With Twitter recently announcing that it would allow its employees to work from home forever, if they choose, Facebook is now also leaning into the remote work shift, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying that “most employees” will be allowed to work from home moving forward, beyond the current COVID-19 lockdown period.
As reported by The Verge, Zuckerberg says that he wants Facebook to “be the most forward-leaning company on remote work”
“We need to do this in a way that’s thoughtful and responsible, so we’re going to do this in a measured way. But I think that it’s possible that over the next five to 10 years – maybe closer to 10 than five, but somewhere in that range – I think we could get to about half of the company working remotely permanently.”
That is significant. Facebook currently employs almost 50k people around the world, and moving half of them away from centralized office locations will have a big impact on local economies, infrastructure requirements, etc.
But it will also require new ways of managing, of maintaining connection to HR resources, collaborating. And while the COVID-19 lockdowns have shown that this is possible, and Facebook itself is developing a range of new remote collaboration tools, making this a permanent fixture is a big task, and will take time to fully implement.
There will also be challenges in getting certain Facebook workers remotely connected. Over the last few months, with all of its staff shifting out of its main offices, Facebook has warned of delays in moderation, ad approvals, and more because its regular moderation teams simply aren’t able to work remote.
Zuckerberg recently outlined Facebook’s basic plan to get more of these moderation teams back into its physical offices, so the situation, at least at this stage, doesn’t appear to have changed – there will be a portion of Facebook’s staff that are simply not able to function remotely. There are also additional impact management to consider in this respect – Facebook recently agreed to pay a $52 million settlement with content moderators as compensation for mental health issues they had developed on the job.
If anything, Facebook needs to keep in closer contact with these workers in order to help them deal with such stress – so while many of Facebook’s staff will indeed be migrating away from the main bases, a significant proportion are also set to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Zuckerberg’s announcement is the latest indicator of the broader corporate move towards remote working, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Up till now, shifting to remote work has remained off the table for many, with traditionalists aligned around face-to-face meetings, being in front of the right people, and having the capacity to get things done by walking to the office cubicle down the hall. There’s also been a question of capacity, and whether our data networks are able to handle such demand – but the lockdowns have shown that this is possible, and that productivity can be maintained, and in many cases, even increased, through remote work.
Over-crowding in cities, higher property prices, pollution – all of these issues can be alleviated, to some degree, by broadening the potential for remote employment. That could also provide new stimulus for regional areas, and expand economic opportunity, with geographic reach no longer a definitive limitation on what positions people might be able to apply for.
The benefits of such are significant, and while the push towards remote work has been gaining momentum for some time, we now know, definitively, that it is, indeed, possible. That will lead to many more businesses considering the same – and while tech companies are better placed to understand the capacity for connection in this respect, the more that look in this direction, the more others will follow.
Some roles won’t be able to move, but many will, and that will lead to a range of new opportunities, new considerations and new planning requirements moving forward, as more people look to choose where in the world they work.
Facebook, Twitter, Google, Shopify and more are all assessing their expanded remote work capacity. The shift is happening, and it’ll be interesting to see how it progresses from this point.