Facebook Starts Planning for Permanent Remote Work from Home

OAKLAND, Calif. — Facebook said on Thursday that it would allow many employees to work from home permanently. But there’s a catch: They may not be able to keep their big Silicon Valley salaries in more affordable parts of the country.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, told workers during a staff meeting that was livestreamed on his Facebook page that within a decade as many as half of the company’s more than 48,000 employees would work from home.

“It’s clear that Covid has changed a lot about our lives, and that certainly includes the way that most of us work,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “Coming out of this period, I expect that remote work is going to be a growing trend as well.”

Facebook’s decision, the first among tech’s biggest companies, is a stark change for a business culture built around getting workers into giant offices and keeping them there. Using free shuttle buses, free cafeterias and personal services like dry cleaning, tech companies have done as much as possible over the years to give employees little reason to go home, let alone avoid the office.

If other giant companies follow suit, tech employment could start to shift away from expensive hubs like Silicon Valley, Seattle and New York. The option to work from home could also provide more reason for tech workers who complain that their enviable salaries still aren’t enough to buy a home in San Francisco or San Jose to consider settling in other parts of the country.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s announcement followed similar decisions at Twitter and the payments company Square, both led by Jack Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey said last week that employees at his companies would be allowed to work from home indefinitely. At Google, employees have been told they can work from home through the end of the year, but the company has not made any indications about permanent plans.

There are signs that remote work is popular among technologists. After Mr. Dorsey’s announcement, Google searches for “Twitter jobs” spiked, according to Google Trends.

Aaron Levie, the chief executive of the business technology company Box, wrote on Twitter that “the push happening around remote work is as game-changing for the future of tech as the launch of the iPhone” more than a decade ago.

Tech executives have long believed that person-to-person communication was a big part of the creativity that went into generating popular products. They built giant campuses that reflected that belief, from the ornate offices of Apple, Google and Facebook in Silicon Valley to the new Amazon headquarters in Seattle.

Still, the biggest tech companies were trying to expand beyond their main offices before the pandemic, as an older generation of companies like Intel had done. Amazon, for example, intends to open a second headquarters in Virginia. The coronavirus pandemic could accelerate those plans.

“Before the virus happened, a lot of the discussion about the tech sector was about how to bring people to work sites and create affordable housing,” said Robert Silverman, a professor of urban and regional planning at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “This is kind of a natural progression.”

An employee exodus from the biggest urban tech hubs, combined with layoffs, could have dramatic local impacts. Housing costs in the Bay Area, for example, have fallen since the pandemic began, according to the rental firm Zumper. Rents in San Francisco fell 7 percent in April, and were down 15 percent in Menlo Park, Facebook’s home.

Mr. Zuckerberg long worried that employees who worked remotely would lose productivity. Facebook once provided cash bonuses to employees who lived within 10 miles of its headquarters. In 2018, Facebook expanded its main campus with elaborate new offices designed by the star architect Frank Gehry, including a 3.6-acre roof garden with more than 200 trees.

Just last year, Facebook started moving into a 43-story office tower that it had leased in San Francisco, and the company is still reportedly in talks for a significant office expansion in New York, as well.

In March, the coronavirus lockdown forced companies to send employees home. Many tech companies, including Facebook, emptied their offices before local shelter-in-place orders.

Now, more than two months later, executives are discovering that their remote workers performed better than expected. Mr. Zuckerberg said employees remained focused even though they were working from home.

Facebook will begin by allowing new hires who are senior engineers to work remotely, and then allow current employees to apply for permission to work from home if they have positive performance reviews.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 20, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $ 40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $ 100,000, a Fed official said.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

Starting in January, Facebook’s employee compensation will be adjusted based on the cost of living in the locations where workers choose to live. Facebook will make sure employees are honest about their location by checking where they log in to internal systems from, he said.

Mr. Zuckerberg said the shift could offer more benefits than inconveniences for the company. Allowing remote work will allow Facebook to broaden its recruitment, retain valuable employees, reduce the climate impact caused by commutes and expand the diversity of its work force, Mr. Zuckerberg said.

So far, Facebook, Square and Twitter are being far more aggressive than their counterparts in the industry. Their work is mostly done in software code, which can be handled remotely.

At Apple, on the other hand, many employees are hardware engineers who need to be in the company’s lab, particularly because of the company’s secrecy around its products. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said in April that the company’s main office in Silicon Valley would be closed until at least June and has not updated that timeline.

Start-ups could also find it difficult to manage a remote work force. Allowing workers to live in the Midwest could keep costs down, but Silicon Valley has a giant talent pool from which start-ups draw their workers. Also, many venture capitalists, mostly based in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, expect the companies they invest in to be based nearby.

At Los Angeles-based Snap, the maker of Snapchat, employees are allowed to work at home through September. Evan Spiegel, Snap’s chief executive, said in an interview that he was reassessing the situation regularly and considering guidance from health authorities about when to reopen.

“People want certainty, and there’s a huge amount of pressure as a leader to make definitive statements,” Mr. Spiegel said on Wednesday. “I think it’s important that we remain flexible in a situation that is changing rapidly.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

NYT > Technology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *