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Facebook Executive On The Future Of Remote Work


We begin today with a question - how will our lives look post-corona? We'll be exploring this in the coming weeks. Some things may go back to a semblance of what they were before, but others, quite simply, will not. Office work is already transformed after employees were sent away from huge buildings and into their homes to work remotely.

DEBRA BRYER: When I worked in the office, I hated bringing work home. I would rather stay at the office until 2 a.m. working. But I think I have relaxed a little bit more into the different kind of rhythm.

KATIE MALLON CARGILL: I live in western South Carolina, a little community called Mountain Rest. We don't even have a stop sign or anything. But I am a technical writer, and connectivity is a real issue for me. I'm on phone calls with people all over the world. My main coworker was 100% baffled that I am living in an area that doesn't have cable Internet.

EDWARD BRYANT: I work for the United Way of Greater St. Louis. It seems like we've been working a lot more, which for me moves into this area of, like, what is work going to look like for us? Because we've been so productive in the virtual space that a lot of us may not have to come back to the office.

CATHERINE BAER: Up until recently, I was a revenue accountant of a tech company. I had intended to start looking for jobs around the beginning of March. I was finding that I just wasn't getting a lot of replies. But I am actually sort of looking forward to seeing if more national job listings open up so I could potentially get a job at a tech company that's based out of Silicon Valley and still stay in Seattle.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Catherine Baer (ph) in Seattle, Edward Bryant (ph) in Saint Charles, Mo., Katie Mallon Cargill (ph) from Western South Carolina and Debra Bryer (ph) in St. Louis.

Some companies are now making the switch to working from home permanent. Twitter and Shopify have made announcements to that effect and also Facebook. To find out just how working remotely in the long term might play out, we're joined now by Lori Goler, Facebook's vice president of people. Welcome to the program.

LORI GOLER: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, told Axios that in five to 10 years, half of the staff of Facebook could be working remotely. So this won't be immediate. It's more phased.

GOLER: That's right. We're taking more of a phased approach to be sure that we get it right for all of the people who work at Facebook.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How quickly did you make this decision? I mean, we're a few months into the coronavirus pandemic, and, you know, so much has changed. How do you make this decision?

GOLER: This - we've been thinking about this for quite a while, actually. And one of the concerns that we had is, how would it work in real life? How would people be able to connect? Would we be able to get things done? How would it really play out?

And, you know, unfortunately, we found out through the coronavirus that once you're all at home, you have to make it work, unfortunately had to try it at scale but luckily found out that we can actually do it. People are still working productively. We're launching products. It's been actually a really very strong experience.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Tell me a little bit about that. What exactly has been the experience at Facebook that prompted this? How are your workers reacting to this, and what are you seeing as a company?

GOLER: Well, I think what we're seeing today is not exactly the way it will play out over the longer term. But what we have seen is that using technology - and we've used - you know, we've always used Facebook tools as enterprise tools at Facebook anyway. By using all of those tools has really allowed us to stay a lot more connected and to work a lot more collaboratively than I think was possible at one time.

So, you know, we're still able to get the right people into a room. We're still able to work even asynchronously across locations, geographies and time zones in a way that, you know, I think, we just wondered if it would be possible. And we've had a chance to see that it does work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you see this changing the culture of Facebook, though?

GOLER: The culture is something that we have been working on for many, many years. And part of the reason that we're taking this slowly in a more measured approach is that we want to make sure that we continue to get that right - that the culture at Facebook is, you know, not just what happens in an office. It's also the way that we work together and the values of the company and the mission. And, you know, while I think that the offices are a great physical manifestation of that culture, it's actually quite possible to keep it alive and well working remotely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are there specific challenges to that? I mean, are there ways that you're thinking about doing that?

GOLER: Well, you know, one of our values is be open. And we've continued to host all of our usual all-hands and all-company meetings and team meetings, and that will continue. And I think it's really given people a way to stay even more connected.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does this do for Facebook? Does it mean that you could hire people potentially in other countries? I mean, remote work doesn't really matter where you are if it's - if your internet connection is strong. Do you see your American workforce dispersing?

GOLER: People have told us - about 45% of them who told us that they'd like to maybe stay remote have said that they would consider moving. So, you know, we don't know exactly where they might go, but we imagine that there are many places around the country and the world that they might go to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But could it mean that you might hire someone in India, for example, to do a job that an American had done for less money?

GOLER: I think that there are - I mean, I hope it will provide opportunities all around the world. Right now, we're really focused on making sure that it works in the United States. So our first goal is to go out, particularly in the areas that are sort of too far to commute daily to the offices, but also to look at other places, you know, wherever they may be around the United States. And we expect there to be quite a few of them. You know, there's really a lot of talent in the United States. And we're hoping that we'll get an opportunity to just have more of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm thinking of these big campuses the tech companies have built. You know, Menlo Park, where Facebook is, was only opened in 2015. And I'm quoting here from a post at the time from Mark Zuckerberg.

It says, quote, "Our goal was to create the perfect engineering space for our teams to work together. We wanted our space to create the same sense of community and connection among our teams that we try to enable with our services across the world. And to do this, we designed the largest open floor plan in the world - a single room that fits thousands of people."

Reading that now, yikes. That seems very 2015 and not 2020 with the pandemic with a big, open space. But the idea was that you could get all these people into one space and that that was going to, you know, foster innovation in some way. What's changed?

GOLER: In my mind, this isn't the end of the office at all. We love our offices. We love all our locations around the world. Our campuses are fantastic places for innovation and collaboration, creativity and social connections. And that will continue.

And, in fact, I expect that people who are working remotely will want to be spending some time in the office. They'll come for events and activities. It's certainly not the end of the office. You know, I think that they'll continue to be really vibrant places. And maybe not over the course of the next few months or the year, but I think we'll get back to that at some point.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lori Goler is Facebook's vice president of people. Thank you so much.

GOLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.