helped transform regional markets into national or global ones. The companies that came to dominate these markets ended up concentrating on particular cities: San Francisco for software, New York for banking, etc.
But although the Internet has facilitated long-distance communication, it has not achieved parity with in-person interactions. Face-to-face meetings still tend to be more productive than video chats. You'll get better industry gossip from a friend about drinks than ever in a Slack conversation.
That's why Mark Zuckerberg moved from Cambridge to Silicon Valley 16 years ago to start Facebook, instead of trying to do it in Massachusetts (where he was in college), New York State (where his parents lived), or somewhere. with a low cost. And that's why Facebook insisted that most of its early engineers also move to Silicon Valley. Their possible Make the software work remotely, but some teams tend to do their best work when they're all in the same room, and when they regularly rub shoulders with smart engineers from other tech companies.
The housing situation in Silicon Valley has become unsustainable
Facebook, Google, Apple, and other tech giants collectively needed hundreds of thousands of engineers. Those engineers, in turn, have been competing for homes in the Bay Area that continue to be in short supply as the technology boom continues. Even with Facebook's generous salaries, it's hard for Facebook workers to have a house big enough to comfortably raise a family.
So, something had to give if Facebook wanted its engineers to make their careers at the company. An expanded remote work program may be just what the company needs. Facebook is not a shaky start. It is a great company with a deeply rooted product. You probably don't need the same level of fast iteration that allowed Facebook to conquer the social media market in the first place.
But you need to retain a large number of talented and experienced engineers for decades to come. Allowing some of them to move to Dallas or Des Moines while continuing to work for Facebook remotely helps them do so.
But I am skeptical that this represents permanent change in the broader American economy. COVID-19 will not be forever. When the pandemic ends, the professional and business advantages of face-to-face meetings, and therefore, of living in a dynamic urban center, will be as strong as ever. Facebook may not need those creative forces as much as it did a decade ago. But the next generation of creative entrepreneurs and professionals probably will.
And even within Facebook, the most ambitious engineers and managers probably want to be in Menlo Park so they can be close to top management. In an ideal world, physical proximity would not matter; Zuckerberg says Facebook will try to organize the company so that remote workers are not disadvantaged. But the only way to make it happen in practice could be for Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives to relocate outside the San Francisco Bay Area.