How Meta spurs collaboration and social interaction in the post-pandemic workplace

In a remote and hybrid environment, we’re rethinking the hows, wheres, and whys of the way we get things done

By Nazareth Vartanian
February 8, 2023
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Recently, I went to our Menlo Park campus and had what, just a couple of years ago, I would have considered a very unusual day.

Instead of attending my back-to-back meetings, I had one impromptu conversation after another with my colleagues — many of whom I hadn’t seen in person since the pandemic started. At a certain point, I simply kicked my schedule to the curb and spent the day talking, eating, and strolling around campus. Before we knew it, it was 9:30 pm, and we were sitting in the parking lot, still chatting away. No one wanted to be the first to leave.

In many ways, it was not a productive day — after all, I didn’t get a whole lot of actual work done. Yet at the same time, I ended the day more excited about work than I had felt in months. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, the following thought occurred to me: Camaraderie is productivity. These in-person interactions may not have struck tasks from our to-do lists, but they connected us to one another in ways that are foundational to success. They energized us to care about our work. They enhanced trust and deepened the ongoing dialogue that is so important to successful collaboration.

I am increasingly convinced that these interactions — as essential as they are intangible — go far beyond mere “water-cooler talk.” As the leader of Meta’s Collaboration Technology group, the team responsible for creating and deploying the tools we use to work together, understanding this has become a main focal point for me. With more of us coming into the office to work, the CollabTech team is taking the opportunity to reframe the “why” of our shared spaces and intentionally design the office experience to be more effective, immersive, equitable, and — yes — fun.

Meta has been clear on its commitment to operate as a distributed-first workforce, empowering employees to work remotely, on-site, or in a hybrid arrangement, depending on what suits them best as individuals. We’re designing the future of work with intention. We’ve seen this reflected in our leadership, with several executives having made the leap to remote-first work beyond our Menlo Park headquarters. What’s clear is that how we work is more important than where we work.

Not only does a commitment to distributed work help democratize the workplace, but it also lets us take a step back and reassess how we can improve the in-person work experience. Without the pressure of meeting an arbitrary deadline to get people back into our offices, we’re free to be creative, expand our thinking, and design an office experience that is vibrant and immensely valuable for those who are coming in person.

Reimagining the office

Our approach to the office experience is different from what I’ve been hearing from many companies plotting their own return-to-office strategies. Mostly what I hear from them is something along the lines of “Come in to the office to ideate and do work-functional tasks.”

Those things are important, but the message misses the point. In reality, people are coming back to our offices not to “ideate,” but for the kinds of human connections I experienced. They’re looking for real talk about real things, to reconnect to the job — and to one another. These moments, in turn, engender the trust and intimacy that drive the strategy sessions that help us build solutions to deliver impact to the people who use our products and services every day.

Our offices serve as vibrant hubs for connection and in-person collaboration. In many ways, regular on-sites like the one I recently attended have become the new off-sites, where intentionally gathering teams allows for reconnection, relationship building, and also the ability to attend usual meetings with teammates who may be fully remote in a more meaningful and equitable way.

We’re in the process of building a new office experience that best facilitates these moments. To do this, we’re examining our spaces, both interior and exterior, through the lens of four phases of productivity:

  • Communicate: We’re getting back to basics with our physical workspaces, whether it’s an open desk space, conference room, or individual workroom. This means design that promotes natural sightlines for in-person engagement and intuitive audio/visual plug-ins for videoconferencing or virtual reality (VR) meetings with remote colleagues. We’ve also introduced a feature in our conference rooms that fosters inclusion and equity by removing the space around participants in the room and creating a view where they appear closer together, evenly sized, and at the same eye level for people joining the meeting remotely.
  • Collaborate: We’re building collaboration tools that are as interactive as they are immersive and easy to use. One area we are particularly focused on is creating new spaces for collaborative whiteboarding: rooms that provide secure and shareable sessions instantaneously, compatible with a variety of devices and designed for both in-person and remote brainstorming.
  • Reimagine: We’re improving communal workshops that maximize focus during the hours-long sessions that generate new outputs, designs, and products. The idea here is seamless participation, especially because there is no longer a head of the table in both the physical and virtual world. To solve for this, we’re dogfooding tools like Meta Horizon Workrooms to collaborate across the VR ecosystem and coming together in the same space to work on problem statements, prioritize initiatives, and find solutions.
  • Gather: Crucial to this conversation, we’re centering the in-person experience on free space, where colleagues can meet each other and feel comfortable connecting beyond the day’s deliverables. We’re looking creatively at how we’ll integrate these physical spaces between VR and physical environments so we can promote the greatest sense of community between people in the office and those in remote settings. This, in itself, is productivity.

Remaining committed to equity

While well-designed tools can make hybrid work more seamless and improve the employee experience, what’s most important to productivity is simply having these conversations. Acknowledging the human element of our work is integral to the work itself, and that applies as much to remote work as it does to in-office work.

As I’ve discussed before, your glass and location should not matter. Whether you’re working in the Bay Area or in London, and on a computer, phone, or tablet, everyone deserves the same equity of experience at work. As such, the tools and technologies we give employees should consistently empower every worker to speak, be heard, and feel included. This remains top of mind for us and is a key piece of designing our physical spaces.

Did I get many tasks done during my productive day on campus? No. But I was available to answer difficult questions and deepen important relationships. The experience opened up new possibilities and ultimately benefited my team in a way that felt like an investment. What’s more, I returned to my home office the following day energized and highly productive.

Even as more companies require more in-person work, we’re committed to leaving the decision to our employees. We’ll continue to break down the old notions and expectations of the office, identifying what’s best for the way people work today and what’s no longer a priority, and filling those gaps with the tools and designs that fit the way our employees choose to work — not the other way around.