Are Technologists Really Fleeing Big Cities for Greener Pastures?

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the tech industry has been gripped by a once-in-a-lifetime debate: If technologists are forced to work remotely, should they continue living in expensive cities such as San Francisco and New York? Or should they consider moving to places with a cheaper cost of living? 

Major tech companies have complicated the issue somewhat. While firms such as Facebook, VMware, and Twitter have announced that the majority of their employees can now work from home on a permanent basis, others—such as Netflix and Microsoft—have made it clear that they want employees back in the office eventually. If you’re working for a company that now allows remote work, and you want to relocate from San Francisco to Boise, then your decision may seem pretty straightforward—but what if, after moving, you apply to work at a rival that wants employees at its headquarters at least a few days a week? Would you have to move back?

That’s not the only complication here, but it illustrates how technologists everywhere will wrestle with some pretty complex issues in the months and years ahead. In the meantime, Blind, which anonymously surveys technologists everywhere on a variety of topics, has asked its audience if they’ve already decided to flee some of the country’s most expensive, largest tech hubs.  

While the sample sizes here are relatively small (as you can see from a spreadsheet of Blind’s survey data), what’s clear is that (with some notable exceptions) the majority of technologists have stuck with their cities. Here’s the breakdown of the Bay Area, for example:

And here’s the breakdown for New York City. You may note that a stunning 57 percent of Microsoft employees who work in the city have decided to flee; however, it’s important to note that only seven Microsoft employees actually responded to the survey, so this data is likely skewed (same with BlackRock, which only had three respondents). Nonetheless, the overall trend seems to mirror that of the Bay Area: A not-insignificant minority of technologists have left the city:

Here are Seattle’s trends. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made it clear that he personally dislikes remote work, which he feels is an impediment to employees fully interacting in productive ways.

Austin also had an exceedingly small sample size (just 79 respondents overall), but nonetheless reinforces how the majority of technologists aren’t moving away. 

For those employees who do decide to flee their expensive city while keeping their current job, things could get interesting, especially if companies such as Facebook and VMware make good on their promise to cut remote workers’ salaries to reflect an adjusted cost of living. According to Dice’s COVID-19 Sentiment Survey, technologists are extremely opposed to any kind of pay cut for living and working remotely. After all, they’re doing the same job as when they went into the office—why should they take home a smaller paycheck? 

Or as one anonymous technologist at Hulu recently told Blind: “That old way of thinking needs to die because it exploits labor. The employee’s labor provides the same value regardless of working location. The circumstances changed, so we need to force things to change as well. Don’t accept a pay cut for changing your location. Ask the company tough questions. Is my value to the company less if I live in North Carolina or Colorado? If they won’t budge, quit.”

4 Responses to “Are Technologists Really Fleeing Big Cities for Greener Pastures?”

  1. JIm Paulson

    I have personally seen a substantial uptick in Boise, Idaho for people moving here to work remotely. Even if they had to pay for 1 or 2 round trip tickets to attend a meeting in a major metro, they are still money (and happiness) ahead if they want out of the rat race.

  2. Gr8fullfred

    Actually the data presented in the article shows that people ARE fleeing the cities for the suburbs. 16% of google and 27% of FB fleeing the Bay Area is pretty significant to me. This does not count the people that want to leave but are in leases. 27% of FB Fleeing the Bay Area in less than 6 months is a very significant trend that will continue. Bye Bye SF real estate insanity!

    • MICHAEL R HOWARD

      I read somewhere (here, maybe) that Facebook would cut the salaries of remote workers that move to lower cost-of-living areas. I think that’s a douchebag move, but then, that’s Zuckerberry for you. I personally don’t think there is enough money to entice me to move to the cesspool that is the bay area. I’ve never been there, but I’ve watched some documentaries on SF and other surrounding areas of Silicon Valley. Hard to believe that the United States has cities with human waste on the streets and sidewalks. Our great nation appears to have a third world country side to it.

  3. Heidi Fox

    If you had gotten a job at the same company in a location with a lower cost of living they would have paid you less for doing the same job, so why shouldn’t they lower your salary when you move somewhere cheaper? Salaries in the Bay Area are much higher than those in, say, the Boston area (where cost of living is still pretty darn high).