As thousands of companies in the United States try to figure out their plans to reopen their offices, Facebook announced a drastic shift: a large portion of its workforce can work from home forever.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a livestream on his personal page on Thursday that he suspects as many as 50 percent of the company’s 45,000 employees will be able to work remotely over the next five to 10 years. While Zuckerberg warned that the number is not necessarily a target, it is a tangible estimate by the leader of one of the world’s most important companies about the future of work, affecting not only his business but also the standards for post-pandemic office workers as a whole. The move comes shortly after Facebook’s rival Twitter announced that it will permanently remotely operate its entire workforce, along with other technology companies such as Shopify and Coinbase.
“The reality is that I don’t think it will be that we will wake up one day on January 1 and no one has to worry about this anymore,” said Zuckerberg in the live stream of the lasting impact of Covid-19 on office workers . Zuckerberg went on to explain the immediate and gradual shifts the company will make in managing and hiring new employees.
In the short term, as Facebook begins to reopen its offices (at this time, it said that 95 percent of employees will work from home and will do so until at least January 1, 2021), the company will be in its buildings with a capacity of 25 percent work. As of now, some Facebook employees can request to work from home permanently. The first group of employees who will be able to do this are senior level employees with a history of strong performance appraisals. According to an internal survey conducted by the company, 40 to 60 percent of employees are interested. And half of the company said they were at least as productive as before, even when working from home.
The company will also start ‘aggressively’ hiring outside workers because they won’t be as tied to physical office space – especially for high-level staff who don’t need as much personal training or career development. Rather than focusing solely on hiring technology in the actual Silicon Valley capital, the company will focus more on other metro regions such as Atlanta, Dallas and Denver. And it’s rethinking how it can bring new benefits to its outside employees, as some of the old benefits, like free gourmet cafeteria food on site, don’t make much sense. Instead, remote workers may need better laptops and monitors, stronger Internet connections, and audio and visual live streaming equipment.
“I think we will be the most progressive teleworking company on our scale,” said Zuckerberg.
The technology giant’s CEO outlined an optimistic vision of an increasingly distant future, saying the company will increase the diversity of its workforce by recruiting outside of the usual tech hubs of San Francisco and other major cities.
“Enabling remote work will be very positive in this area toward creating wider economic prosperity,” said Zuckerberg.
However, it is unclear how a significant portion of Facebook’s staff – including the outside contractors such as content moderators, security guards and cafeteria workers – will be affected by this remote future as many of their jobs are more physically connected to the office.
And there are also some challenges for Facebook’s direct employees. Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company is aware of the concern that remote work might give a disproportionate share of housework to women. He said that about the same percentage of women and men in an internal survey said they prefer to work from home. And he said many employees still crave personal time with their colleagues, with more than half of the employees surveyed saying they want to get back to full-time work in the office as soon as possible.
Facebook said many of its employees will follow a ‘hybrid’ model of remote and personal office work – entering for on-site training, critical meetings and on-site events that create culture.
And while many Facebook employees are motivated to move out of expensive areas like San Francisco if they are no longer forced to work in a nearby physical office, they may end up getting a pay cut as salaries are adjusted for local costs of livelihood.
Zuckerberg said that cost savings are not the reason for the changes. He said the company may hire more people to manage remote work, which could offset the cost savings to get more people to work in fancy buildings.
“It is really unknown what the economy will look like or how much it will cost,” Zuckerberg said. “It is possible that if this is done efficiently, it is possible to save some capital, but I don’t think this is the main reason why this should happen.”
Ultimately, no one, including Mark Zuckerberg, knows exactly what the future of the office will look like after the pandemic. But today’s announcement is another sign that our shift to working from home will not be temporary for a significant portion of the U.S. workforce. The technology sector is spearheading these changes, and it will be interesting to see how Silicon Valley, which is already impacting, is setting the standard for a post-pandemic office future.