I think that a lot of people banging on about remote work just haven't tried it for an extended period. It works for some, and for those - great.
To me, it's just another step down the 'technification' of everything in which people don't speak to the people around them (because they've been 'removed' from their lives) but spend all of their time in front of screens.
I don't want to live in the middle of nowhere and earn 10x what the average local does. I want the people around me to be roughly on my level and share my interests. That's something that's easy to do in a city.
That's how businesses end up centering in hubs anyway. Who wants to be a startup founder living in the country alone? I'm sure this person exists, but they're the exception not the rule.
I mean, right now, you can look at a place like London and see hyperlocal clustering of wealth, one street will be the 'nice street' and the next one rough. People really care about this.
If you earned a London salary in my hometown you'd be ostracising yourself completely from those around you by virtue of just having none of the same concerns. Yeah, you own the home outright, you can buy a brand new car every 6 months, the price tags in the supermarket may as well be blank, etc. Oh yeah, and you have working hours whenever you want, booking a holiday is telling your boss "I won't be in Friday, guv". Wait until your neighbour tells you again how they're struggling to pay the bills or they've just been sanctioned by the benefits office.
I don't see how that benefits anyone.
Unless you grew up in the area from which you work remotely, in which case you can be more social because connecting with old friends and family is much easier than making new friends at 30+.
> If I earned a London salary in my hometown I'd be ostracising myself completely from those around me [...] I don't see how that benefits anyone.
I don't see the problem with having more money than most of your neighbors - instead of buying new cars, you could spend it on your neighborhood and lift it up. Seems healthier than what is happening instead - non-techies being forced out of their homes because they can't keep up with techie rents.
Perhaps you don't see the problem because you're theorizing about it rather than having lived experience. As I think most people do.
Imagine that essentially everyone you meet in your age group is far poorer than you are. Not most people but everyone. You need some sort of 'app' to find people to speak to who are on your level.
Your specific example means you're making yourself some sort of local pariah/celebrity/whatever. It's very nice and kind, but what about your peer group? Do they just exist through a webcam?
It's like the FIRE folks. Everyone thinks they want to retire at 30 unless they're in that situation, and then they realise it's deathly boring and everyone else is at work. (Sure, FU money is great).
On reflection, I think maybe you're talking about the small arbs where like, you move from somewhere with 500K homes to somewhere with 250K homes or whatever; i.e. from somewhere with jobs, to somewhere with jobs (that pay a bit less). If you're doing the big arb of moving to an economically depressed area then you have to actually live there.
The limiting example would be like those people that move to Vietnam or whatever and have servants. Maybe it works for them? But even if you're just moving to a poor area in the same country it's still a massive difference.
There is a fundamental difference between having a bit more money and deleting worldly concerns. The FIRE/low CoL idea forgets the idea that if you make yourself 'special' you are now indeed special and weird and not like those around you.
1) unless you move to a very small town, there are still plenty of people in your economic demographic. In the US, roughly 5% of households earn more than $200k. In a town of 70k, you’d expect there to be roughly 27k households and therefore 1300 households earning more than $200k. If you are currently making more then $500k you might be a little more out there, but then you really have no reason to move, do you? (Your techie peers at other companies don’t make that sort of money).
2) “Friends from work” don’t go away when working remotely. We still have “water cooler” conversations and members of my team have occasionally visited each other’s cities outside of work. We also do a ton of socializing when we are physically together for work.
That being said, it does reduce that aspect of social life. What fills it? Other activities- family/children, hobbies, causes, clubs, etc. I’ve lived in major tech hubs before- it did take longer to establish a social network while working remotely in my smaller city, but once established it has been much more fulfilling.
3) I apologize for criticizing, but your concern about not being able to socialize with the middle class sounds bizarre. Some of our dearest friends in this city are solidly middle class- 911 dispatchers, teachers, carpenters, nurses, and sales people. We met through sports, children’s school, and volunteering. We specifically chose to live well below our means (FIREing before the term existed I guess) so our neighbors are a varied lot, and we like them. We can’t invite them to join us vacationing in Europe, but other than that it’s there is little awkwardness.
This assumes uniform distribution of household incomes across cities of different sizes, which I suspect is a shaky assumption. More likely, the high earning households are concentrated in a short list of major population centers.
There are well off people throughout the United State, not only in the top 20 metros.
These are your words, not mine!
If you're working remotely as a software developer then you're pretty much middle class by definition.
If you want to be the one-eyed man amongst the blind, go for it, but not everyone wants that.
Socioeconomic groupings exist in the metro areas too. Senior management hanging out with the workers is relatively rare. Because it's just a pain in the arse to guard yourself in every conversation and not seem like a twat lacking empathy when you talk about some benign thing you did last week.
If you have never experienced or observed stratification, then you may simply not get around much (in terms of social circles). It's not that strange, I cannot afford it either, I just made some chance acquintances, mostly through my socially far more capabele partner.
Class had become the most useful criterion to distinguish groups to me. It's not about guarding oneself explicitly, or avoiding interaction, but more in happening to frequent different kinds of sports/events, having different types of interest and being able to afford those types of hobbies. You won't see a working class person drive up to the club in his jaguar old timer for a game of golf and going for a Michelin star afterwards with friends, talking over a new investment opportunity. You see what I mean?
People from richer social classes, on the other hand, typically either dislike poorer classes for a variety of more or less obvious prejudices, or they dislike them because they project their own antagonisms, and thus feel disliked, then become disliked because they act 'guarded'.
My general basis for friendship is common interests and interpersonal chemistry. I think if people assume they have no common interests with people from different backgrounds, or they sabotage interpersonal chemistry by acting guarded, then they're cheating themselves.
Michelin star food is generally not all that much better than other food, golf is no different to mini-golf (aside from being less eco-friendly and less fun), and a jaguar old timer is just a particularly unreliable, unsafe and low mile-per-gallon Honda. Personally, I don't have much in common with people who define themselves by their career success, whether that's shown by fancy sneakers, or fancy cars.
Friends are peers that have similar life experiences and values (and humor). Sometimes people like that are hard to find.
This is an pretty narrow definition of friendship.
anybody instead of peers
some shared experiences or some shared values and forget about humour.
FWIW, I'm probably not qualified as I probably have more activity partners, or context friends, than true friends but your definition seemed incredibly limiting.
We end up saving amazing amounts of money, relatively speaking, but our social life has been difficult to fill in. College vibe helps, but there are vast benefits to large cities and I'm certainly missing those.
In a remote job, you could be travelling and be more social, engaging with different people every month. A digital nomad.
That's exactly what I'm railing against. Most people who have done this eventually recognise that it does not make them happy.
It certainly did for me. Permanent connections with imperfect people are better than some sort of forever quest.
I am only pointing out that you are restricting yourself by not choosing remote work. Some people can't self restrict or enact behaviours required for it to work. I can still choose to settle on one place forever.
British slang for poor, has no money, I just learned.
edit Not to mention the target of every drug user and petty criminal.
The amount of ego in this thread is impressive!
I fail to see what this has to do with ego - it's not an assertion of superiority, it's just a factual statement. It's nothing to do with technology - working as a lawyer for remote clients would be the same.
If anything it's the opposite I would think. Ego would be rocking up and flashing the cash.
You're clearly not a camper or a bow hunter, and you clearly have no particular attraction to pickup trucks.
Point being, your generalization is actually pretty specific to your set of interests. Other folks couldn't imagine not owning a car, getting rid of their dogs, or having to plan a special trip to go fishing.
I don’t really prefer to make all of my friends within the tech/academic bubble that I work in. I would feel weird if I didn’t see my coworkers, but I’ve made a point of finding activities that bring me into contact with a range of different people, and I think that makes my social life more interesting.
I was lucky enough to choose a career (medical physics) that takes place everywhere, but I could see remote work being effective for people in other fields.
Prince Harry isn't seriously going to go down the pub for regular meet ups with his friends from the ex mining town. They might get on if they have a chat, but that's not the point.
I'm specifically referring to the big CoL arbs, not the situation in which someone just lives like, further out from a major metro because they don't have to commute.
I moved from the Bay Area where my 1300sqft rental house would have cost me $1.2M, to work remote from a high-income community in Michigan where my 5000sqft house cost me $700k.
My neighbors are not poor, the schools are great, people are in a wide variety of professional and educational backgrounds (not just tech), and best of all, I live minutes away from my family and several of my best childhood friends, who I see every week.
You don’t need to move to the middle of nowhere for remote work to be a good idea, just anywhere even slightly more sane than the Bay Area. There’s loads of places all over the country that can strike a good balance here.
I'm talking about working remotely to escape a locally depressed job market which is very different (because in that situation you are relatively unique).
More employers should embrace tools that let their workers work fully remote. It's started creeping in with more work from home days at most white-collar employers. But you'll have to start judging people by their productivity, not presence in the office. Video chat on demand is just as good (arguably more communication imo, as people no longer have to get up and walk to talk to you).
Remote work doesn't mean home office. You can rent part of a shared office and still have colleagues for lunch.
You don't need to move to a place where you will be 'the rich guy'. It's your choice. Even with your big tech salary you won't be better off than the local business owners in a place with around 20k inhabitants.
Exactly! But you're not a local business owner.
Because no-one wants to live in a depressed town.
You can live in a commuter town and not commute, sure, then you're not arbitraging CoL (it won't be much cheaper).
If you live somewhere where there are no jobs then you have to deal with all of the issues I've stated.
They don't tend to live in villages or towns, and they don't socialise with "townies", and they certainly won't share any interests with some nouveau-rich tech worker who thinks they're wealthy
You seem to have this idea that everyone here thinks they're uber wealthy or whatever. It's just relative to the locale. If you move to a depressed northern town with the idea that it's going to be some utopian bliss in your massive house then you are in for a shock. That's what is being discussed.
Obviously there are nice places outside of metro areas. They have a price tag to match, or not, the land isn't for sale.
You're also illustrating the other side of it - it's not easy to slot into a different social class (upwards or downwards).
Social class in the UK is all about where you were educated, it has nothing to do with your income (same for Australia, but apparently not the USA, though I think that's changing). Your accent, your manners, whether you call it "dinner" or "tea", whether you go to the toilet, the lavatory or the bathroom. If you actually care about social class, these are the things that matter. Income doesn't.
But attitude is the big one. You can fit in and make friends anywhere with an open attitude. People are people. Friendships can easily overcome class and income differences if there's mutual respect, empathy, and a desire to be friends.
The US Midwest and South have a dozen relatively cheap cities to live in where it isn’t depressed.
Housing supply/demand balance is a prime contributor to CoL, and the south/Midwest generally doesn’t have the draconian housing restrictions that the coastal cities have.
And in a fair number of these places, there's the same hostility to people moving in as the bay area.
The point of remote work is that you don't need to move to Silicon Valley to get a good job. And unless you are living in the middle of no-where, small communities still have very wealthy people who are probably wealthier than you'll ever become. Why didn't they move? Because they have roots there.
Living in relatively poor/clean community is and co-working is still a good thing. You can then afford to have a family, something most people don't and you'll be able to buy more services. Then, you are helping the locals out there and reducing inequality.
Putting London money into a poorer economy that really needs it, rather than back into London, which doesn't?
It benefits parasitic rentiers.
It benefits the local community because you and others who do the same will spend your money there. I can't believe this isn't obvious.
Isn't it about time we realised that people live somewhere amongst social capital they have built up throughout their lives.
And therefore business capital should move where the people are - to avoid damaging that social capital. Not the other way around.
Ultimately people work to live. Those who live to work are a tiny minority.
With modern technology there is little excuse. Fewer and fewer enterprises require physical concentration to operate.
The North of England and cites like Pittsburgh and Detroit are cases in point.
Nowadays, we're in a bizarre reality where a 200% productivity gain among the average worker nationwide means a 1500% productivity gain in the top 10% of counties, coupled with a 55% productivity loss in the bottom 90% of counties. (Numbers generated randomly for illustrative purposes).
One would expect that productivity-boosting technology such as computers, robots, cell phones, and various forms of automation would increase productivity for nearly every person on every square inch of this planet. That is no longer the case, and it is something I plan to study in depth at a later date.
I think this hasn't been true for centuries. Moving rural to the cities has been documented since the 1700's very clearly by economists.
Also be interesting to know his much is due yu concentration of professions and how much to local network effects.
Obviously painting with broad strokes, but FAANG companies would have to fundamentally rethink the kind of person they'd like to hire if they want to move out of affluent Urban cores.
And yet Apple seemed to have figured out this type of problem quite nicely during the 80's and 90's when they moved their manufacturing from places like Carleton TX, Elk Grove CA and Fountain CO to places like Singapore and Ireland.
It's the same reason any company prefers to hire local when they can. Much easier to entice someone to drive somewhere else in town in the morning than to entice someone to uproot their life and move 1000 miles.
I can only imagine what someone with greater responsibilities, less time and no mentoring would go through. Not saying it can't be done, clearly it has. But just because a few talented/lucky/insane people can start from nothing and strike it big doesn't make it accessible to the average coal miner. If it did our salaries would be a low lower.
If you want to have startup you have to hang out with rich people so they invest in it or they buy your services. You don't want to have your company 10 hours or more away from customers.
It can argued that it does not matter as much for Google, but if you are a product owner of a "FizzBuzz maker", you need social capital with high ranking people in organization so they don't cut your budget. In the end it works the same, that you have to play golf with the right people so they trust you and don't cut your funding.
Of course, it is not enough just to hang out with right people. Don't get me wrong, because hanging out with people will validate all skills so if person doesn't deliver no one is going to hang out with such person.
There was an article on HN not long ago with a line "Talent is distributed equally. Opportunity is not.", because social capital in big cities is much more valuable than in country side. In terms of money, in terms of no one is going to talk to you, in big city you can find new friends easier.
Someone to help with the kids, relax with, help you fix your car, have a cheap evening or weekend of hanging out with. When you move it can take years to build all that up again. You might be able to do without it all, but you either have to pay to replace it or go without.
The main reason it's expensive is because supply restrictions have pushed housing far above the cost of construction. We could fix this by allowing more construction, which is what I'm arguing for in the post.
It's often the case, but SF, NYC, London are very popular outliers, so why can't other regions be?
It's not social capital, it's expected quality of life that makes people move to NYC for work and makes dilapidated areas unattractive.
I can't speak to Britain, but in the U.S. there are more people that do not live in SF or NYC than do. Other than people with niche interests (musical theater, startups, finance), most Americans, even young adults, aren't sitting around wondering how they can swing a big move to New York City.
It's much more normal to move to a regional big city, but in those cases the jobs are likely outside the city center as downtown. It's worth noting that NY and California would be stagnating if it weren't for immigration. Immigrants seem to be the ones who see places like SF and NYC as their big chance for a new quality of life.
True, but they're still a small minority of jobs; and those people will need/want services provided by workers of professions that do require physical presence, who will have an incentive to move away to big cities. So the only way to sustain that is to have a group of extremely highly paid remote workers, who can pay a premium to keep those other service workers in the area. Meanwhile, everyone who doesn't have a customer service job nor a remote one will move away, so you're left with a bifurcated pool of workers. Doesn't really sound like a great community to me.
The alternative is for remote workers to live mostly isolated from non-remote workers, but I can't see that spreading beyond a few exceptions.
EDIT: Now that I think of it, we already have those bifurcated communities, in the form of areas to where people with money move after retiring (which also frees them from the physical part of the job). I guess they're reasonably popular.
This is situational. There are also people who for whatever reason (usually work for parents) have moved around throughout their early years, thus they have little social capital to fall back on once they reach adulthood. In their case, moving to where the opportunity is makes a lot of sense because that's what they grew up with.
I do agree with you, though, that a lot of jobs are location-bound that needn't necessarily be, although there is a management overhead in incorporating remote workers. I hope as time goes by more managers will learn how to work with remote staff and that opportunity will become more widely available.
In the FIRE community you would find that the majority of people are working in order to live.
Most people with consumer debt are trapped in this too.
We're in a situation where we have offshore (Indian) tech hires and it's hard to coordinate on technical matters, even in a company where we have unlimited access to fancy VC rooms. When we flew them over for a bit everything was far easier. My boss thinks expensive digital whiteboards would make a big difference, but actually more than the money there's a political/social cost to buying big, visible things to sit in public sight in an office.
So why would you hire a Western guy for 3x the price and pay the exact same communication cost? Western and sitting in the same building or 3rd world country no other option seems to make sense.
I hope more and more companies move to remote working, but it's still a hard concept
If Google opened up a new large office in a place like Kansas City with no salary cut and a strong internet presence and some other tech companies (ICE exchange for example), I bet enough Google employees would want to move there to make it worthwhile. Cheaper cost of living, better schools, better for families etc. plus alternatives If you get tired of working at Google but probably not since your lifestyle would be so much better than the Bay Area.
I know a lot of people that are very sick of the Bay Area, especially those with kids.
One thing Townsend seems to have missed entirely is the presence of women in the workforce. The typical person being moved today is part of a two-career family. The other half of that equation is probably not being moved, so the corporate move comes down hard on the couple’s relationship at a very delicate point. It brings intolerable stress to bear on the accommodation they’re both striving to achieve to allow two full-fledged careers. That’s hitting below the belt. Modern couples won’t put up with it and they won’t forgive it. The company move might have been possible in the 1950s and 1960s. Today it is folly.
Even in the sixties, organizational moves didn’t make much sense. A case in point is the decision by AT&T’s Bell Laboratories to move the 600-person ESS project from New Jersey to Illinois in 1966.
Years after the ESS cutover, I arranged to interview Ray Ketehledge, who had run the project. I was writing some essays on management of large efforts, and ESS certainly qualified. I asked him what he saw as his main successes and failures as boss. "Forget the successes," he said. “The failure was that move. You can't believe what it cost us in turnover." He went on to give some figures. The immediately calculable cost of the move was the number of people who quit before relocation day. Expressed as a percentage of those moved, this initial turnover was greater than the French losses in the trenches of World War I.
And that accounts only for the initial loss. In the case of Bell Labs, there was another large exodus starting about a year after the move. These were the people who had honestly tried to go along with the company. They moved and, when they didn’t like the new location, they moved again.
I don't know if there's any easy generalizations to suss out. Probably every case will be very specific to the work being done, the environment it's done in, and the people it's done by.
How? Short of some background, this could easily be a massive assumption.
The economic and political messes of sudden expansion can be an absolute mess.
The idea that when you buy a house, that you’re somehow paying for your neighbourhood/city to perpetually remain in a state that personally satisfies you is behind most of our housing problems. Enabled by the almost universal dysfunctionality of local democracy.
In SF's case the external pressure just was to huge and they should have given up long time ago keeping it a low built city.
Yeah, and why bother making the country a mess by letting foreigners into your country?
People moving for opportunity is a fundamental part of what America is. To deny others opportunities that you have by virtue of birthplace is nativism, and it's ugly.
Sure, it sounds relatively harmless when it's "just your town", but you can look at the bay area and see what happens when everyone behaves this way for their neighborhood or city. Massive rents, struggling families, hideously long commutes: all the result of NIMBYism.
I mean, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? And unless you’re a proponent for open borders, you advocate a similar position - just a different scale. I’m also not really a fan of the “deny others opportunities” grandstanding. I mean you do it right now. I bet someone wants the job you have. Why not give your money away so others have opportunities? It’s easy to talk the talk with that. We all, by nature of our global system, deny others opportunities. The Swiss deny me an opportunity to move to Switzerland since I don’t have a million bucks. New Zealand requires me to invest half a million. Canada has a points system for immigration.
> People moving for opportunity is a fundamental part of what America is. To deny others opportunities that you have by virtue of birthplace is nativism, and it's ugly.
Well, like towns, you shouldn’t expect the idea of America to not change. There is like 350mm people here. Personally I think that’s plenty and the Statue of Liberty mindset just reminds me of 2nd Amendment arguments. I don’t want to end up like India, China, or Bangladesh with crowds and crowds of people (whether they are here due to immigration or birth). I think the US is overpopulated as it is. My idea of America is a lot of untamed wilderness, clean air, national parks, peace and quiet. Increases on population don’t really fit my vision (but that’s mine).
> Massive rents, struggling families, hideously long commutes: all the result of NIMBYism.
And this isn’t solved by building skyscrapers and having more people. It’s solved by having fewer people and jobs less concentrated in specific areas.
PG talks about taboo topics. Population is one of those I think, for me. I feel uncomfortable saying anything about it publicly, and I feel as though people have largely been indoctrinated that growth=good and you shouldn’t challenge that. I really just don’t see the value in adding more and more people to the US (birth or immigration). If we could have fewer, better educated people and less wealth disparity this could be an even better place to live. Imagine getting rid of jobs that people don’t want to do and then paying people a lot more money to do jobs they do want to do? Pay a barista $100,000/year instead of two business analysts making $50,000. It’s not like we’re going to add enough jobs to keep up with the pace of growth, unless we add mind-numbing bullshit jobs or create another TSA.
But I think the whole raison d'être for everything here in this tiny post is that our economy is built on a growth model. It’s a huge Ponzi scheme (in function not intention), so if we don’t increase the population or increase global population and sell to them, the whole thing falls apart. But it’s also this growth mindset that’s destroying the pristine wilderness we have, causing global warming, and contributing to nonsense wars and terrorism.
I don't know about TulliusCicero, but I agree with their comment and I think open borders would probably be good. The US's historically high levels of immigration have been very positive for the country and I think we could let more people in.
> My idea of America is a lot of untamed wilderness, clean air, national parks, peace and quiet
The US is enormous, and people who want to move here are primarily interested in living in the major cities. If we allow building dense cities we can easily continue to have very large fractions of the country set aside as wilderness.
> If we could have fewer, better educated people and less wealth disparity this could be an even better place to live.
You're only considering the interests of the people who already live here. Keeping people out doesn't make fewer people, just fewer people here, just like it doesn't decrease wealth disparity only wealth disparity here. Lots of people around the world would love to come here and have the same opportunities we have. I think we should generally let them.
My take on that is that it’s a naive, anarchist position. I’m also unsure that anyone can anticipate the potential downsides as well. I see so many problems it’s hard to even get a start. And it’s not about not letting in “bad” people, but that infrastructure would be absolutely overwhelmed and it would be an unmitigated disaster. We wouldn’t have like a couple million more people moving in, it would be tens, maybe hundreds of millions. They all won’t fit in NYC and SF - they’ll move to Columbus, and Pittsburgh, and they’ll move to suburbs, and shanty towns. I just don’t see positives outweighing negatives unless we really just skyrocket prices - but on a macro level that’s no different than how things are.
To me it’s like putting your oxygen mask on before you help someone else. We can’t even solve problems in this country now. But I do imagine mega corps would love this since they’d have a much higher pool of workers, and an expanded market that is easier to get access to, which kind of gets back to my last point about growth-mindset.
> You're only considering the interests of the people who already live here. Keeping people out doesn't make fewer people, just fewer people here, just like it doesn't decrease wealth disparity only wealth disparity here. Lots of people around the world would love to come here and have the same opportunities we have. I think we should generally let them.
I appreciate your comment but I don’t think it’s a fair one. To start, I think GLOBAL population is far too high, and I’d apply the same principles to the US that I am suggesting but globally, but we were talking about the US. I also think that this is a case where it’s easy to say “oh but if they only had the opportunity” because it sounds great while also ignoring how it affects others. Generally I don’t think we should let people in to the US, because it doesn’t really solve any problems. It certainly doesn’t help the rest of the world. Am I lucky that I was born here? You bet. But that’s it. I’m also lucky to not be born with a disability, I’m also not lucky since I wasn’t born wealthy.
The last point I’ll add is that the vast majority of the world disagrees with open-borders and I think for good reason. Even the most liberal countries (broadly speaking) don’t do it.
Thanks for your discussion points here. I’d love to hear more of what you think - and I hope what I said doesn’t come off too poorly. It’s hard with text and not in-person.
Modern USA was created by migrants. But when the country was being settled, those migrants were faced with having to either provide for themselves, or die. The US has also seen a lot of growth from continuing to import immigrants. But those immigrants were all selected based upon a relatively strict criteria to evaluate whether they would be providing value to the country.
> Why bother make your town a mess in the name of growth.
Local government elections don’t have any influence over population growth. The forces that influence that are beyond the control of local government (and to a lesser extent, beyond the control of government in general). If the local population increases, the only thing local government can control (in relation to housing) is what choice it makes between preserving character or prices. The typical NIMBY response to dealing with population growth is that it should happen elsewhere, because they like where they live, and don’t want it to change.
That’s true on matters of zoning, schools, libraries, fire stations, or whatever other decisions the town faces. There’s a process for amending zoning rules; there’s usually a process for getting a variance from zoning rules that are unduly burdensome in regards to an individual parcel. What about this democratic process is dysfunctional, other than some people not liking the outcome?
Solving the political problem is much harder.
My initial quip was to point out that (as I suspect @anonymoushn was alluding) the problem isn't technological. Rather it's one of incentives, politics, and market structure.
This is a problem of policy and social engineering - technology can and will help, but it won't solve it.
Does anyone know what proportion of their workforce is not in California?
A question to Googlers and those who have worked there, is it possible to move to say Boulder within Google easily?
Pay depends enormously on the local market for your skills. NYC and Boston pay almost as much as Mountain View, while (ex) London pays much less. People moving between offices are often offered large increases/decreases. A strategy of joining in Mountain View and then transferring to a lower-paying office isn't generally going to give you much higher pay at the new office (though you'll of course have the money you put away while in Mountain View).
(Speaking only for myself)
I think it's about half.
> is it possible to move to say Boulder within Google easily?
Reasonably. You need to find a team at the other office that has openings for someone with your skills, but I know many people who have done it (Mountain View -> Cambridge, NYC -> Seattle, Cambridge -> Pittsburgh, Mountain View -> Boulder among others).
Surely the locals already have their houses in KC and would benefit more than they'd suffer, as renters, sellers, shop owners.
(See Auckland as well)
It also raises prices which means local shops and places to eat would be booming.
But if they're a local and not getting one of these high paying jobs ... they're going to have a hard time finding a place they can afford.
In the short term, sure, but there's plenty of room in KC.
FWIW, my old company added a Seattle office a few years ago. Sure, some people moved, but it was pretty negligible.
They'd probably just move to the wealthier suburbs or send kids to high quality private schools.
Longer term, having a solution for schools that doesn't create such radical disparities between districts mere miles apart would be in everyone's interest, but that's a broader national problem.
I'm curious what your guess is? I'm not talking about opening a new satellite office in a cheaper area (they've already done this, for example Pittsburg) but actually moving their headquarters. Tens of thousands of roles moving from Mountain View / Sunnyvale to Kansas City.
Most of these roles are occupied by people who have a lot of options and don't want to move across the country. Even if they were up for moving and the company was offering to keep the same (far above market for KC) pay, they'd be very nervous about entering a situation where their employer would have so much more leverage over them.
(My totally blind guess would be about half of your guess, which would be plenty high enough for your point to still stand)
That said, corporate headquarters get moved frequently enough that this is probably a question that Google could and would model out were such a move actually under consideration.
There are tons of places I’d move to easily if I could keep my current SF salary.
Google’s profit clearly has to do with salary because salary is a negotiation between employees and employers, and “my work allows you to make $x more dollars than if I hadn’t done the work” is a basic tenet of salary negotiation.
But this is a negotiation. If Google moved to a lower cost-of-living location, they’d be making themselves available as an employer to new employees, for whom their current locations are undesirable. So if there are other potential employees who are willing to do the work for less salary, Google has the option to hire them instead.
Sure. But negotiating for a piece of the action comes in the form of deciding on stock options and grants. Salaries don't go up and down with profits.
It objectively the case that salaries vary with profits. Are you just saying you think they ought not?
If the company is losing money, you can bet raises will be harder to come by. When Facebook was poaching a lot of Googlers in the late aughts and early teens, base salaries went up a bunch to make the job more competitive. But if Google hadn't been profitable there would have been no headroom to make that change. Those are two (of many) ways that salaries vary with profits.
Salaries are a function of the perceived value of the particular employee to the company. If the salary is too low, he'll be poached by another company. If it's too high, he's likely to be laid off or otherwise pushed out.
For example, if an employee contributes $100 in value to the company, his ideal compensation would be $100 minus the opportunity cost of the money, which is about $15.
This has nothing to do with the profit of the company as a whole.
It is true that companies often have a lot of difficulty computing what the actual dollar value of a particular employee is, but there is no doubt that the company will do badly if it gets it too far wrong too many times.
Companies falling on hard times that try to cut salaries across the board (or limit raises, same thing) do so at great peril - the underpaid (relative to their contribution) employees leave and the overpaid stay. I.e. this can result in a vicious death spiral. A much harder, but far more effective strategy is to identify the overpaid ones and get rid of them.
The problem for the hypothetical KC Googler is that there are substantially no other high paying tech jobs in KC. There's Cerner, but they pay seniors ~1/3rd what Google pays (and it seems to get further from Google comp as you go up the ladder). So if you want to negotiate with Google to increase your pay, you have no credible best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). If you want to work for any other high paying tech company, you have to leave town. Google, knowing they are the best game in town, would face less upward pressure on wages.
I mean, as a matter of simple fact, Google does not pay the same in different metros. Nor do any other large companies I'm aware of. The pay is adjusted to what is required to attract talent in those metros.
On the other hand this means areas with lower costs of living but strong tech job markets can be a very good deal: Pittsburg is one people often bring up.
Boston isn't as cheap as Pittsburg, but it's far cheaper than the Bay Area with pay that's nearly as high. I'm very happy here.
Also, pegging your salary to corporate profits has its downsides. At Boeing, a good chunk of the worker bees negotiated their bonuses to be pegged to the quarterly profits. They were pretty unhappy about this when the 737MAX problems tanked profits, and the bonuses vanished.
But anyway to me the math isn't about win/win but just supply and demand. If they can afford to pay it and were willing to before, it's not like you can't make the same amount (if not more) and have better future prospects without the stress and cost of moving.
I think a more realistic take would be a more decentralized approach to labor in general and allow many smaller satellites to pop up (which they already have) in many places and allow their people to move freely with minor salary adjustments. That way the costs and benefits even out in the long run, mass relocation to a single location probably isn't great for anyone involved long term.
I have no doubt, likely more unhappy at lost bonuses than the fact they contributed directly to many lives being lost.
People with the 150k-300k salaries FAANG provides would be making a surgeon's salary in Kansas City.
(Admittedly, when I was looking at SF / Silicon Valley before, I was looking at startups; having a Big N as an employer might have just made it work, but we'd still have been losing out on closer family ties.)
I also have a family and have no interest in ever living in Silicon Valley or New York. I'm at Google and absolutely love being in Seattle.
Unlikely. A lot of the reason the pay here is so good is because of the high cost of living.
London is a great example: high cost of living, low market rates for top talent, low pay from the FAANGs.
Pittsburgh is an example in the other direction: low cost of living, relatively high market rates, relatively high pay from the FAANGs. Still lower than the Bay though.
These factors are intertwined.
If a large company was doing a mass-migration of employees to a new, lower-cost city, it might make sense to keep salaries consistent. But let’s not kid ourselves and think that new hires at that new location would still be hired at the SF rate.
And as others have pointed out, if the salary did remain that high and you left, it’s almost guaranteed that your next job would not have that kind of salary.
Personal anecdote: when I moved from NYC to Seattle, I didn’t take a pay cut (I was switching industries), but the recruiter knew my Seattle market-rate was lower than my NYC market-rate. She tried to console me with promises of lower-cost of living (in fact, I pay more in rent now, but in fairness my equivalent apartment in Seattle would be 25% higher in NYC) — which wasn’t really true. But the tax difference was/is so massive, that it really does offset the salary difference, even at market rate. And if I were to transfer from Seattle to NYC, I would insist on getting a pay increase to offset those higher costs.
I don’t like employers lowering salaries if an employee moves to another lower-cost city (mostly because in many cases they are already paying hire taxes in those expensive markets and it feels punitive to get to pay less taxes and a lower salary for the same work/person), but it’s very common. That said, I don’t think it’s possible for very large companies to follow the Basecamp approach of universal salary structure based on being in the top X% of SF median or mean salaries (I forget which). As nice as that is for a smaller company, if you’ve got 100,000 employees (not counting contractors) potentially paying people 4x market rate doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t scale.
That said, there are always exceptions. If a person is valuable enough to the business, that person can get whatever salary they want regardless of location.
 "I wont move to SF if you dont give me enough to pay rent"
The offer was for half my current salary. They tried to argue that with the cost of living adjustment I could buy a house, but what 22-year-old wants to buy a house? Locating in Madison is kind of a physical manifestation of their business strategy - avoid any competition, pay sub-market rates and issue strict, possibly non-enforceable non-compete clauses.
It works for people who really want to live in the Midwest. I think there's a spectrum between "live to work" and "work to live", and I think most ambitious college grads actually want many opportunities, for a while at least.
There are plenty of other companies outside big tech hubs, you just don’t hear about them as much and they don’t recruit the same way a lot of other tech companies do. For example, Epic’s competitor Cerner is in Kansas City which many people on this post are using as an example of a cheap place with a small tech scene, despite Cerner employing over 10K
I was actually in a similar situation, where Capital One offered 90K for Richmond, VA and it seemed better than ~120k offer in the Bay Area. But then I got a Google offer and stopped considering both of the others.
The high-CoL companies really only make sense financially if you're in the upper tiers of pay (and/or on the path to reaching that level of pay).
I live in my home town and have worked for start ups in Santa Monica, San Francisco, Boston, and New York.
I live in Eastern Connecticut, which is the side on the state that people often do not know about. It's a 2.5 hour drive to New York or Boston. It's not as affluent as the weat side, close to New York.
I do a lot of gardening when the weather permits.
I'll be running away from the major cities as fast as possible as soon as possible.
Yuck. You actually lose money working in DC, the salaries aren't even worth.
People around DC have such low salaries that they are among the richest counties in the country...
Which goes back to my original point: "Yuck. You actually lose money working in DC, the salaries aren't even worth."
For software developers, the median salaries are below those in SF and Seattle, but if you are a FAANG level engineer, Amazon’s pay scale in NOVA is identical to Seattle and Facebook pays similarly.
> carved some neighborhoods out for themselves
This is an effort to imply that the suburbs of DC with high median salaries are small enclaves. This could not be further from the truth. Fairfax County, which has the third highest median household income in the US, is over a million in population and the largest county in VA. Montgomery County is the largest county in Maryland, also over a million people. So these counties are not separated from the rest of the metro area, but instead have over 2 million people in an MSA of 6 million.
Point being, putting 2X thousand dollars a year in long term savings in NYC is a better financial choice than saving X thousand a year in Townsville but having a nicer neighborhood or something.
Not that the dichotomy works exactly that way, but adjusting gross salary of a senior software engineer by cost of living makes little sense since only part of her pay goes to cost of living.
That goes twice if your significant other also has a similar career trajectory.
The software that runs the world should be developed by people living all over the world, not just people who can move to a few cities. To me, this is part of real diversity. We talk about gathering requirements for software. Well, it's easier to do it when the people developing the software are as diverse as possible. Limiting these jobs to people who are willing and able to move to one of the tech hubs is bound to limit some kinds of diversity.
People should be free to live in and support their local communities. I think a lot of the political polarization that has been building up lately, particularly in the US, is between the "elites" in big cities and the "regular people" in the rest of the country. We should try to reduce that gap. Of course, people who find their local community intolerable should be free to move elsewhere.
Remote work, especially when it's primarily text-based, is also more equitable for people with disabilities. Blind people benefit somewhat from the fact that nobody is relying on facial expressions or body language (assuming video calls aren't a routine thing). For people with other kinds of disabilities, the benefits can be far greater. What would you do if a deaf person or a person with a severe speech impediment applied for a job on your on-site team? Well, if you're primarily using text, it's not as big an issue. Sure, we can always accommodate specific people with specific disabilities, but it's better if the normal way of doing things already works for them.
Disclosure: I currently work at Microsoft, on the main Redmond campus. So call me a hypocrite if you like. But I honestly think I'm doing a lot of good where I'm at, since I work on the Windows accessibility team. I do sometimes bring up the subject of remote work with my colleagues. And whenever I move on, I will probably insist that my next job be remote.
It seems companies want staff onsite in London, purely for the enjoyment of making people commute there. This does no good for the environment other than help to conversion of fossil fuel into co².
If people are to be managed in things like "sprints" or other ticket monitoring/work managing systems then there's no reason why people can't work from home so long as they're happy to communicate on normal daily/weekly management calls.
Bring on telecommuting, it works for and helps everyone.
I've done remote work, and you know what?
I'd rather live in a small flat in London than have a big old house in the North because everything is in London. It's _the_ city in the UK.
If that ever changes (I sincerely doubt it will primarily because essentially all of the wealth is there) it'll probably take multiple generations.
But that's the point, isn't it? If you're giving up on locality, you might as well hire someone cheap. The fact that they can commute into the office is one of the things keeping the salaries of UK workers higher.
In other words, be careful with what you wish for, you just might get it.
Businesses who look to offshore expect it to be cheap, they often find that cheap doesn't mean good. Good offshore may cost a similar amount to good onshore. Offshore may be be unsocial hours for local time.
There's also often a cost of the business decision makers taking a jolly trip to the offshore location to see their offices (no idea why this is needed), if telecommuting doesn't work well enough to trust the remote office, why go there?
How much are people willing to pay for that?
Despite the cost of living (which is insane), San Francisco is still attractive to software companies because of the insane numbers of people with software skills in the area.
IMHO there are a few things that are accelerating this: 1) dropping cost of of transport (clean energy, autonomous driving/flying, etc.) this will allow people to move more efficiently and more often and with less guilt about environmental concerns. 2) improving tooling for remote work. 3) co-working spaces and other flexible work infrastructure. 4) the gig economy, work, living, eating, transport, it's basically all people outsourcing things to each other.
I always remain suspicious of this, because there's so many bad managers out there who equate "working hard" with "being at your desk for a long time" and have no idea how to manage a team if they can't eyeball them. Is being physically present a genuine advantage to the organisation, or does it just make managers feel better?
You need people who are able to work remotely together. It is not only about having really smart devs who can grasp how to do Y with tech Z. It is also about having really smart managers and really smart company owners. Building such a team takes years, it is not like you can hire 10 devs, a manager and dump loads of cash on them to build a product.
First you have to get all those different people to trust each other. Then there are differences in ideas how things should be done, it is hard to solve some of those when people are in the same room. People have different temperaments, they have different ambitions.
We have all the technology to communicate but people have problems with stating their ideas in clear way in writing. Calling might help a bit, but to build trust you have to work with someone face to face and go trough rough times together.
I argued about that it is hard to get 100% remote companies with 100% remote positions. Nothing about no one should ever do it. If you have smart people who you trust, you can do it.
You bring up examples of companies that are doing remote work so someone is trying to do that. It works for them. Expecting every company to do it is not the way to go.
Every company should be doing what is best for them, based on people and possibilities they have. Just like Yahoo tried remote work and Merissa Mayer come up with remote work ban, not sure if it was good for company but that was their decision.
So is writing maintainable code with actual documentation, etc. And I find that there's a lot of overlap between good remote work and that sort of development.
It's a lot hard to slap together undocumented spaghetti and then hand it off to a coworker if you can't bring them over, point at a monitor, and redraw the UML diagram for the eighteenth time with dry erase marker.
Then someone could argue: "but you can put linters, automated checks, robust testing". We all know it is not going to work because you cannot fix people problems with technology. I would say that is main point of my argument, even if you have technology to communicate over distance, it is not going to fix people problems.
They don't have to move everything to Pittsburgh, they could just open a small office there and give their employees the option to move there.
>> People expected telecommuting to change this, but even though we have many technical tools that make remote work far more practical than it was even ten years ago, physically being in the same place as your coworkers remains extremely valuable.
I think office politics are to blame for this. Remote people are often more productive than those who are on-site but they are less likely to be promoted in a mixed envrionment. That's why it's often better if everyone is remote; then everyone has equal opportunity.
>> Good ideas flow more freely between organizations
So do bad ideas. Bad ideas backed by a lot of money spread like the plague.
>> Coordination between organizations is easier
So that they can make cartels which erode workers' rights and monopolize industries.
>> Switching jobs is easier, so people don't get as stuck in jobs they don't like
They can be forced to live in a horrible place that they hate, but at least they can distract themselves from their misery by changing companies all the time to give themselves the illusion of hope.
>> Ease of switching also allows people to take larger career risks
To the point that everyone in your workplace is focused on risky career politics instead of producing actual value.
Google has had an office in Pittsburgh for over a decade now. There is physical office space for 2-3x the employees it has now and year after year, the growth there does not exceed the overall company growth. Turns out that people don’t really want to relocate to cheap cities in droves.
They've already done this, in ~2004, and the Pittsburgh office has maybe 1,000 people?
However, this spiral is offset by a negative economic spiral in rural areas. As the national currency appreciates due to the increasing competitiveness of urban centers, rural industry becomes less and less competitive. When a national economy is in a downturn, the central bank can devalue the national currency to improve the price-competitiveness of national products for export; however, rural economies don't have this option as they share a currency with urban centers. So rural communities continue their downward economic spiral.
Why is this a problem? If we could force the rural laggards to move to urban centers, or if rural populations didn't hold outsize influence over the political process, it wouldn't be. But we can neither coerce rural depopulation nor can we make that kind of political change. So the situation continues.
Unfortunately, there will be a price to pay. Increasing political polarization leads to civil conflict. The EU narrowly avoided collapse by bailing out the Greeks - the US Congress has been practicing "bailouts" for a century (at least) with pork-barrel legislation. So let people move to jobs - as long as they're cognizant that their taxes will continue to go back where they came from.
I have a very Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) and Jane Jacobs (Life and Death of Cities) themed view of population centers. What would it take to recreate (clone) Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, etc? Rhetorical question, everyone is already trying to do this. It comes down to clarity of purpose, investment, and riding economic trends.
People getting married and starting families is mostly an economic decision. Consequently, young families will relocate as needed. Future employers and governments should be mindful and help.
There are always multiple trends working simultaneously. Cities, especially coastal, will continue to become more dense. But there's also a smaller trend (demand) to return to the land. So places like Kansas should invest in restoring locally owned, smaller farms and enterprises.
Modeled on how Washington State created a thriving ecosystem for wine. Apply that strategy to whatever.
1. Companies are founded in the big cities, to have access to talent
2. People move to big cities to have access to better jobs
As long as the benefits outweigh the cost, the chances are small that anything changes...
Large, successful companies create the conditions for attracting employees to new locations. Both Seattle and Austin are examples of this. Earlier, IBM had a practice of locating in small to medium sized cities like Kingston, NY, Rochester, MN or Sunnyvale, CA. In the '50s and '60s the aerospace industry was highly mobile, with engineers moving from the North and East to the South and West.
People do move. The post is arguing that (a) this is a good thing and (b) we should allow more housing construction to facilitate it (and to keep existing residents from getting forced out).
I've seen this artificially enforced by executives who refuse to engage in a discussion about remote work. There are a lot of them, and until they feel comfortable managing remotely, remote workers can't flourish. So it's nothing to do with the nature or quality of remote work. We just don't have enough truly remote friendly execs.
That's the wrong argument to make. It's not about moving somewhere, but deciding to build a new center somewhere else (in this case Pittsburgh).
I’ve had the opportunity to move back but I won’t, not for any amount of money or prospect of owning a big house or early retirement.