Facebook is the latest tech giant to broaden its telecommuting policies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In a livestreamed employee townhall Thursday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company plans to “aggressively” ramp up hiring for remote workers and begin taking applications for permanent remote work among its existing 48,000 employees.
According to Zuck, an internal company survey found that 40 per cent of Facebook’s employees were interested in working remotely indefinitely. Within the next five to 10 years, Facebook aims to have half of the company working remotely full-time, he said in a Verge interview.
“We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale,” he told the Verge. He added that Facebook will open up permanent remote work positions for existing employees “in a measured way” later this year, prioritising experienced workers and particularly senior engineers. However, several departments, such as hardware development, sales and recruiting, and Facebook’s notoriously beleaguered content moderators, will remain onsite due to the nature of their work.
This shift to telecommuting marks a stark departure for Facebook, which, until recently, offered bonuses up to $US15,000 ($22,828) for employees to relocate closer to its Menlo Park headquarters to help offset the Bay Area’s proliferating living costs. The news comes with an important caveat, though, in that employees who opt to move to less expensive areas will face pay cuts to reflect their new cost of living.
“That means if you live in a location where the cost of living is dramatically lower, or the cost of labour is lower, then salaries do tend to be somewhat lower in those places,” Zuckerberg said.
Earlier this week, several tech companies including Twitter and Shopify announced they’ll allow most employees to work remotely even after offices reopen. Currently, 95 per cent of Facebook employees are working from home, Zuckerberg said, though the company plans to begin reopening offices with added health precautions in July. These include mandatory mask and temperature checks, and occupancy will be limited to 25 per cent of normal capacity.
While this newfound embrace of telecommuting undoubtedly opens up opportunities for folks who may lack the finances or ability to relocate to one of America’s tech hubs, Facebook stands to gain as well. To help this influx of permanent remote workers collaborate effectively, Zuckerberg said the company plans to accelerate development on next-generation communication tools, particularly ones that employ virtual reality and augmented reality technology.
“The other thing is that I think it will help us advance some of the future technology we’re working on around remote presence, because we’re just going to be using it constantly ourselves,” he told the Verge. “Right now, VR and AR is a large group within the company, but it’s still somewhat disconnected from the work that most employees are doing on a day-to-day basis. And I think that this could change that sooner.”
Which, in a sense, has always been Facebook’s endgame: to move all our IRL interaction online. Though previously it’s relied more on throwing oodles of cash at popular online services or absorbing successful features from its competitors to secure a recurring userbase.
And of course, there’s also the obvious savings of a reduced real estate footprint, less office space to pay for, fewer bodies in seats, fewer people endlessly glugging coffee, etc. Though Zuckerberg said he expects that’ll be offset by the company’s new emphasis on regular “onsites” where remote employees are invited to campus gatherings on Facebook’s dime.