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Mark Zuckerberg: Remote work is the future of Facebook

Even as the company reopens offices, it's only going to operate them at about 25% capacity for the foreseeable future.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg said he wants Facebook to be "the most forward-leaning company on remote work, at our scale for sure."

Photo: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 95% of Facebook employees are working from home. On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg said that setup will be permanent for many of them.

In a live-streamed version of Facebook's weekly staff meeting, Zuckerberg told his team that even as the company starts to reopen offices, it's only going to operate them at about 25% capacity for the foreseeable future. And rather than try to force a return to normalcy, Zuckerberg said he wants Facebook to be "the most forward-leaning company on remote work, at our scale for sure."

Because COVID-19 is likely to be an issue for a long time, Zuckerberg told his team, there's no obligation to make sweeping changes immediately. But he made clear that Facebook is about to become a different kind of company. "This is fundamentally about changing our culture in the way we're going to work long term," he said.

The company's first step, he said, will be to immediately ramp up remote hiring, particularly for senior engineering roles in the U.S. and Canada, and to ease more existing staffers into permanently remote roles. "I think it's quite possible that over the next five to 10 years, about 50% of our people could be working remotely," he said.

He said that's not a goal or target, but simply reflects the trend. For now, Facebook is looking particularly for people within a 4-hour drive of an existing company hub, Zuckerberg said, and hopes to create mini-hubs of remote workers to build in-person communities even where there's no official office. The first of those hubs? Atlanta, Dallas and Denver.

While he cautioned repeatedly that this will be a huge change in how people work, Zuckerberg cited a few upsides to a more remote team. The company will be able to hire people who would never move to a big city to be close to a Facebook office and can retain people who move away for personal reasons. There are environmental upsides, too, with fewer people commuting.

As part of the change, Facebook announced some new products designed to facilitate remote work. It's bringing more video tools to Portal devices and adding video chat and video rooms to its Workplace feature, which Zuckerberg said now has 5 million paying users — up from 3 million in October. (Those numbers pale next to Microsoft, Slack and others, but are a sign Workplace is growing quickly.)

Zuckerberg also said in the meeting that Facebook is planning a series of hackathons for people to build internal tools for remote work, because all the necessary tools don't exist yet.

Facebook's not the only company to announce a shift to remote-first work — Twitter, Square, Shopify and others have done so in recent weeks. But with more than 40,000 employees, it's the largest tech company yet to begin this journey. For years, Facebook has been one of the most competitive, highest-paying employers in Silicon Valley, and its moves will likely prompt many others to follow.

But Facebook's shift alone could cause big ripples around the Bay Area. A company survey of its employees over the last few weeks found that if given the option, somewhere between 20% and 40% would choose to work remotely full time. Of those, up to 75% said they were thinking about moving, not only to new cities but even to new countries.

Starting soon, anyone at Facebook who meets four criteria will be able to apply to work from home full time. They'll need to be experienced, relatively senior employees; they'll need to have high ratings on recent performance reviews; they'll need to be on a team that supports remote work; and they'll need to have their group leader's approval.

At first, Zuckerberg said, remote work is for Facebook's best — for others, it might be too much of a change. Salaries will depend on where people live, Zuckerberg said, and may be adjusted even for existing employees.

There are plenty of open questions for Facebook. One big one: Is all-remote work better than a hybrid of in-office and remote? As some employees go back to the office, Zuckerberg said, the company will face a challenge in sorting out schedules and meeting rules, as well as ensuring that macro-level initiatives like employee growth and career development are shaped so that everyone gets the same opportunities, no matter where they are. It's still not even clear how offices themselves will work, Zuckerberg said, though he's committed to keeping the company's physical footprint going forward.

A central question is how to train employees, particularly young ones. Initially, Zuckerberg said, Facebook will still do training in its offices before figuring out what remote work looks like for new employees.

And what will this all cost? How much might it save both Facebook and its employees? That's hard to say. "A lot of people feel like this hasn't really been a big cost-savings," Zuckerberg said. Companies with remote workforces have told him that supporting employees with remote-work tools and increased travel requirements can offset other savings.

Zuckerberg stressed that these transformations won't happen all at once — and don't have to. And he said he's working hard to make sure Facebook doesn't lose the culture it built over nearly two decades. But, he said, this is clearly the way forward.

"We're not doing this because this is a thing that employees have asked for," Zuckerberg said. "We're here to serve the world, and to serve our community, and to try and unlock as much innovation as possible." Going forward at Facebook, that means beginning to leave the office behind.

Before he could finish the staff meeting, Zuckerberg's livestream cut out. It appeared he was right: The tools are getting good, but they're not there yet.

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