Facebook Builds Out in NYC, Betting on In-Person Future

Despite the tech industry’s broad shift to remote work, Facebook is doubling down on physical office space in New York. It signed a major deal during the pandemic making it one of the city’s largest corporate tenants. WSJ takes an exclusive look inside Facebook’s future NYC offices. Photo Illustration: Adam Falk/The Wall Street Journal

Video Transcript

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- This is what Facebook's offices normally look like-- expansive spaces with plenty of areas to meet and rows of desks, open office style, something CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed off after the new Silicon Valley headquarters opened in 2015.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: It's-- we've worked like this for a long time, and it's been a pretty core way for-- for how we do what we do here at Facebook.

- Facebook's new New York offices should look just as bustling. Instead, they're full of empty chairs and vacant conference rooms. The only workers around are the ones building out the company's more than 2 million square feet of leased office space on the West Side of Manhattan. But employees have yet to move in.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: I think that it's quite possible that over the next five to 10 years, about 50% of our people could be working remotely.

- Facebook shifted to remote work early in the pandemic, and was one of the first to lay out a plan for some employees to work from home indefinitely.

BECCA FOY: We are seeing that productivity has actually been really solid, working remotely. But I think there, no matter what, is going to be some type of future where we are seeing the value in both remote and in office work.

- Even as Facebook has been preparing for a more flexible future, it has been expanding physical space in New York, signing a major lease during the pandemic to become one of the city's largest corporate tenants. So why is Facebook doubling down on in-person work in New York? And what impact could its growing presence have on the future of tech in the city?

Facebook first came to New York in 2007, opening its office with a handful of people focused on marketing and advertising. Becca Foy, who now heads Facebook's business teams in New York, was one of the office's earliest employees.

BECCA FOY: I joined the company when we were less than 500 people globally, less than 20 or so here in New York. And now, we are over 4,000 employees, half of which are tech and engineering.

- Then, in 2019, Facebook signed a lease in Hudson Yards, a new development in the city. That deal roughly tripled Facebook's square footage in New York. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Facebook again expanded its footprint in the city, adding an additional 730,000 square feet of space in the former Farley Post Office building, the largest single lease signed in Manhattan last year.

JULIE SAMUELS: The companies go where the people they want to hire are. Facebook doubling down in New York sends a really loud message that the people they want to hire are in New York.

- Located just down the street from Hudson Yards, the space at Farley Post gives Facebook something that's a little bit more Silicon Valley than New York City, a kind of campus.

BECCA FOY: As we think about this urban campus and really growing the footprint, you know, it's-- it's absolutely vital to the future for a few reasons. Not only do we need to accommodate our growing number of employees, but really accommodate the needs and the preferences of how they're going to work most effectively.

- The completed spaces look like many of Facebook's other offices, with open office seating and a variety of meeting rooms. And for the floor still under construction--

BECCA FOY: You can imagine spaces that are right for events, having collaboration areas, you know, with creative agencies, et cetera. And so our business teams are really going to look to Hudson Yards as their hub as we reopen those offices. And then on the flip side, the Farley Post building, that is really going to become more of a dedicated tech hub for our tech and engineering teams.

- Despite the pandemic, Foy says Facebook didn't make any major structural changes to its office designs Facebook. Doesn't plan to reopen until it sees it as safe to do so. But that's a matter of when, not if.

BECCA FOY: When we do open our offices, the health and safety piece is going to be our number one priority. And so if you imagine walking into the offices, I can't predict exactly what that will look like. But I know that we will take those protocols, and just the experience of coming into the building, really seriously.

JULIE SAMUELS: There's been plenty of ink spilled in all kinds of newspapers and magazines about how people are just leaving New York City in droves. But actually, we're not really seeing that in tech.

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- Julie Samuels is the executive director at Tech:NYC, a coalition of about 800 tech companies and investors working on behalf of the industry at the city and state level. She says the industry has fared well during the pandemic, as it was already more set up for working from home. But she doesn't think that shift will push firms out of New York.

JULIE SAMUELS: I think that the tech sector is fundamentally committed to the city. I think, however, the tech sector, generally speaking, is much more kind of open minded about where it works and how it works.

- Those smaller tech firms aren't taking direction from Facebook. The major leases it, and other big tech firms signed in 2020, could influence tech's future in the city.

JULIE SAMUELS: What's going to happen is, people are going to go work at Facebook. They're going to learn about tech. And honestly, I mean, I love-- I love Facebook, but, like, I hope a bunch of them leave and I hope that they start their own companies because, like, that's-- that's the magic.

- For Facebook, when exactly workers will return to work is unclear. But Foy says a majority of employees have expressed the desire to come back.

BECCA FOY: Mark Zuckerberg, you know, will say some of our products and things that we're building, they can happen in a matter of months. But building a culture happens day by day over years, over decades. And having our offices and our physical locations are going to continue to be such a contributor to our culture.

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