Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions 50% of the tech giant’s employees working from home in the next five to 10 years, in a shift dramatically accelerated by COVID-19.
“We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale,” Zuckerberg told employees in his weekly staff Q&A session, which was publicly posted on Facebook. “But we’re going to do this in a way that is measured and thoughtful and responsible, and in phases over time.”
The company has about 45,000 global employees. It recently has been reporting large quarterly increases in employees as it closes in on 3 billion users of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook had already announced that employees are welcome to continue working from home through the end of 2020.
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Zuckerberg said the 50% figure is “not a target or a goal,” but the company’s best forecast as of now. He stressed that it was a strategic decision stemming from a significant amount of research on productivity, collaboration, morale and other workforce indicators. The company does not plan to abandon its existing offices, but the CEO said the shift is “fundamentally about changing our culture and the way we’re going to work long-term.”
As cities emerge from the pandemic and also face headwinds due to the economic toll, office space and workforce expenses and logistics are getting a profound rethink. For many companies, COVID-19 will permanently reshape business practices as employees become comfortable with safety protocols. Zuckerberg said the idea that remote work will save employers money is “an open question.” Savings from real estate and utility costs, he said, are offset by enhanced support for remote workers and productivity in the long run will vary by company.
The coronavirus pandemic “is going to be with us for a while to come,” Zuckerberg added, making the need to continue adapting its operations to the moment a key priority. “I don’t think it’s going to be where we wake up one day, on January 1, and no one has any more concerns about this. … We’re going to keep moving forward and learning.”
Given that it is in the business of providing technology tools, Facebook is in a good position to encourage remote work both internally and externally. Zuckerberg said the company plans to make use of its technology as it supports more remote work, an approach he likened to “eating our own dog food.” He plugged Workplace Rooms, a feature on Facebook that allows for video conferences with up to 50 people, whether or not they have accounts, and the Live Producer feature, with language captions and other enhancements. Oculus, the company’s virtual-reality setup, also has work and corporate use cases.
Recruiting would get a boost from remote work, especially in U.S. and Canada, Zuckerberg said. Many highly qualified applicants are not inclined or able to move to major metro areas like New York or Silicon Valley, where Facebook’s main domestic offices are. Requiring moves to big cities “cuts out a lot of people who have different backgrounds and may have different perspectives,” Zuckerberg said.
The environmental impact is another factor. Zuckerberg cited recent data showing a 17% decrease in pollution during COVID-19 shutdowns. “In 2020, it’s a lot easier to move bits around than atoms,” he said.
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