Facebook Plans to Broaden Remote Workforce Capabilities Due to Covid-19

The company will hire new employees and work with existing ones

a facebook billboard on the street with people walking past it
When will there be scenes like this again at Facebook's Menlo Park, Calif. campus? Getty Images

As Facebook employees continue to work from home during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the company will embrace the practice and start recruiting employees without mandating that they can work from any of its offices.

In a weekly town hall meeting that was publicly livestreamed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to be the “most forward-leaning company on remote work on our scale.” At least 95% of Facebook employees are currently working remotely and will continue to do so as the pandemic continues.

“It doesn’t make sense to constrain all our hiring to people who live near offices we’re not going to be in anyway,” he said.

Zuckerberg’s announcement comes after Twitter told most employees they could work from home indefinitely and Shopify offered employees a similar option.

The ability to refocus recruiting efforts not necessarily based on geography could open the company to hire more diverse candidates and spread economic opportunities on national and global levels. Facebook will begin by hiring experienced engineers with this new approach.

However, remote hiring will not be extended to new college graduates and less experienced hires, as the company feels that in-person training is critical.

“Most remote-first companies don’t tend to hire a lot of new college grads, but we do,” Zuckerberg said in the town hall.

Despite the more lax approach to remote workforces, Facebook will still take a candidate’s geography into consideration and sort them into three categories: those that live within a four-hour drive of existing offices, those that live near cities where the company wants to establish itself more and those living in rural areas.

“Over time, we expect most of our workforce to be spread across large parts of the U.S. and beyond,” vice president of people Lori Goler said in a Facebook post. “We’ll also begin to open up opportunities for some current employees to work remotely so that we can learn from their experience to help us get this right.”

Retaining existing employees is also valuable, Zuckerberg said, noting that he could see about 50% of employees working remotely.

“Culture is built very carefully over time,” he said. “Products can sometimes get built in a matter of months. It is really important to take a long-term approach to how we think about remote work. This is fundamentally about changing our culture.”

Of employees surveyed, 20% of respondents were very interested in remote work after the Covid-19 crisis ends, and another 20% were somewhat interested. A little more than 50% wanted to get back to the office as soon as possible.

Facebook found that more experienced and tenured people wanted to work remotely than junior people, and there was no difference in preference by gender, which Zuckerberg said he had been concerned about due to the possibility of a disproportionate load of domestic responsibilities falling on women. The company also found that 45% of people who want to work remotely were pretty confident that they would relocate, and 30% indicated that they might.

Meanwhile, 30% of managers said they would definitely support fully remote teams, while 30% said they probably would and 10% indicated that they would not be willing to do so.

Zuckerberg outlined the criteria for permanent remote work status, including experience and strong recent performance, belonging to a team that supports remote work and approval from a group leader. Facebook may also reconsider employees’ compensation if they do want to relocate.

“If you live in a location where the cost of living is lower and the cost of labor is lower, salaries tend to be somewhat lower in those places,” Zuckerberg said, adding that employees who do want to relocate must determine their new location by Jan. 1.

It’s not clear how the move would affect Facebook’s business since the stay-at-home mandate may change how many employees and how much real estate the company needs. It also might make the company reconsider how much money employees will require to outfit their home offices, Zuckerberg said.

He also teased an opportunity for Facebook to build new tools to support remote work, like a series of creativity hackathons, and predicted that new companies will emerge in this field.

Facebook separately provided details on what will happen when its offices do ultimately begin opening in July. Temperature checks will be required before any workers are allowed back into the company’s facilities, offices will be limited to 25% capacity and employees will return in scheduled shifts. Spaces of six feet will be created between work stations, the number of employees who can gather in meeting rooms will be capped and masks must be wonk in the office when employees are not social distancing, and in some locations, at all times.

On the perks front, cafeteria buffets are gone for now, replaced by grab-and-go meals, and gyms in Facebook’s facilities will remain closed. The company is also formulating a plan for enforcing social distancing on the shuttle buses so many of its employees rely on to get to work.

Facebook said earlier this month that employees who are able to work remotely can do so through year-end, but there are areas of the company where this is not possible, including hardware, operations, content moderation, data center technicians and parts of sales, policy and partnerships, recruiting, human resources and lawyers.

The company also said last month that all in-person events that were planned for 50 or more people are canceled through June 2021, with some being converted to virtual events. The company’s ban on business travel was extended through the end of this June.

“I think Covid-19 is going to be with us for a while to come,” Zuckerberg concluded. “We don’t have to figure out every single detail about what the long term will look like. We’re not doing this because this is a thing that employees have asked for. Our guiding principle here is figuring out what will enable us to serve our community best and create more innovation.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.