I saw an article this week that piqued my interest – Facebook is building an apartment complex close to its Menlo Park campus for its employees. The article and comments are highly critical of the idea, recalling the company towns of the nineteenth century. The author sarcastically asks, “Who isn’t sick of their healthy work/life balance?” Many of the commenters voiced that by living in a Facebook apartment, Facebook employees will be constantly monitored by the company and forced to work longer hours than they would otherwise. They also seem to forget that leases exist.
To be honest, living in company housing like this situation (that is electively, in a city) sounds like a great idea to me! I’m not speaking particularly about Facebook now as I don’t know anything about the company culture, but more broadly for any company I’d consider working for.
The first advantage I see is that this complex is only 1.5 miles from the campus. As a former megacommuter, I highly highly value a short car commute (like we have now) or the ability to use alternative transport. It would be very tempting to get into housing that would enable me to walk or bike to work. I would imagine that most company housing would be located close to the company. Having a short commute immensely improves work/life balance.
The second advantage I see – which is apparently a disadvantage to everyone else – is that your neighbors would be your coworkers. Now, I don’t think I would want to live in the same apartment with the people I work most closely with just for the sake of diversity, but in all likelihood that wouldn’t be the case for a large company, and this particular Facebook complex could only house 10% of employees. But I think it would be fun to live near other people who choose to work where I choose to work, you know what I mean? Sort of like college! (I should clarify that Kyle and I attended a collaborative, highly specialized (science and engineering majors only), tiny college that was absolutely perfect for us and we had an amazing experience. So when I say it would be like college I mean that in a very positive way.) I don’t think that my neighbors would be spying on me or coercing me into working when I don’t want to be, but maybe that’s my bias.
The article didn’t mention anything about this, but if there were a subsidy on the housing costs I would almost certainly apply to live in the complex. Doubly so if the subsidy enabled me to live closer to work than I otherwise could afford to. The exception would be if the total price was still higher than what I would be willing to pay for the advantages and amenities I would actually use. There’s no value to me in being offered things as part of the ‘package’ of living in that complex that I wouldn’t use, so if that hiked the price I wouldn’t be interested.
I asked Kyle what he thought about this company housing proposition, and he said he would be concerned about being expected to work more, either at work or at home, because of living in the complex. Personally, I think it would be pretty difficult to force me to work when I don’t want to be! I pointed out to him that he had been interested in the UCSF grad student/postdoc on-campus housing when he was looking there for a postdoc – which is also walking distance to the building he’d be working in – and he seemed fine with that. What’s the difference, really?
I do think it’s important to discern what the employer’s motivation is in offering this type of housing. Is it to provide better work/life balance (like shorter commutes) to make employees happier and more productive? Are they hoping that employees will end up networking and collaborating more at work because of mixing with their neighbors? Or are they setting employees up for social pressure that will squeeze more hours out of them? I don’t know what Facebook’s motivation is but the employees who are looking into the complex should try to figure it out!
Would you consider living in company housing? What would you be concerned about or what would sweeten the deal? How do you think it would differ from on-campus university apartments?
photo from Free Digital Photos