Mark Zuckerberg said in January 2020 that the coronavirus might force all staff to work from home. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg thought he was ‘nuts.’

Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
  • Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg says she doubted what became an accurate prediction by Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Zuckerberg said in January 2020 that the coronavirus might require working remotely, she told Axios.
  • Facebook sent all of its 50,000 employees home on March 6, 2020.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, says she thought CEO Mark Zuckerberg was “nuts” when, at the start of 2020, he suggested that all employees might have to work remotely because of the novel coronavirus.

Zuckerberg told her and other senior Facebook employees in January 2020 to prepare for the possibility that all employees would have to work from home, Sandberg said in a podcast interview with “Axios Re:Cap” on Monday.

“I thought he was nuts,” she said. “I was like: ‘What do you mean there’d be a pandemic? What’s a pandemic? And would we really work from home?’ But he said: ‘No, no. It’s possible that everyone’s going to have to, like, go home.'”

Through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization spearheaded by Priscilla Chan and her husband, Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO received briefings from health experts in January, Sandberg said.

Around that time, the new virus had only been recently identified in China.

On March 6 of last year, however, the entire Facebook workforce of 50,000 employees was told to work from home. The World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic five days later.

In August, the company’s work-from-home directive was extended to July of this year.

Sandberg said that all employees had company laptops when they were sent home but that tens of thousands of contractors, who were also sent home, didn’t have the same equipment and so faced tech problems.

Last year, Facebook gave all workers $US2,000 ($2,596) to buy the equipment they needed to work from home as well as an additional 10 weeks of COVID-19 leave designed for staff members to recover from the virus or to look after their children or older relatives, Sandberg said.

Facebook’s hourly contractors and subcontractors would not be eligible for these benefits, The Intercept reported at the time.

Like many other workers, Sandberg said she missed informal communication in the office. She said on the podcast that she started doing monthly check-in meetings with her team and calling people one-on-one.