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Tech companies have been the first to move to permanent work-from-home policies after proving the practice works during the coronavirus pandemic. Twitter said last week that it would allow all of its employees to choose to continue working from home long term even after the pandemic ends.
The industry, which relies heavily on positions in which jobs are completed on computers, is better-positioned than many for most remote work. But the companies have long relied on sprawling open campuses that put an emphasis on hallway interactions and collaboration spaces. The coronavirus pandemic, which has sent most employees home, is shifting that. Many expect that even when companies decide it is safe to reopen offices, the spaces and remote work policies will look very different than they did before.
Facebook is taking a more measured approach than Twitter. It will begin recruiting hires for remote work outside its usual office hubs, Zuckerberg said, and some existing employees can apply to work remotely. But he said choosing to live in cheaper cities could mean employees’ paychecks would be reduced.
“Our goal here is to enable many existing employees to become remote workers, if you want,” he said.
The company will adjust salaries depending on where employees live — paying less to those who work remotely from cities where the cost of living is lower. Facebook already pays different salaries based on locations, but this means employees who are allowed to work remotely have until Jan. 1 to tell Facebook where they are living and might get a paycheck cut.
“That means if you live in a location where the cost of living is dramatically lower, or the cost of labor is lower, then salaries do tend to be somewhat lower in those places,” Zuckerberg said.
Still, lower salaries in smaller cities might not work for all positions, especially for executive-level jobs. Will Hunsinger, CEO of Silicon Valley executive recruiting company Riviera Partners, said companies like Facebook will need to keep executive pay high to compete with rivals. In addition, the company will likely save money on operational expenses such as free food and shuttle services.
“They’re going to pay them what it takes to get that talent,” he said.
An internal company survey found that about 45 percent of employees interested in remote work were “pretty confident” they would move to another location. It also said about 40 percent of employees said they were somewhat, extremely or very interested in remote work. About 60 percent of employees asked for flexibility, or a combination of remote work and office work.
Facebook responding to that survey with its new policy could prove a morale booster for the workforce. Some workers have said that a string of scandals, from the Cambridge Analytica data privacy breach to the use of the company’s platform to spread conspiracy theories and false news, has hurt morale there.
Facebook has already said most employees will work remotely through the end of the year, though it expects its offices will open for a small number of employees starting in July. Initially, offices will only allow about 25 percent capacity because of social distancing guidelines, Zuckerberg said.
Facebook’s decision is likely to send ripples across the industry.
“It’s going to have a big effect,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor of history at the University of Washington who studies Silicon Valley. “Facebook is big, it hires a lot of people, it’s a big force of recruitment. The landscape of tech right now is so dominated by these five very big companies.”
It will also give the company a recruiting advantage by giving it flexibility geographically, she said.
Facebook has the money to keep its Menlo Park campus — something Zuckerberg pledged to do in his Thursday announcement. But the company’s announcement might be even more influential for smaller and midsize tech companies, O’Mara said, which might now seriously consider remote work in part as a way to reduce spending on office space.
Engineers at the company with strong performance reviews will be the first group allowed to apply for remote work.
With the idea of working from home becoming more appealing as people try to limit exposure to the coronavirus, Zuckerberg’s decision also tracks with other moves in which he has been able to quickly seize on a popular idea or product just gathering momentum in the tech industry. He jumped on cryptocurrency as the idea gained traction, working to launch a digital currency. His move to buy Instagram when the company had just a dozen employees demonstrated an ability to see trends in technology moving toward image-sharing long before others, and his mega-purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion showed an ability to understand the role messaging would play in social networking.
But the offer to allow employees to work from home wherever is also viewed as a potentially powerful recruiting and retention tool. Many Silicon Valley start-ups already have moved to remote work in the short term to compete for talent with tech giants.
Now, remote work may become an even more expected part of tech culture.
“I think with Facebook doing it… it will be a standard thing now. It won’t even be a perk, it will be an option,” said David Chie, CEO of Silicon Valley recruiting agency Palo Alto Staffing.
Facebook has already broadcast it is recruiting 10,000 people this year at a time when Silicon Valley start-ups are laying off thousands of people. This new permanent work-from-home benefit will become a recruiting tool, increasing its leverage as compared to some start-ups.
Still, some of Facebook’s contract workers are likely to continue to come into the office, particularly its army of over 15,000 content moderators, whose work reviewing graphic posts is generally considered too sensitive to be done from home.
Zuckerberg emphasized how this policy would help the company build tools for other businesses that support remote work. The company said its new video chat service, Messenger Rooms, would be available for business customers to host work meetings.
Facebook also announced Thursday that its Workplace tools for businesses on the social network is now used by 5 million paying customers, up from 2 million in October.
“Moving to more remote work I think will give us the opportunity to advance some of the important future technology that we work on,” he said.
Heather Kelly contributed to this report.