Facebook laid down a gauntlet to other big tech companies earlier this month when it said it would allow all employees to remain remote indefinitely, if they chose.
Facebook's about-face — the company had previously planned to allow only senior figures to work remotely — could set the stage for a new battle over tech worker benefits and culture. Apple, Amazon and Google have all doubled down on the idea that permanently remote work should end with the coronavirus pandemic. While Facebook employees can now work from anywhere, even from some other countries, Apple and Amazon alike have both set requirements for three days in the office, and Google is allowing only 20% of its workforce to apply to remain remote.
"The fact that it's offered, I think, is becoming more and more table stakes for candidates. Companies that are not able to offer it will see themselves at a distinct disadvantage," Miranda Kalinowski, Facebook's head of recruiting, told Protocol, explaining how and why Facebook decided to create its remote work benefits, and what this means for the future of hiring at Facebook.
Compared to one year ago, the biggest permanent shift in what candidates are asking for (and expect) is flexibility — and unlike other Big Tech firms, Facebook has decided to take advantage of that fact. "In the past, we had a well-understood emphasis on working in close proximity to your peers," Kalinowski said. Removing that emphasis was a weighty decision for the company, but it's what candidates and current workers wanted, according to Kalinowski.
Facebook isn't the only company with workers who want to stay home, and its new plan may be staving off an employee rebellion. At Apple, a contingent of workers has launched a petition to end Apple's required three days in the office, alleging that people are quitting because they're going to be forced to go back to work and that Apple's obsession with in-person culture is more harmful than helpful.
Facebook's new acceptance of remote work will also change how the company recruits. Not only will it be able to go after the workers seeking flexibility who currently work at other Silicon Valley companies such as Apple, but recruiters will also be able to look for engineers across North America, rather than just those living in the few Facebook engineering office locations. "Obviously from a recruiting perspective we love it, because it means we can attract a much more diverse set of candidates who otherwise might not have considered our company," Kalinowski said.
"There's no secret to the fact that across the tech sector, we've got a huge opportunity to attract more [remote] candidates who have been from underrepresented groups that we may not have been able to attract in the past," she added.
And for potential candidates who've long been skeptical about Facebook's intentions or reputation, new remote-work benefits can differentiate the company in a new way. "Look, I think healthy skepticism can be a good thing. It's no secret that we're working on really challenging problems … We don't always get the answers right. The skepticism about our decisions and the actions can really benefit us," Kalinowski said when Protocol asked whether the new policies could help ease Facebook's reputational problems. "We definitely want people who don't shy away from helping us challenge those decisions and problems," she added.
Beyond widening who Facebook can now recruit, the new policy has already changed how the company thinks about its physical locations. Facebook originally planned to set up new company hubs in Dallas, Denver, Atlanta and other cities. Given that remote work means teams working together could be scattered across the country or the globe, however, it is difficult to project if people will be interested in building office-based communities where they live. "I think more likely, shortly in the more immediate to mid-term, the pull will be toward the team that you're working with," Kalinowski explained. "We will need to find more virtual ways of keeping those community bonds."
For Kalinowski, the most exciting change caused by remote work is that recruiting got easier, not harder. The end of face-to-face requirements simplified people's abilities to make connections. "Not having to get people on a plane, on a shuttle, to a building, in a room, taking time off, stripped it all back," she said. And at home, people are willing to answer their phones in a way they were unable to in an office. "That's been a surprising benefit, and one I hope we can continue," she said.
And even once people can again fly everywhere, the recruiting team has learned an important lesson from the last year: Just because someone can do something, or the company can afford it, does not mean flying people across the country is always the best for everyone. "We will when it's convenient for candidates and for interviewers," Kalinowski said. But "what will be more important is getting the candidates to meet with the right person, and that right person might be in another country or another time zone."
"We do know that [candidates] are looking for companies that look after their people well. We have a really obvious opportunity to demonstrate that," she said.