Working from home forever: Facebook to begin remote hiring

The only catch is some current Facebook employees may earn less depending on where they choose to live.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said the company plans to 'aggressively open up remote hiring' starting immediately with the United States [File: Bloomberg]

Facebook Inc. plans to hire more remote workers in areas where the company doesn’t have an office, and let some current employees work from home permanently if they’d like to.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said the company plans to “aggressively open up remote hiring” starting immediately with the U.S., particularly for engineering talent. Based on internal employee surveys, he believes remote workers could make up as much as 50% of Facebook’s workforce in the next five to 10 years.

“We and a lot of other folks were very worried that productivity was going to really fall off a cliff,” Zuckerberg said in an interview. “It just hasn’t. We are at least as productive as we were before, and some people report being even more productive.”

The social network, which closed its Menlo Park, California, offices in early March due to the coronavirus outbreak, has already told employees that they can work from home through the end of the year. Zuckerberg shared the remote hiring plans with workers Thursday. Facebook had more than 48,000 global staff at the end of March.

“The vast majority of people at the company are working remotely anyway, so constraining ourselves to only hiring people who live near an office that’s not open anyways isn’t really that efficient,” he added.

Facebook is the latest, and largest, tech company to announce a full or partial move to more permanent remote work amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Twitter Inc. and Square Inc., both run by CEO Jack Dorsey, have announced that their employees can work from home permanently if they’d like. Canadian e-commerce company Shopify Inc. said this week it will allow its 5,000 staff to work from home indefinitely.

It’s a trend that could drastically change Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, which has for decades been the mecca for high-paying technology jobs. Many of the world’s most valuable companies, including Facebook, Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are headquartered just south of San Francisco, which has made the surrounding area one of the wealthiest and most expensive in the world.

Facebook employees who wish to work remotely, and are approved to do so, will be paid based on their new location, Zuckerberg added. That means employees who move to areas with a lower cost of living than the Bay Area would likely take a pay cut. Employees currently working remotely who want to extend their remote work plans beyond the end of this year will need to alert Facebook for tax and payroll reasons.

“We’ll localize everybody’s comp on January 1,” he said. “They can do whatever they want through the rest of the year, but by the end of the year they should either come back to the Bay Area or they need to tell us where they are.”

Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California may soon have substantially less employees reporting to work [File: Bloomberg] 

Zuckerberg said his decisions aren’t driven by employee demand, but there are a number of other benefits to remote hiring. This will extend the “talent pool” of people Facebook can hire, he said, and could help Facebook increase the diversity of its workforce, both racially and ethnically, but also ideologically.

There is also a potential environmental benefit, Zuckerberg said, pointing out that pollution and emissions have dipped as people have stopped traveling. “I’d rather have our employees teleporting to work with VR or video chat than sitting in a commute and kind of poisoning the atmosphere,” he said.

There could be product advantages, too. Facebook’s mission is to create products that help people feel closer even when they are physically apart, Zuckerberg said. This would give the company a chance to put its own products to the test and “eat our own dog food,” he added.

There are still some unknowns. Zuckerberg believes a change like this could impact some of what he calls “the softer stuff,” like social connections, group brainstorming and creativity. Companies like Facebook and Google have changed work culture by offering employees never-ending perks, like free food, shuttles to work and even laundry. Those elements of work cultures will undoubtedly be affected.

“We don’t know yet how much we are drafting off of culture, relationships, strategy and direction that have been developed up until this point. We’re kind of just gliding forward,” he said. “We don’t know how hard it’s going to be to evolve.”

Zuckerberg said the Covid outbreak and current plan to increase remote workers won’t change the company’s real estate ambitions – at least not in the short term. Facebook has been expanding its sprawling headquarters for years, and has other plans to expand East across the San Francisco Bay to Fremont. Facebook has also embarked on a major push in New York, where it last year signed a lease for more than 1.5 million square feet of space in the Hudson Yards development. The company had planned to start moving employees into the space this year.

When some employees do return to work following the July 4 holiday, Facebook plans to keep office capacity at just 25%, so will need as much room as possible. “If anything we just don’t have enough office space,” Zuckerberg said.

The virus “is going to be with us for a while, so we really need to get good at this,” Zuckerberg added. “I just don’t think there’s going to be a single day where it’s like, ‘OK, Covid is done.'”

Source: Bloomberg