10 takeaways from the Facebook remote working town hall

Learn from Facebook's new remote working policies

Laptop alongside Facebook logo

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg addressed Facebook employees for nearly 56 minutes, outlining the company’s new remote working policies and plans. Facebook joins a growing list of high-visibility technology companies that have recently declared they will allow their employees to keep working remotely indefinitely.

“I think that it’s quite possible that over the next 5-10 years about 50% of our people could be working remotely.” —Mark Zuckerberg

The company’s weekly internal “town hall” all-hands meeting was made available via livestream to the public, offering a view into how Facebook leadership are thinking about the future of work at this momentous juncture. Mark’s articulation of the principles, the thinking, and the new policies that Facebook is putting in place to support remote working is comprehensive and clear. It should serve as a useful reference for leaders at companies thinking about their own plans for instituting remote working.

0. Facebook will pay market rates for equal work

We’re counting this takeaway as number “0” because this is where most of the attention has already gone and seems to be the only thing people are reacting to from Mark’s talk. Make no mistake, this absolutely is an important takeaway. We do need to think deep and hard about the relationship between location and compensation as remote working becomes the norm.

But because what Facebook says and does will influence so many other companies, and their remote working policies, we wanted to look at the other important signals and takeaways.

1. This was not a capitulation to worker flexibility

This takeaway is so important, and should be a part of the change narrative for any organization thinking about leaning into remote. Mark said this is not about giving the employees what they want. At least, it’s not mainly about that, though that is a benefit. Facebook is embracing a more distributed structure because they believe they’ll be able work better that way.

“We’re not doing this because it’s a thing employees have asked for. This is about unlocking innovation and serving our communities better.” —Mark Zuckerberg

2. Desirable talent was getting away

Facebook acknowledged they were losing candidates because they were not able to offer them the remote working arrangements they wanted. The most in-demand talent in the world will have this as a key requirement of employment. For Facebook this is as much about keeping the great people they already have as attracting the bright talents of the future. This consideration should be at the top of the list of reasons for organizations to expand and become more intentional about their remote working. That Facebook is no exception is meaningful.

3. Spreading the opportunity around matters

This one is very close to our hearts at Oyster™. It is great to see Facebook elevate this as a motivator for their broader adoption of remote working. Organizations that can tap the global talent pool and enrich their diversity are going to win over their competitors and have a positive social impact as well.

“I would want us to live in a country where people can have access to opportunity, no matter where they choose to live.” —Mark Zuckerberg

4. AR and VR are coming to remote working!

Facebook clearly sees this “remote working moment” as an opportunity to accelerate the development of new products and technology to more broadly support companies and people at work. Beyond Workplace.

”Moving into remote work will give us the opportunity to advance some of the important new technology we’ve been working on.” —Mark Zuckerberg

It is telling that Zuckerberg referenced Facebook’s expertise at creating “connection and presence”. As we think about how we’re going to build and sustain social bonds with our remote team mates, whom we may never meet in person, this is certainly an area where Facebook could do exciting things, particularly with AR and VR.

“If remote presence is going to be increasingly important for how organizations operate, it really makes sense for us to be living our values here.” —Mark Zuckerberg

5. Things feel more egalitarian when we’re all remote

This was one of the findings that Mark shared from a recent employee survey about remote working during Coronavirus. People said they felt more equal in their ability to participate and contribute to the team when everybody was “equally remote”. This is where the difference between “remote” and “distributed” start to really become important, as teams begin to experience a new dynamic. The majority of companies have merely tolerated or allowed remote working, and have never thought about it with much intentionality. It is important to call out these higher-order positive effects from fully-distributed, so teams can aspire to these things as cultural principles.

6. It may be better to go fully-remote than try to be hybrid

Offices are a big unknown right now for Facebook, as they are for tens of thousands of other companies. The decision to go fully-remote, on a potentially permanent basis is something that companies are going to have to face. Think how long it will have to take for companies to re-establish productive norms working in offices again. Not all companies will have Facebook’s ability to restructure their real estate footprint to suit future needs. And sustaining dual modes until things can be figured out is untenable.

Zuckerberg acknowledged the hard reality that “fully remote” (meaning 0 days per week at the office) is what they are institutionalizing, at least for the midterm. Employee survey results said 60% of Facebook employees wanted “flexibility” to work both at home and at an office. Zuckerberg made certain it was understood that flexibility is not what is on the table.

“Today I want to clarify that we’re going to talk mostly about ‘remote work’ not ‘flexibility’. Because the reality is we don’t know what the offices are going to look like.” —Mark Zuckerberg

7. (Long-term) remote working will be a privilege for experienced team members in good standing

This theme is almost as worthy of Twitter chatter as the compensation/location theme. As Facebook defined the bounds of their remote working policy, it’s evident they are thinking in terms of two lines. Zuckerberg made it clear that remote working will not be for junior people. Facebook is drawing a line within the organization with tenured people on one side and juniors on the other. This makes sense through a certain lens, as junior people may need supervised onboarding and may not be as well integrated into their teams as more tenured employees. It is quite meaningful and no doubt will be a signal to other organizations that new people to the organization may need to be excluded from remote working privileges.

The other qualification is your performance at work. Nuff said.

“The second criteria is you have to have very strong recent performance.” —Mark Zuckerberg

8. “On-sites” will replace “off-sites”

This is a great theme to plant as organizations think about their future of use of office space. Not all companies will have Facebook’s ability to restructure their real estate commitments to adapt to new use patterns. But, it is good for leaders to start thinking about using space in different ways. When the norm is for everyone to be working remotely, planned time together in physical spaces can be used in much more intentional ways that serve deeper collaboration as well as social bonding.

9. Hybrid organizations must democratize opportunity

Again, good leadership on Facebook’s part for calling out the importance of protecting access to opportunity and career development among the remote members of the organization. Hybrid is going to be the model of choice for many companies, as a matter of necessity. This comes with lots of challenges. Among those challenges is the tendency for remote team members to be excluded from access to the “mechanics of promotion” that rely heavily on co-located experiences. Companies that want to attract great remote talent should prepare a thoughtful articulation of how they address these things. These will be the recruitment differentiators of the next era of work.

“I think we need to be intentional about crafting good career ladders, so that we can attract great people and we ensure we don’t create any adverse selection dynamic.” —Mark Zuckerberg

10. Remote workers will need different benefits

Companies that are meaningfully distributed have to think in entirely different ways about enabling work and providing for the wellness and security of their employees. As we de-invest from the concept of the office as the place where employees need to be enabled to work and cared for while they are working, the door is wide open for thinking of creative replacements to the ping pong table and the snack bar.

“If you’re going to be video chatting in all day, then you probably need more stuff than just a good computer. Then there are things like food, which I think makes sense in the offices, because we’re trying to make it easy for people to not have to take half an hour and leave the campus to get something to eat. I just think that’s something less relevant for people who are working at home, because they can presumably just go to their kitchen and have some food there." —Mark Zuckerberg

I guess that means no free lunch at home from Facebook 🙂

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