The fine print in Facebook's remote-work plan

The fine print in Facebook's remote-work plan

Don't expect Silicon Valley pay if you relocate to a low-cost town, warns Zuckerberg

The entrance to Facebook headquarters is seen through two moving buses in Menlo Park, California. (Reuters File Photo)
The entrance to Facebook headquarters is seen through two moving buses in Menlo Park, California. (Reuters File Photo)

SAN FRANCISCO: With the announcement that Facebook is ready to let employees work from home permanently, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has untethered one of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies from the place that incubated it.

But he also dashed a Silicon Valley dream: that tech workers would be able to take their generous salaries with them if they decide to flee the crushing housing costs, dirty sidewalks and crowded roadways of the San Francisco Bay Area.

As coronavirus lockdowns dragged into their third month, message boards popular with well-paid tech workers have lit up with fantasies of working long-term from tropical beaches and spacious houses in affordable small towns in the US Midwest.

“Does that mean I could apply for a job in Silicon Valley and work remotely from, say, the Caribbean? Asking for a friend,” wrote one user on Blind, an app designed to let workers swap information anonymously.

Afraid not, Zuckerberg said, addressing employees in a publicly broadcast livestream on his Facebook page.

The company, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest employers, is giving US staffers who are approved to work remotely until Jan 1, 2021 to tell the company where they plan to base themselves, at which point their salaries will be adjusted to reflect the local cost of living.

Zuckerberg said he expects half of Facebook’s workforce to take him up on the offer over the next five to 10 years.

Employees who attempt to wiggle around the compensation adjustments will be subject to “severe ramifications”, he said, as the company needs to account for employee locations to avoid violating tax laws.

Zuckerberg said Facebook would monitor compliance by checking where employees access its virtual private network (VPN) that they will use to do their work.

Facebook also uses its own apps to track employee locations, according to CNBC, one time using the data to find interns who failed to show up for work.

Even as many tech workers dream of a future in low-tax locations, others on message boards fret about how the shift to remote work could exert downward pressure on salaries across the board. As well, some say, being far from headquarters could steepen the climb up the corporate ladder for those with ambition.

One former Facebook employee, who in his 20s lived in Silicon Valley’s suburbs for the short commute, said the change would open up opportunities even for employees who stay in California.

“A 25-year-old maybe would rather be in San Francisco, while someone looking to raise a family might prefer to move outside the city,” he said.

A Facebook spokesman said the company was not planning layoffs, compulsory moves or salary adjustments for employees who opt to stay in the Bay Area.

If the experiment is successful, Facebook’s move could prompt other tech giants to compete for engineering talent by embracing remote work — and other states to compete for Californians.

“The warm, sunny states with affordable housing and zero taxes will see an influx of educated, rich workers. States will need to cut taxes to keep up,” Chamath Palihapitiya, the chief executive of the venture capital firm Social Capital and an early executive at Facebook, said on Twitter.

The biggest loser, he predicted, would be California. 


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