Facebook’s remote-working plan is doomed

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BLODGET & PLOTZ

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
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Getty

Facebook’s remote-working plan is doomed

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.

Our world in data deaths

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Our World in Data

Confirmed cases are also soaring.

Screen Shot 2020 05 22 at 9.15.22 AM

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Our World in Data

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.

Screen Shot 2020 05 22 at 9.15.54 AM

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Our World in Data

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

NEWS

Trump didn’t wear a mask for most of his Ford visit. He said he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing” him in it. Just wear the mask, Mr. President! It’s morally right, and it will actually help you, because it will encourage other Americans to mask, which will slow the disease. The faster the pandemic ends and the safer Americans feel, the better your chance of reelection.

Republican senators aim to boost Trump’s reelection chances by investigating (and investigating, and investigating) Joe Biden: They’re going to subpoena Obama officials, Democratic strategy groups, maybe Hunter Biden. This has been a successful Republican strategy in recent elections – see Swift Boats, Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s emails. The idea is to build vague doubts about Biden: Is he corrupt? Is he hiding something? At best it actually uncovers something shady. At worst it creates equivalence: Sure Trump may be corrupt and sleazy, but the other guy is too.

Karl Rove is helping the Trump campaign: Insider’s Tom LoBianco has the scoop that “Bush’s Brain” – as Rove was known – is advising Jared Kushner and campaign manager Brad Parscale on voter targeting and swing states. It probably doesn’t signal a warming in the notoriously cool personal relationship between Trump and the Bush family, but does reflect how Trump now dominates all wings of the Republican Party.

More bad news for Trump’s favorite coronavirus drug. Another big study found that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t help COVID patients and increases the risk of death. Fans of the drug will point out, however, that this study doesn’t address whether HCQ helps protect you from getting COVID, which is what Trump says he’s taking it for. We await the outcome of those trials.

BUSINESS

empty plane coronavirus

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Getty

US air travel hit its highest per-day level since March 24. Yes, the number of passengers was still only 12% of last year. But it seems Americans are – very gradually – venturing into the skies again.

China ditched its annual GDP growth target for the first time ever. It’s set a target every year since 1990. But party leaders said the pandemic made it too hard to predict what could happen with the economy.

How four ‘Shark Tank’ businesses reinvented themselves during pandemic. One created a mobile app for ordering Maine lobsters.

LIFE

The great wildebeest migration in Africa, safari

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Shutterstock

6 bucket-list trips you need to book a year in advance: Remember travel? Remember bucket lists? Easter Island, the Great Migration in the Serengeti, Antarctica, and other trips you can dream about doing when this is all over?

JK Rowling debunks claim that she came up with Harry Potter in this Edinburgh café. She says she started writing the books years before she ever started hanging out at the Elephant Café. Also, she never went to the beautiful Portuguese bookstore that was supposed to have inspired Hogwarts.

There are 13 kinds of pandemic TV ads. The “You Can Count on Us” ad. The “Hi, We’re Clean Now” ad. A funny list on Slate.

REVIEWS

Famous chefs like Thomas Keller are offering online cooking lessons on MasterClass. Here are the best ones.

THE BIG 3*

Penguins

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The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

How to assess your risk of catching coronavirus in any situation. The 6 key factors to consider.

The Kansas City Zoo sent its penguins on a field trip to the art museum. They really liked Caravaggio, not the Impressionists.

All your questions about prepaid debit cards stimulus payments, answered. Such as, who gets them? Can the government track your purchases?

*The most popular stories on Insider today.

YOUR LETTERS

I agree that we must defeat the virus to revive the economy. As to air travel, there are other factors causing the steep decline. Just as it wasn’t possible to visit nonessential businesses at home, that’s true anywhere you travel – and hotels and restaurants aren’t open, either. However, once we have full reopening, it is very likely that air travel will remain depressed for many reasons – people have become accustomed to working remotely, and businesses will want and need to save unnecessary travel expense. And if the purpose of vacation is to relax, you may not find plane travel safe and reassuring. Driving to a nearby vacation spot will have a lot of appeal.

-Jeff Furnish

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