During a Facebook Live video streamed to company employees and the public alike, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday morning, May 21, that the social media company would be expanding its efforts to hire remotely and offer permanent remote work opportunities to some employees.
He had already announced that people who can do their job from home through 2020 should plan to do so, but said Thursday he predicted that within five to 10 years, roughly half of the company's employees could be remote workers.
The shift to permanent remote work would be phased and methodical, he said.
That process would start later this year, with Facebook allowing some experienced employees in departments like engineering and business to switch to permanent full-time remote work, and expanding remote job opportunities to experienced applicants living in locations where Facebook doesn't currently have offices.
Interestingly, he said, experienced employees were far more likely to prefer working remotely than younger workers such as recent college graduates.
Facebook is still committed to retaining its office spaces, Zuckerberg said. But a major question for the company is that COVID-19 will likely be a concern even into 2021, and it's not clear yet how offices will have to adapt to be safe for employees, he said.
Facebook's offices, which have lofty, open-style layouts, could be reduced to about 25% of their usual capacity once they're allowed to reopen, Zuckerberg said.
The gradual switch to remote work at Facebook will mean that, ultimately, many employees won't have to live near the company's Menlo Park headquarters to do their jobs, which could have long-term implications for the city.
Since Facebook moved to Menlo Park in 2011, the city remains on relatively good terms with its hometown corporate giant and has in many instances benefited from donations, partnerships and agreements with Facebook. But the company's explosive growth in town has also triggered growing pains, such as what seemed like unsolvable traffic problems on the city's Bay side, and escalating gentrification pressures as the company's highly paid workers drove up local housing prices in a sorely limited market.
Just the previous day, the city of Menlo Park received updated designs from Facebook and developer Signature Development Group for the company's proposed Willow Village development, an ambitious mixed-use office park proposed as an extension of the company's headquarters, set to include more than 1,700 housing units and a nearly 200-room hotel, plus parks, a grocery store, shops and a visitor's center.
The updated proposal cut the number of workers expected to occupy the new offices by about 2,550 employees, but would still permit about 7,000 new workers, about double the number of employees that worked there before the pandemic struck. That change both presents a response to public calls for the development to provide a better balance the ratio of jobs to housing, and aligns with the possibility that the Facebook of the future could be less reliant on needing an army of employees in Menlo Park than it has in the past.
Zuckerberg also cited an employee survey, which found that while a little more than half of Facebook workers wanted to get back to office work as soon as possible, about 20% to 40% were interested in working remotely permanently. Of those, many said that not having to commute offered them more time to work and more personal time, he said.
In addition, expanding access to employment at Facebook beyond just people who live in, or are willing to live in "a small number of big cities," could create "more broad-based economic prosperity and hopefully a more sustainable, social and political climate," Zuckerberg said.
To date, Facebook has offered workers access to private commuter shuttles to and from Menlo Park throughout the far stretches of the Bay Area, as well as provided employees with free food at work, among many other on-site amenities. Those amenities are provided by an additional workforce, contract workers who provide culinary and security services, among others, at Facebook's offices in Menlo Park. While Facebook has continued to pay contract workers during the COVID-19 crisis who can't do their jobs from home, it's not clear how long those efforts might continue.
Facebook does anticipate bringing people back to the office when it's safe, and continuing to have many people still working out of its offices around the world, including in Menlo Park and the Bay Area, said spokeswoman Chloe Meyere. "We are still growing and expect to have strong communities across our offices, supported by our facilities and culinary staff," she added in an email.
While allowing remote work could cut down on the costs to provide food and other on-site employee perks for the company, the main reason Facebook is considering these measures has less to do with cost-saving measures, Zuckerberg said.
In fact, he said, outfitting workers for full-time remote work has created and will generate different costs, not just for technology but for potentially increased travel costs to allow remote workers occasional on-site training and team building.
In addition, he said, since Facebook is so focused on creating products that enable people to feel connected over long distances, the shift will require employees to use their own products more, which could help improve them.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.