In 2018, Facebook signed the biggest office lease in San Francisco history at Park Tower, a testament to the social media giant’s relentless growth, both digital and physical. Late last year, the company signed a New York office deal for twice as much space.
But with offices shuttered across the world by the coronavirus, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that up to half of the company’s employees, who currently number 48,000, could work remotely within 10 years.
The number isn’t a goal, but represents the company’s recognition that concentrating employees in one big office, like its Menlo Park headquarters, may not be possible for a long time. Almost all Facebook workers can work from home through the rest of 2020, and the company is now letting some employees seek permission to work remotely indefinitely.
Facebook will also start hiring for remote roles, starting with experienced engineers that live within four hours of an existing Facebook office. The company will create new office hubs in Denver, Dallas and Atlanta, where real estate costs are a fraction of the Bay Area.
The changes, along with smaller companies like Twitter, Square and Coinbase approving remote work for almost all employees, could rewire the Bay Area’s vast tech ecosystem, reducing demand for some of the most expensive real estate in the country. It could result in emptier roads and more affordable homes, but also less tax revenue and fewer local job opportunities, not just for engineers but also for auto mechanics, real estate agents, cafeteria workers and shuttle drivers.
“I think Facebook will be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale, and we’ve been working on a thoughtful and responsible plan to do this,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page. “It lets us access talent pools outside of traditional tech hubs in big cities — and that should help spread economic opportunity much more widely around the country and world while also helping us build a more diverse company.”
Zuckerberg said last year that he expected Facebook’s real estate growth to be primarily outside the Bay Area as the region grappled with traffic congestion and high costs. The coronavirus is accelerating that trend.
“This is probably overdue. Over the past few decades, economic growth in the U.S. has been quite concentrated, with major companies often hiring in a handful metropolitan areas. That means we’ve been missing out on a lot of talented people just because they happen to live outside a major hub,” he wrote on Thursday.
The company still has vast Bay Area real estate expansion plans, such as its Willow Village project, which has been in the works since 2017. This week, Facebook reduced the proposed office space by nearly a third to 1.25 million square feet and increased the affordable housing plan from 15% to 20% of the project’s 1,735 homes. A Facebook spokeswoman said the changes were based on community feedback and not because of remote work changes.
According to an internal poll, more than half of Facebook employees want to return to the office as soon as possible, while around 40% are interested in full-time remote work, Zuckerberg said. Of the group that is interested in remote work, 75% said they want to or would consider moving elsewhere.
Workers who move to less expensive locations from the Bay Area would see a pay cut, Zuckerberg said.
For now, Facebook is only allowing remote work applications from experienced employees with strong recent performance. They must also work in team that supports remote work, which excludes content reviewers who remove illegal content from the service; hardware engineers; data center technicians; and people who work near clients in sales, policy and partnerships roles.
Zuckerberg wrote there were many uncertainties around less human interaction, particularly with bringing new hires on board. The company could end up spending more on remote work equipment compared to traditional offices, he said.
“It’s going to take time to make this work for everyone. We’re going to learn a lot from this,” he wrote.