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Meta goes remote to capture EU talent

Steven Beardsley
January 11, 2022

Facebook parent Meta says remote positions will help it win talent across Europe as it builds its metaverse. It could also put pressure on other companies fighting for valuable tech workers.

Facebook and Meta
Meta has set out to attract talent in Europe via remote positionsImage: Andre M. Chang/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

Facebook parent company Meta is leaning on remote positions as it expands across Europe, allowing new employees to work from anywhere within a group of EU countries and the UK.  

The company says most new hires brought on to help build its virtual reality-driven metaverse in the coming years will be eligible to work from home in eight countries on the continent, including Germany, France and Spain. Meta hopes that by relying heavily on remote, it can broaden its talent pool from its traditional strongholds, the UK and Ireland. 

"Now we're saying we are going to look across Europe," company spokeswoman Kelley Cousins said. "The talent is out there. We want to tap into that talent."  

Meta's hiring drive is likely to put more pressure on European companies to finalize their own hybrid- and remote-working policies as they pursue increasingly scarce tech talent. Surveys show employees widely support flexible work arrangements. But firms have only gradually rolled out policies that apply beyond the pandemic.  

"Talent attraction is one thing. But another is talent retention," said Iwo Szapar, an advocate for remote work based in Warsaw. "Facebook is going for their people while they're still looking for new ones."  

Tight talent market 

Meta has said it plans to hire at least 10,000 new workers on the continent over the next five years for its metaverse project. While those numbers are a ripple in Europe's larger tech labor pool, demand for tech workers has well outpaced supply in recent years.  

In Germany alone, 96,000 tech positions remained open at the end of 2021, according to a new survey by digital association Bitkom that looked at software engineers, product managers and IT administrators, among other positions. Two-thirds of businesses said they expected the gap to widen, the organization found.

"We expect that demand in the middle term will only increase, above all due to demographic changes and also the demands of digitalization faced by companies everywhere," said Adel Holdampf-Wendel, who researches tech labor pools for Bitkom. "Every branch is searching for tech specialists." 

The pandemic has added new complexity. After working from home for almost two years, employees frequently say in company surveys they want flexibility when offices reopen. Rising real estate costs in tech hubs like Dublin, Paris and Berlin have made relocation less attractive for some candidates, while Europe's tight geography often makes working across borders a viable option. 

"It feels like the horse is out of the barn," Jon Stross, co-founder and president of recruiting platform Greenhouse, said. "A lot of folks have proven that 'hey, we can be perfectly productive at home.' And so there are enough companies that are offering that, that if you don't, it definitely puts you at a disadvantage."   

'Flexible work is essential' 

 Mentions of remote work in new job postings have increased but remain rare. Greenhouse, which works largely with tech and professional service firms, said 5% of postings on its platform offer remote work, up from 1.5% before the pandemic.  

Most companies still consider remote work an emergency solution during the worst waves of the pandemic. A survey of 600 German industries published by Bitkom in November found that almost three out of four wanted to either scale back or completely do away with remote work. 

Developing hybrid policies has instead become a focus, with companies mulling a fixed number of days for employees to work from home or elsewhere. Some firms have also agreed to fixed periods for remote work outside of the country.   

Szapar, who runs an online platform for remote work and organizes seminars, says operating outside the office tends to appeal to the most sought-after tech workers like software engineers. 

Smaller companies and startups have shown more flexibility in quickly adjusting their work policies, he said, while larger companies often reacted later in the pandemic. 

German software firm SAP is rolling out one of the country's more liberal policies. Last summer it began allowing its more than 100,000 employees worldwide to determine their own working locations and hours in coordination with supervisors and in consideration of customer needs.  

SAP employees were already working an average 2.5 days at home a week before the pandemic, Christian Schmeichel, who heads the company's remote- and hybrid-work efforts, said in an interview. In one survey, 16% of respondents said they would prefer a pure remote work schedule. 

"Flexible work is and will be an essential — I'd say defining — characteristic of the talent search and the competition for the best people, and not only in our branch," Schmeichel said. 

Larger companies are still fine-tuning policies. In contrast to their American counterparts, European companies are often required to work in coordination with labor councils. They also face a more daunting slate of regulations than firms across the US, noted Greenhouse's chief for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Colm O'Cuinneain. 

"A headquarters might say, 'OK, we can work from anywhere,'" O'Cuinneain said. "But the reality is with European companies it is more complex because there's different employment law in each country, you've got payroll and tax considerations." 

SAP logo
German firm SAP has a very liberal policy with regard to remote workImage: picture alliance/dpa

Remote first 

Meta says its current footprint helps solve that problem. The bulk of its employees for the region is based in the UK and Ireland, but the company has a network of offices scattered throughout continental Europe.  

The entire Europe, Middle East and Africa region is now considered a single zone in which employees can work remote within one of eight countries: France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain or the UK. Many of Meta's current employees may also be eligible for working remote, spokeswoman Cousins said.  

"If your role is eligible and you can do your job somewhere else, then you are more than welcome to opt into remote work," she said. "Maybe you were working in Ireland and want to be in Spain or Germany. So that is an available option."   

Remote hires wouldn't be able to work in local offices, Cousins said. Most of the new positions will instead report to a company office elsewhere in the region. 

Meta first offered remote working for US employees in 2020, citing the need to broaden its talent search while acknowledging rising costs in larger cities. Employees are paid at market rates based on where they live.  

The company's growth in Europe comes at a sensitive moment. The EU is considering new, stricter regulations on tech companies, with Meta platforms Facebook and Instagram firmly in the crosshairs. 

The tech giant is currently just one of many companies across Europe allowing employees to work from home. COVID-19 cases have been rising in the Europe, keeping more workers away from the office.Edited by: Hardy Graupner