How Meta is planning for a return to office in 2022

By Atish Banerjea
December 22, 2021

We’re excited to plan our return to Meta offices, not only because we miss the camaraderie inherent in sharing spaces, but also because we believe Meta is uniquely positioned to pioneer a new way of working. Bringing people together — no matter where or how they’re connected — is intrinsic to our business. 

We recognize that, even with this return to our offices, we’re not returning to a prepandemic “normal.” Not only would that omit applying all the positive learnings we gathered during the pandemic, but it would also overlook that our approach to planning has changed. Gone are the days of steadfast 12-to-18-month roadmaps. Instead, we must remain flexible in our plans, while actively listening to our employees to understand and help address their needs as we navigate the unknown together. With empathy as the foundation of our leadership, we know we can build a future of work that democratizes the experience for remote, hybrid, and in-person team members.

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Our past should inform our future

Leading with empathy begins with listening. We believe that building the future of work at Meta and beyond must be a collaborative experience with all employees. As we began planning for our return to the office, we started by listening to our colleagues share what shifts the pandemic had on their daily work that we should try to preserve. 

For example, we used to fly interviewers to hubs where we’d hire candidates. We understand now that for our recruiting team, having both a candidate and a hiring manager in remote locations provides needed flexibility, greater diversity of talent, and a comparable hiring experience. Over the course of the next year, my team will continue to develop software services that enable hiring managers to recruit and connect with candidates online to meet hiring goals. Employees have also embraced our shift to a virtual help desk experience. Previously, our technical support mirrored a face-to-face tech support model where people could stop in and get whatever they wanted done or fixed. During the pandemic, we provided all tech help remotely — and we’ve seen this change provide colleagues with better, more efficient service because they can seek support 24/7 regardless of their respective time zone. 

We must create a democratized work experience

While virtual experiences have their advantages, being in the office has and will remain an important aspect of Meta’s culture. So, as we look toward building a new work experience, we need to understand how to collaborate better and remain productive when some people are in person and others are remote. Before the pandemic, working from home and videoconferencing for every meeting was an experience that was unfamiliar to many of our employees — myself included. But, now that we’ve all had this experience, we’ve also become sensitive to the challenges. Body language is hard to read. It can be challenging to participate remotely during a meeting where other participants are in person. To democratize how we work, we intend to solve challenges like these to ensure that, no matter where you are or how you’re collaborating, you are doing so on equal footing.

For years, we’ve opted to build our own tools because off-the-shelf software wasn’t able to match the speed and scale at which Meta operates. It’s this build culture mentality that drives our desire to democratize services like videoconferencing. We’ve already begun developing videoconferencing features that adjust sound levels to help remote participants hear in-person participants even if they are wearing a mask while in the office. As we continue to scale, we know it can be hard to remember names of new colleagues, especially when a group of them are together in a room. So we’re also developing virtual name tags that are applied to employees sharing a physical space to help remote employees know who is speaking.

We’ll continue building a virtual workplace

Beyond the immediate shifts we are making to improve how we work together, we’re also experimenting with ways that employees can seamlessly come together across augmented, virtual, and physical realities in the not-too-distant future. We are excited by the impact that Horizon Workrooms will have for enterprise businesses. Horizon Workrooms lets people come together to work in the same virtual room, regardless of physical distance, and it works across both virtual reality and the web. 

Earlier this year, I participated in an executive leadership off-site through Horizon Workrooms, which took place in an office space overlooking the Italian Riviera. It was the first time in months that I had shared a space with many of these individuals. It was awesome. The last time I felt so physically connected with these colleagues was before the pandemic. From customizable avatars that emulate real facial expressions and reactions to the simple ability to whiteboard collectively by using your controller to jot down ideas that others can see in real time, the experience was unparalleled. Over the next year, we’ll continue to test and iterate upon Horizon Workrooms and learn how we can optimize the experience, because we believe that the metaverse will provide us and other businesses a more intimate and cohesive way to collaborate than what is currently available. 

Whether working alongside our Reality Labs team shaping our virtual experience or our facilities team managing our in-person experience — more than ever before in my career, I know the year ahead will require that Enterprise Engineering work closely with our counterparts across the Meta organization. Today’s solutions for our in-person experience may need to be realigned with tomorrow’s realities. We’ve already begun rethinking what it means to come into work. We’re continuing to build a global footprint of smart lockers that make it possible for employees to travel between campuses across the country, reserve a desk in an office space, and check out devices seamlessly. Making this possible requires thinking through many complex layers, including supply chain needs, badging, individual identity and security, facility tools and resources (laptops, monitors, etc.), the allocation of desks to employees on a rotating system, and more. But complex challenges like this are exactly the types of problems the team enjoys solving.

Flexibility will remain important

Even as 2022 takes shape, we know we will need to be flexible. As we outline our roadmap, we’re baking options into everything we do and trying to learn from immediate experiences and improve upon them. We have to continue building an agile operation, knowing that roadmaps more than six months out might need to shift at any second. At the heart of all decisions are our people, their health and safety, and the people who use Meta’s products.

Staying flexible means ensuring that our colleagues have the tools and services to adapt as plans shift. For example, our team will continue to provide our colleagues options for devices — Portals, Ray-Ban Stories, mobile phones, etc. — to securely work whenever and wherever they need to. Making this possible means ensuring that our back-end technology infrastructure supports these devices seamlessly across preferred cloud services. Another example is financial planning: Our goal is to increase our global workforce, but doing so requires accurate, agile, and granular forecasting to support hiring. We are focused on providing our colleagues with the technology they need to optimize these planning processes. 

We’re excited for the opportunity to reshape the way we live and work, but we know that all we can expect from 2022 is the unexpected. What will remain unchanged is the Enterprise Engineering team’s laser focus on the end-to-end experience for our colleagues — including growing our footprint and opening offices, hiring and onboarding new teammates, and ensuring a democratized hybrid experience for our employees. We are the builders who will help make tomorrow safer, more secure, and more connected. The uncertainty can be daunting but also exciting. The 2020 trope of the new normal has paved an opportunity for us to think about the future normal in a way that creates the optimal experience for all.