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The questions facing Facebook’s WFH future

Image: Original by Damian Zaleski

The questions facing Facebook’s WFH future

Good morning! This Friday, Facebook said remote work is the future, Apple is readying a big podcast push, and Joe Biden's campaign staff is missing a tech advisor.

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People Are Talking

On Protocol: Joe Biden doesn't have a tech advisor, and one campaign veteran said that's a problem:

  • "If you look at Biden's inner circle, Obama and Hillary always had people in their inner circle who were native to tech issues and that hasn't been the case with Biden."

Adobe's principal designer Khoi Vinh tried Google Classroom, and his reflections on it became a takedown of education software (though his original post now appears to have been taken down):

  • "Give a child a physical notebook and by the end of the semester it's sure to be doodled over, colored, pasted on top of or decorated and embellished in some deeply personal way. Yet in Google Classroom, there's no analogous method for a student to customize this interface that they look at for hours each day, no way for a student to make the space their own."

After Magic Leap raised another $350 million, CEO Rony Abovitz told his team there's more to come:

  • "We are making very good progress in our healthcare, enterprise, and defense deals. As these deals close, we will be able to announce them."

The Big Story

Facebook writes the rules on remote work

In a live-streamed version of Facebook's weekly staff meeting on Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg kept talking about being thoughtful, and moving slowly, and making sure everything was measured. And thoughtful. But he also laid out a huge change to how Facebook works, as the company leans into working remotely.

Here's the rundown of the changes happening inside Facebook:

  • Zuckerberg said he expects about half of Facebook employees to be working remotely in the next 5-10 years. (Facebook employs more than 40,000 people and is perpetually growing fast, so that's going to be a big number.)
  • In addition to allowing people to work from anywhere they want, Facebook also hopes to create unofficial "hubs" of remote workers in a number of places — starting with Atlanta, Dallas and Denver.
  • Who's eligible? At first, relatively senior employees with excellent performance reviews. They'll have to apply for permission, and get sign-off from their group leader, before WFH is A-OK.

No one seemed terribly surprised that Facebook is making this move. Twitter, Square, and (as of yesterday) Shopify are among the tech companies that have already announced they're permanently remote-friendly. Many more will do so in the coming months.

But the way Facebook is approaching compensation became the subject of some controversy.

  • Facebook has always based comp on location, Zuckerberg said, and will continue to do so. Employees have until January 1 to tell the company where they plan to live and work, and their pay will change accordingly.
  • What that means is hard to know. Will pay change based on taxes and accounting questions? Or is Facebook going to lower people's salaries based on their relative cost of living? That second idea drives some people crazy.

Lots of tech companies have location-based compensation, of course. But they'll all have to answer the same question: As the office stops being Headquarters and becomes Just Another Place, and working remotely isn't a downside to be overcome but a normal way of life, how do you pay people?

No one knows the right answer! In fact, Zuckerberg acknowledged a lot of other remote-work questions nobody has answers for:

  • How do you train employees, especially younger ones, remotely?
  • How do you ensure diversity and inclusion? (You might remember Facebook's head of D&I told us this has already been a challenge.)
  • How does a hybrid, some-office-some-remote system work?
  • How do you make sure everyone gets the same opportunities, no matter where they are?

These are the questions every company will have to answer, because it's increasingly obvious that "everybody go back to the office!" isn't going to happen. It'll require new systems, new culture, and new tools to make it work.

Facebook's working on that, too. Zuckerberg announced a bunch of new Workplace features, but Andrew Bosworth explained a long-term vision for it after his boss had finished up his livestream:

  • "A world with fewer screens, where commuting means putting on or taking off a headset, and spending less time choosing between work and family. It will empower people to work together in ways that aren't possible today, leading to fresh ideas and new endeavors in entertainment, education, and beyond."

QUARANTINE

The new business of giving you a break

Globe, an app that gives users a much-needed place to escape to that isn't their home (think Airbnb, but for a room rented by the hour), is one of the companies getting a boost from the pandemic. But the Y Combinator startup, which launched in June of last year, had to change completely to make a success of the current situation.

  • "When corona hit, I'll be honest with you, stuff hit the fan," Globe CEO Manny Bamfo told Protocol's Sofie Kodner. "Our business actually initially tanked."
  • "On the supply side, all of our hosts were like, 'Bro, Manny, I'm turning inventory off,'" he added. At the time, most of Globe's hosts were people who rented their homes out while they were at work. In San Francisco, a top market for Globe, Bamfo said the company was down to only 5 or 10 of its listings being available.

Then the admin of a Facebook group for Airbnb hosts reached out, hoping to help recoup lost money from short-notice cancellations. In just one email to that group, Globe signed up 1,500 new hosts.

  • "Before COVID, we actually thought Airbnb inventory was not great inventory," Bamfo told Sofie.
  • Globe sent out sanitization kits to hosts in March, and developed a cleaning checklist in the app. It helped that Globe is an iteration of an earlier startup called Recharge, which was the same idea but for hotel rooms, meant for ride-share drivers between shifts. (We decided not to ask about … other use cases.)

Guests are changing, too. Before, Globe users were largely commuters. Now, Bamfo said most guests are from within the neighborhood, looking for an easy break from their usual quarantine partners or to Zoom from a place nicer than their own. "What we've found is that it really comes down to how badly you're in need," Bamfo said.

  • Guests have to take a picture of a thermometer reading to show they aren't sick before they can rent. The app hours are currently 7a.m. to 10 p.m. — Globe doesn't operate overnight, in part to avoid the regulations affecting Airbnb and others.

Airbnb has surely noticed Globe filling up with its hosts — Bamfo said it's signed up thousands more just this week — and it would be easy for Airbnb to rent places by the hour. "If they do that, that's okay," Bamfo said. "Ultimately, it's a huge market, really. "

A MESSAGE FROM WALMART

Walmart

How Walmart is Helping Associates Live Better

To support associates' wellbeing, Walmart is:

  • Extending its emergency leave policy
  • Waiving co-pays for telehealth visits
  • Providing free counseling to all associates and their families

Read more here.

Virtual Events

Lessons from a surprisingly successful virtual conference

We've talked a lot this week about the things Microsoft announced at its all-virtual Build conference, but let's dig into how the company pulled it off. I mean, it ran a (mostly) successful livestream for more than 48 straight hours! That's not easy. And it's a good model for anyone looking to do the same:

  • "Because you're dealing in a cinematic approach, instead of a theatrical approach, time compresses," said Bob Bejan, Microsoft's CVP of global events.
  • The company made a big effort to keep things moving fast, and not just show slide decks, or have hour-long talking heads. There were demos, interviews, product videos, and oh so much screen-sharing.
  • Microsoft told CNN the average viewer was engaged for 173 minutes. Which is good guidance: You're probably going to have a hard time keeping audience members glued to their laptops for three-plus hours, no matter how interesting the subject matter.
  • Also, here's a tip: If you can get Trevor Noah to help run your virtual event, by all means get Trevor Noah to help run your virtual event.

Obviously, there are tradeoffs. I can't imagine anyone was engaged the way they might have been on the ground in Seattle. But Build was the most geographically diverse it has ever been: 65% of attendees were from outside the U.S., the company said, compared to a typical 20%.

  • And in spite of all the awkward moments, kid cameos, and occasional technical issues, Build set a pretty good example for all the conferences yet to come this spring.

In related news: On the subject of high-production virtual shoots, here's a fun story about how the Apple TV+ show Mythic Quest used 40 iPhones to shoot a quarantine-based episode for charity. (Great show, by the way. Good lockdown watch.)

Making Moves

Kevin Burns, the former CEO of Juul, is reportedly in talks to join Alto, the digital pharmacy startup. Burns oversaw Juul's deal with Altria, and much of the company's blowback and decline — but clearly remains quite employable.

Apple is said to be gearing up for a big podcast push. Bloomberg reported that the company is looking for an executive to lead its original podcasts initiative, and has already been buying shows for Apple Podcasts.

Debbie Hersman, Waymo's chief safety officer, is stepping down from her role, though she'll still be a consultant to the company. She joined the company last year, but decided to head back to her family on the east coast.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: The supercomputing industry is racing to find treatments and cures for COVID-19. In the process, a new group called the High Performance Computing Consortium has brought big-tech rivals to the table to try and fight the virus together.
  • Yet another investment in Jio! This time it's KKR, which the Financial Times reported is set to invest $1.5 billion at the same $65 billion valuation as other recent investors. And the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund may be putting in another $1.2 billion.
  • Don't miss this story from The Washington Post on why it's near-impossible to buy a webcam right now. It's a story of bad supply chains, bad stores, and bad laptops.
  • Netflix is beginning to automatically cancel dormant accounts. If you haven't watched Netflix in two years (how is that even possible), Netflix might close your account for you. I'm fascinated by the notion that "cancel and come back whenever you want!" is part of the appeal of streaming, as Hulu and others have said, but Netflix is clearly buying in.
  • On Protocol: Mike Murphy explains everything you need to know about the temperature-scanning tech likely coming to your office soon.
  • Forty potentially important bitcoins were transferred on Wednesday — out of a wallet that some people think might be owned by Satoshi Nakamoto. The wallet has been dormant since 2009, until it suddenly popped back to life.

One More Thing

Maybe even worse than being 876-5309

A woman named Lyndsay Tucker just thought she had a phone number. Any old phone number. Turns out she actually had Elon Musk's old phone number — and she still gets calls intended for Musk several times a day. She's accidentally on top of his tax situation, is acutely aware of when he's in the news (which is approximately all the time), and seems to be constantly shooting down people looking for free Teslas. The one upside? Tucker's putting together quite the contact list, what with all the celebrities and execs looking for a minute of Musk's time.

A MESSAGE FROM WALMART

Walmart

Walmart Hires 200,000 Associates Since March

Walmart used an expedited hiring process and worked with companies that have furloughed workers, including the restaurant and hospitality industries, to hire over 200,000 associates since March.

Read more here.


Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your long weekend, see you Tuesday.

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