Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that the social media giant will start allowing many of its 50,000 employees and new recruits to work from home on a permanent basis, adding to a small but growing number of tech companies that have embraced decentralized work during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale, with a thoughtful and responsible plan for how to do this," Zuckerberg said in an interview. "We're going to do it in a measured way over time."
Within the next five to 10 years, Zuckerberg anticipates that about 50 percent of Facebook's workforce will work remotely. That would mean a significant shift in the concentration of personnel that could radically alter how the company operates, as well as have an impact on the San Francisco Bay Area.
That process will start with "aggressively opening up remote hiring" — first in the United States, then elsewhere — beyond the urban hubs where Facebook has offices.
"It doesn't seem that good to constrain hiring to people who live around offices," Zuckerberg said.
Facebook will also let existing employees apply to work remotely. Those who have demonstrated good performance and are capable of working remotely may then be allowed to do so on permanently. Facebook has already told the vast majority of staff that they can work from home through the end of this year.
Facebook's announcement, which Zuckerberg relayed to employees in a company-wide Q&A session on Thursday, comes after Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey announced that employees at both of his companies could work remotely going forward. Shopify, the Canadian e-commerce company, announced a similar move Thursday.
Facebook's shift will be far more gradual. Zuckerberg said he expects only about 25 percent of the company's workforce to be back in the office by the end of the year.
"There's a meaningful contrast between what we're doing and what some other companies are doing," Zuckerberg said. "This isn't a free-for-all. We're aggressively opening up remote hiring, then ... starting a process where some people, in a phased way, can apply to work remotely."
Facebook employees who choose to relocate may see a change in their salaries, as salaries are based on cost of living in each location, Zuckerberg said. He also told staff that they would need to move back to their homes by Jan. 1 or tell the company where they are choosing to live instead so Facebook can adjust salaries, which he said was necessary for tax and accounting purposes.
“There will have to be severe ramifications for people who are not honest about this," Zuckerberg said.
Facebook's move — and Zuckerberg's expectation of a 50-50 split between in-office and at-home workers by 2030 — marks a seismic shift for Silicon Valley and American business generally, especially if other companies are inspired to follow suit.
Recent research from University of Chicago estimated that 37 percent of U.S. jobs can plausibly be performed at home. But the number is significantly higher in areas like Silicon Valley (51 percent) and San Francisco (45 percent). But just 2 percent of America works from home on a regular basis, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor who has done extensive research on decentralized work, said he anticipates that those numbers will more than double after the pandemic. This will have major ramifications for employees, companies and even American cities.
Bloom cited a study showing that employee productivity increases by 13 percent when people work from home, even as other factors like creativity decline.
This tracks with Zuckerberg's expectations.
"People are able to work well on projects remotely," he said. "Where there's an open question is on the softer stuff: alignment, social bonds, creativity."
"It's one thing to work efficiently on projects we're already working on. It's another to brainstorm next ideas," Zuckerberg added. "That's a weakness in current remote tools. That's going to be any area where we need to do some development."
Remote tools are also becoming a bigger part of Facebook's business. The company recently launched Messenger Rooms, a Zoom competitor, and is also working on new features for Portal, its video hardware device. Facebook said that Workplace, its enterprise communications tool, now has 5 million paying subscribers, up from 3 million in October.
In the long term, Facebook is aggressively pursuing new innovations in augmented and virtual reality that could make remote work a lot more seamless. Facebook owns the virtual reality hardware company Oculus.
In January, Zuckerberg predicted that society would get "breakthrough augmented reality glasses" that would give people "the ability to be 'present' anywhere."
"Today, many people feel like they have to move to cities because that's where the jobs are. But there isn't enough housing in many cities, so housing costs are skyrocketing while quality of living is decreasing," the Facebook chief wrote. "Imagine if you could live anywhere you chose and access any job anywhere else. If we deliver on what we're building, this should be much closer to reality by 2030."
Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's head of augmented and virtual reality, tweeted Thursday that the company is just getting started in its efforts to focus on "presence."
"The future we envision for work allows for infinite virtual workspaces that will unlock social and economic opportunities for people regardless of barriers like physical location," he wrote. "It will take time to get there, and we continue to build toward this."