Most Americans live where they do because that's where their jobs are located. But what if you could keep your job and live anywhere? You might choose someplace with a lower cost of living, better schools for your kids, or one with better weather than where you are right now.
A company based in the notoriously expensive Bay Area of San Francisco, which has one of the highest costs of living in the nation, is encouraging just that. Zapier, which has historically offered all its employees the option of working remotely, is now offering new hires in the Bay Area the opportunity to take a "de-location package" so they can move elsewhere.
The cofounder and CEO of the company, Wade Foster, writes about how the high cost of living means the California tech capital is now a place that's kind of affordable for singles in their 20s and 30s (many of whom are able to spend 50 percent or more of their incomes in rent), but it's out of reach for those who have kids, or want to buy a home.
"When we reach this crossroad, many of us feel we have to make a career sacrifice. You have to go from the land of opportunity for your tech career to a city with a more limited set of options for your own personal growth," Foster writes.
He doesn't want to lose good prospective employees — who likely have the kind of experience a tech company needs — over the cost of living. The $10,000 the company offers benefits Zapier, enabling the company to attract experienced employees, who can move to a place where their paychecks can go further while still contributed to the company.
On one hand, this seems like a win-win situation. On the other, shouldn't a company based in a city pay a wage commensurate to what it costs to live there? One generally expects to earn more in places where it's expensive to live. So is this company just trying to get away with paying lower wages? Nope; Zapier explicitly states in company job listings: "We don't use remote as an excuse to pay less." As long as that's the case, this seems like a smart way for this company to tap into a group of talented workers. And sadly, it seems the reality in the Bay Area is that housing costs are outpacing even the tech companies at this point.
Do you really get what you pay for?
I can vouch for that personally. What my partner is paying in rent in Berkeley as he attends law school is almost twice as much as the mortgage for my house in Connecticut. The abodes are of similar quality, both about the same distance from San Francisco and NYC, respectively — but the house has three bedrooms, a large kitchen, dining room and living room, as well as front and backyards and a garage, and the Berkeley place is two rooms and a lovely garden space with a view. And by Bay Area standards, the Berkeley space is a real deal, which I helped him find via a lucky Craigslist fluke. Cost of living is less expensive, and there's less crime in Connecticut (schools are similar, though we don't have kids, so that's not part of our calculus). And it's not like shoreline Connecticut is considered an inexpensive place to live. That's how bonkers real estate is in the Bay Area right now.
I'd be surprised if more companies didn't embrace this model. Many of us work remotely these days, and maybe if some people start choosing to live outside expensive cities — but are paid at the same level — this could lead to some revitalization of America's small towns, many of which are shrinking and dying. Perhaps in 20 years, we could have as many knowledge workers living in vibrant small towns as urban centers. Not everyone wants to live the big-city life, after all. This could be advantageous for those with kids who want to raise them outside a city; people who want to live in rural areas; grown children who want to care for elderly parents; and of course, adventurers who want to try out different exotic locales (outback Alaska; the Florida Keys; the mountains of Montana; offgrid in Hawaii) before choosing a place to call home.