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Facebook's remote-working plan is doomed

Facebook's remote-working plan is doomed

BLODGET & PLOTZ


Silicon Valley, which adopts fads like it's a tween, has found a new one. The day before pandemic, the Valley was salivating over the Apple campus, goggle-eyed at Airbnb's conference rooms, passionately arguing whether the kombucha was better on the marketing floor or the engineering floor.

But now? Now let's all work from home, forever!

Twitter and Square recently announced that everyone could keep working from home when the pandemic ends. Facebook, right in character, has decided to move fast and break leases.

Mark Zuckerberg announced on Thursday that he expected up to half of Facebook's employees to work remotely in the next five to 10 years.

"We're going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale," Zuckerberg jargoned.

The pivot to home offices is easy to explain. Pandemic uncertainty will make crowded workspaces feel unsafe for a while, and scare workers off public transportation. Companies can slash their real-estate costs with a remote workforce, and maybe even salaries. Zuckerberg advised that Facebook would cut wages for employees who live in places that are cheaper than the Bay Area.

I'm writing this from my bed, but I'm skeptical that remote work will remain so enthralling for big companies once COVID-19 recedes.

Yes, a surprising number of white-collar workers are finding lockdown life enjoyable — no commuting, no travel, no dressing up.

And it's tempting to think that if a little bit of working from home is good, a lot of working from home will be great. The history of human civilization, however, suggests this would be a mistaken conclusion.

Working from home is fine now because everyone is doing it. We've all been forced into it. You're not missing any important meetings or gossip around the water cooler or happy hours — because everyone is missing them.

Humans have a glorious capacity to adapt, especially when they feel what they're going through is fair, and this feels fair, because everyone is suffering the same way.

But once the possibility of office life returns, the career fortunes and experiences of people who repopulate the Silicon Valley headquarters and people who stay home are going to rapidly diverge.

Ask anyone who's ever worked at a partially remote company (say, me): The insiders and the outsiders have vastly different experiences.

Insiders build the small, socially lubricating connections that humans thrive on. They create stronger networks. They develop better reputations, more friendships. They know more about what's happening at the company. And that makes them more valuable employees.

Companies are deluding themselves if they think they can crush the human desire for that kind of knowledge, jockeying, and connecting. Office workers will become the elite overclass. Remote workers will be outsiders, sometimes confused, excluded from the in-jokes and cliques that develop in any real-world group.

Silicon Valley fantasizes that technology can fix this. Facebook, above all, is built on the notion that electronic relationships are the equal of in-person ones. But 15,000 years of human civilization says technology doesn't fix it. Slack, texting, Zoom happy hours — they're better than nothing. But anyone who's ever been remote at a meeting where everyone else is in person knows how much physical presence matters.

A prediction: Facebook and other tech companies will extend remote work, and for a certain class of employee it will be a godsend. Folks who generally work alone, who are temperamentally introverted, and who aren't ambitious will love it, and will thrive.

But everyone who wants to manage, to run things, to influence, to jockey, to make friends, to build a network — they will clamor to work in the office. Almost every single ambitious person in a company will be demanding a desk at HQ. Within a very short time, Silicon Valley will largely revert back to status quo, with centralized, crowded hub campuses where all the action happens, and smattering of happy introverts working remotely elsewhere. —DP

Come on, Plotz, some people will be stoked to work remotely forever!


My partner, Mr. Plotz, makes some excellent points in his argument above that the new remote-work-for-everyone-forever trend is just a fad.

Cities are amazing places, and, once it's safe to ride subways and buses again, most people will want to continue living in them.

Office life can be fantastic, especially at fun, tech-ish companies that offer food and fabulously smart and charismatic colleagues. Climbing the management career ladder will indeed still be easier to do in person: Relationships still matter, and in-person relationships are stronger than Zoom ones.

So, yes, once we finally vanquish the coronavirus, enthusiasm for cities, offices, events, business travel, and in-person work will rise again.

But!

A significant percentage of people, especially "individual producers" — writers, engineers, designers, and others who really do not need to interact with others to do amazing work — will take advantage of our collective epiphany to leave "the office" forever.

There are so many amazing places to live in this world. So many places that are cheaper, more beautiful, healthier, easier, and more fun than the "big cities." So many places where it's better and easier to raise kids; have dogs, cats, and farm animals; exercise and be outdoors.

For many of us, the benefit of being able to live in these places — while still enjoying the vibrancy, stability, compensation (even at lower levels), benefits, support systems, colleagues, and opportunities of working for larger companies and organizations — will make the trade-off worthwhile.

Well done, Facebook, Twitter, and others, for welcoming this new age! You'll now be able to hire and employ talented people all over the country and world who would have been miserable living amid the Silicon Valley and New York City rat race.

And well done, remote workers and tech providers, for showing hidebound managers that we all can now be amazingly productive from anywhere! You've helped create a better world! —HB

Brazil's coronavirus disaster confirms that the tough-guy approach doesn't work


Thanks to the various approaches to the coronavirus tried by different countries, humanity is getting real-time evidence about what works and what doesn't.

What doesn't work, it seems, is ignoring or playing down the virus and acting as though there's nothing that can be done about it.

This approach, flirted with by President Trump in the US, has been taken to its extreme by President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, as Insider's Sarah Al-Arshani reports. And Brazilians are paying the price.

The unfolding disaster in Brazil may soon give the US some competition for the worst outbreak in the world.

Confirmed deaths are nearing 20,000 and accelerating.



Confirmed cases are also soaring.


Even on a per-capita basis, Brazil's accelerating epidemic will soon make it a card-carrying member of the coronavirus Hall of Shame. And unlike most of these countries — Spain, Italy, France, the UK — Brazil is getting worse, not better.


Countries that nipped the coronavirus in the bud — South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Denmark, Austria, Germany, among others — show that it can be done.

Countries that were initially blindsided, meanwhile — Italy, Spain, France — show that, with a coordinated, comprehensive, and overwhelming response, the virus can be brought under control.

Countries that denied the threat of the virus and then rinsed their hands of national responsibility, meanwhile — the US, Brazil — are still struggling. —HB

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