- The shift to remote work will make it harder for big tech companies to recruit top talent.
- For years, Facebook, Google, Apple, and others have been able to lure workers in with the promise of expensive perks and luxurious offices.
- But companies can’t offer the same perks to employees who are working remotely.
- Instead, the differences between companies will be much more distinguished by the nature of the work itself.
- And this will give the edge to smaller startups, who are working on exciting problems but couldn’t historically compete with big companies on lifestyle.
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Facebook is launching an ambitious push into remote working, and expects to have as much of 50% of its tens of thousands of employees working remotely by 2030.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that the move will bolster the company’s hiring efforts, saying on Thursday it “open[s] up a lot of new talent that previously wouldn’t have considered moving to a big city.”
But the opposite might be true: The coming remote work revolution might actually hamper big tech companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google’s ability to attract top-tier talent — even as it benefits the rest of the technology industry.
The reason why has to do with ping-pong tables.
For years, tech companies’ employee benefits and pampered offices have been the stuff of legend. Google and others helped pioneer a lavish way of working a decade ago — where traditional offices were replaced by sprawling campuses, on-staff masseuses, beer on tap, in-office climbing walls, free restaurants, shuttle buses, ping-pong and foosball tables, and more.
For some workers, these perks grew to be a draw to the company as much as the nature of the work itself. And as the tech industry dominated the San Francisco Bay Area ever-more, these pampered campuses offered workers a paradisaical escape from the woes of the region that their industry was contributing to: High costs of living, endemic traffic, a spiraling homelessness crisis, and so on.
But the era of ridiculous employee perks may be coming to a close. Along with Facebook, high-profile tech firms including Twitter, Square, Coinbase, and Box are all announcing expansive new remote-work policies for their workforces, and others seem sure to follow.
In this coming new world, where a software engineer can find work as easily from Boise, Idaho as Menlo Park, California, many workers may decide that a tech campus’ cushy perks can’t compare to the freedom of living in the Colorado mountains, or within spitting distance of Florida’s beaches.
This clearly limits companies’ abilities to provide perks: They can’t offer the same level of concierge laundry, cooking, and pampering service to 100,000 employees dispersed in home offices all over the continental United States. And once perks and offices are out of the picture, the differences between different companies competing for remote talent become less pronounced. Hours might vary somewhat, along with compensation levels, but the tools remain largely the same: Video-chat tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts, chatrooms like Slack or Teams, workflow management software like Asana or Trello, code repositories like GitHub or GitLab, and so on.
Suddenly, working at Facebook, or Google, or Apple, isn’t that materially different to working anywhere else. Instead, more than ever, what will distinguish companies is the nature of the work itself.
This could be bad news for big companies like Facebook and Google, that have been able to net thousands of brilliant minds to tackle advertising efficiency problems that might never normally interest them with the promise of a decadent corporate lifestyle. But it’s a godsend for smaller startups that could never compete with the FAANG companies on lifestyle, but are quietly working on some of the hardest computer science problems with fascinating real world applications.
Similarly, Facebook’s announcement that it will adjust some remote salaries downwards to reflect local costs of living may benefit smaller companies. A budding biotech firm might not be able to pay California prices for a machine learning engineer, but once that engineer has relocated to Green Bay, Wisconsin with Facebook, accepting a lower salary in the process, they become a lot easier to afford.
The result will be a win for tech workers, who will have more flexibility in their lifestyles and their choice of work than ever before. And it’s a win for smaller businesses able to truly compete with the big companies for top talent for the first time.
But top-tier tech companies may find the future of work to be an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place; a place where the competition for talent can no longer be won at the ping-pong table.
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