A senior Facebook executive reveals how the company's recent blockbuster office deal in NYC offers vision into the future of the workplace

  • A Facebook executive said the company is banking on the continued importance of the office workplace, even as the tech giant has said it will embrace remote working.
  • Brian Rosenthal, an engineering director at the firm who co-manages its New York office, told Business Insider that Facebook views having a physical space in New York as a critical.
  • The company's recent blockbuster lease at the Farley Building on Manhattan's West Side is an example of the way it continues to envision the workplace in a major hub like New York as key to its future growth and operations, Rosenthal said. 
  • Facebook's thinking offers a view into how major companies view the importance of a physical workplace at a time when questions have arisen whether companies will slim down their office footprints in favor of remote working strategies.   
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Facebook is betting that its employees will want to return to the workplace, especially in major cities such as New York, where the company just signed a blockbuster lease to take a massive new office earlier this month.

In August, Facebook completed a lease to take all of the office space in the Farley Building on Manhattan's West Side. The transaction, which totals roughly 730,000 square feet of newly built office space, seemed to fly in the face of recent statements and decisions by the social media and tech giant.

In May, its cofounder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said he anticipates that half of its employees will work remotely in a decade. As a result, Facebook will also pursue a more diffuse and conservative office footprint spread across the country to accommodate that workforce, he added.

The company, and some of its tech peers, have also postponed the timeline for when employees will be expected to come back to the workplace until next summer, a decision that has alarmed some major landlords who fear tenants will abandon or radically downsize their offices.

Read More: Apple is in talks to potentially expand its NYC footprint. It shows how tech is becoming a lone bright spot for a battered commercial real-estate market.

But the $840 billion company hasn't given up on physical offices. Brian Rosenthal, an engineering director at the firm who co-manages its New York operations, told Business Insider that Facebook is also confident workers will return to major office hubs it has established. Those spaces, such as the one in the Farley Building, will play a key role in recruitment, product development, collaboration, and growth, he added.

"So much of what we do is collaborative," Rosenthal said. "[Software is] like writing a book together where all the plots have to connect and make sense and there are thousands of authors. It's really hard to do if you're not co-located in the same space and it's important to even be able to see each other in the same space."

Facebook execs see New York as a vital hub, critical for recruiting

Facebook's recent transaction for space in the Farley Building was, by far, the largest signed in the city this year. Leasing activity has dropped off dramatically, and many large tenants have put their real-estate decision making on hold until they can better understand how the Covid-19 crisis impacts their business and space needs.

Yet, Facebook is banking on the Farley Building, and its New York offices in general, being central to its operations, even in a post-Covid world.

"In many other offices, employees want to be at Facebook, so they move to California to be at the company," Rosenthal said. "One of the striking things about New York is that the people we have are New Yorkers first and they're grateful that Facebook is growing a presence here because they're excited to work for us, but their identity is being a New Yorker first."

Read More: Facebook just reached a blockbuster deal to lease the massive Farley Building in NYC as a tech and engineering hub. Here's why it's a huge win for a shaken office market.

Rosenthal said that having a desirable physical office space and maintaining its New York operations as a vital hub was critical to its recruitment efforts, especially among senior level executives.

"Hiring senior people and having senior people able to grow their career here means having some of the most important technology challenges for the company here also," Rosenthal said. "So some of the smartest minds in tech can come and solve them. That's a deliberate strategy we're following that goes all the way up to Mark."

Facebook's new digs are perfect for tech collaboration

The space at the Farley Building will be used exclusively by the company's technology teams, in part, because of its huge open floors, which span almost 200,000 square feet apiece and encourage the kind collaboration the company says its engineers depend on to create complex software and maintain Facebook's considerable digital infrastructure.

"It's very hard for software companies to grow in very vertical buildings," Rosenthal said, noting that the Farley space is spread across only four floors. "The great thing about Farley is the floors are huge and the space is open."

In recent years, tenants have sought out such open, contiguous spaces in which to cram employees in order to encourage communication and collaboration. Those kinds of layouts, however, have fallen out of vogue in recent months as companies and workers demand spaces that have partitioning and that allow for social distancing to protect against the transmission of pathogens.

Rosenthal said he didn't yet know what impact that new imperative would have on the way the company designs and utilizes the new space.

"Safety will always be first, but collaboration is something we can't sacrifice," Rosenthal said. "I think we're going to keep innovating and learning. What we're not going to do is let the future of work mean that we don't collaborate as effectively as possible because it's so important to our product."

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