Professor, Designer, Husband, Father, Gamer, Bagpiper

Depending on your situation, and role, at your company, that title could mean different things. With the move to remote work, many companies and employees with little-to-no experience with remote work are now embracing it. There are obvious things that need to be managed, like running effective meetings when the teams are split, that will require even more thought and care as some employees return to the office and some don’t.

But one thing I’ve seen articles on lately requires a different kind of care, and I’ll file it under “Don’t be Greedy”. There are two sides to this, and you can learn a lot from companies with a substantial remote workforce, like Mozilla (who I just finished four years at).

Employers

I’ve seen too many articles lately talking about the “realization” employers have that offices cost a lot of money and they can save it by just letting people work from home. (We’ll ignore the “and now they can work longer hours because they won’t have a commute” part, since that’s pretty obviously dumb).

You aren’t going to save all that money, if you want your workers to be effective; you need to invest money in their remote situation, too. Reimburse them for the equipment and home office setup they will need, not just computers but a good desk and office-quality chair, printers, the cost of broadband, and so on. If you were going to spend thousands on fancy, high-quality office chairs in the office, you should reimburse them for these chairs when they are remote.

I have a great office chair that I could never had justified buying, a standing desk (I’d bought that myself years ago, along with a treadmill), and various bits of tech I only need because I work from home. A good amount of that was reimbursed over the years by Mozilla’s remote work policies, and while it may seem surprising to some who aren’t used to the idea, the amount they spent upgrading my “crappy makeshift” home office to a reasonable one is tiny compared to what housing someone in a cubicle or physical office would cost.

Employees

The most surprising (or, perhaps, “eye-roll inducing”) thing I’ve been reading are the articles discussing the outrage workers are feeling at the thought their salaries might get cut if they move from expensive tech hubs (San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York, etc) to much cheaper cities (Atlanta, St. Louis, Tulsa, etc) or even smaller cities and towns in remote locations.

The idea that you should be paid Silicon Valley wages to live elsewhere is, to be blunt, selfish and absurd. If you moved from a small town to San Francisco while working at the same company, wouldn’t you expect a raise to account for the cost of living change? So why is the reverse outrageous?

Any company with an establish distributed (remote or not) workforce pays people differently depending on where they live. Each region and country has pay scales for each job classification. US employees might get paid more because we have no social safety net to speak of, and things like schools often cost substantial amounts of money, so people need to spend and save and worry about retirement. And people in small towns pay a fraction of what folks in San Francisco/Bay Area and Seattle pay for housing.

While it may be exciting to imagine a life in a small town with the salary of a Silicon Valley employee, it’s unreasonable to expect. I’m pretty sure I was making a shockingly smaller salary working from Atlanta than my peers in the Valley made, and I was probably making more than some of my peers in other countries.

But, at the end of the day, after expenses and cost of living, I was probably as good or better off than some of them (this is always hard to figure out, though, because future options factor in, and owning a house and having a retirement account based on those salaries should be factored in ... but I have no desire to move to one of those places, so it doesn’t matter for me).

I was also happier with my remote situation than if I worked in an office, because, really, who wants to live in Silicon Valley ... ok, partly joking with that (I know some people like it there), but the point is that I wouldn’t want to live there and so it’s a perk to work from elsewhere. I’d love to join Apple and work on their AR projects (I’ve talked to friends there about it over the years, but the conversations are really short, ending after “Do you still require everyone to move to the Bay Area and work in the donut?”). Same for a host of other companies (some of which are finally going to allow remote work).

Getting to live where you want is a perk, but even ignoring that, you should try to think about net total compensation, not just the gross income, when reacting to the idea of a pay cut when you change locations.

Perspective

I’d urge both sides, when considering a shift to substantial remote work, to consider the implications, pros and cons, and not be greedy. I love working remotely, and pre-pandemic I’d visit the physical Mozilla offices at regular intervals. It was nice to visit San Francisco, even if I wouldn’t want to live there.

But I love working from home, and having that home be a place that I want to be (and my family wants to be).