Levi Benjamin-Brown, 5, helps his mother Kyla Brown unpack boxes of toys at their new home in El Cerrito, California, where the family moved from San Francisco Photo: AFP

San Francisco exodus as tech giants lean in to remote work in COVID-19 era


Real estate agent Kilby Stenkamp sees moving vans on San Francisco streets where she used to see building cranes and tech company hipsters.

A work-from-home trend kicked into overdrive by the pandemic is disrupting a city long a mecca for tech talent.

“People are leaving San Francisco, and they're taking their jobs with them," Stenkamp said. "There used to be cranes in the landscape, now it's U-Haul trucks."

Tech workers who flocked to San Francisco to be near Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other internet firms are moving to parts of the U.S. where life is slower and the cost of living cheaper.

Tech titans are encouraging the trend.

Facebook is changing its hiring practices to recruit talent far and wide instead of needing workers to live near campuses.

The social networking giant said it even might save money, since it adjusts the pay for positions based on local cost of living.

Back in March, San Francisco became one of the first U.S. cities to implement restrictions of moving around for work, school and other activities.

Nearly six months later, life shows little sign of returning to the way it was before the pandemic, causing some residents to question whether to stay.

"Once upon a time, a reason why we wouldn't have wanted to move was because we had friends who had kids the same age as ours and we saw them all the time," said consultant Kyla Brown, who left the city for a town about 25 kilometers (16 miles) away.

"Practicality right now was the number one priority; social life has all gone down the drain thanks to COVID."

The family moved closer to Brown's parents for babysitting needs, and work is done by telecommute.

Twitter and online work collaboration tech firm Slack have announced employees can work from home indefinitely.

Online bulletin board Pinterest announced recently that it spent $90 million to cancel a lease for more Silicon Valley office space, saying it will stick with its current San Francisco offices.

"As we analyze how our workplace will change in a post-COVID world, we are specifically rethinking where future employees could be based," said Pinterest head of business operations Todd Morgenfeld. "A more distributed workforce will give us the opportunity to hire people from a wider range of backgrounds and experiences."

Google and Facebook are not expecting workers to return to their campuses until the middle of next year at the earliest.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said he expects half of the firm's employees will be able to permanently do their jobs from home within five to 10 years.

"It is a lot easier to move bytes around than to move atoms around," Zuckerberg quipped at one point. "So I'd much rather have us teleport by using virtual reality or video chat than sit in traffic."

Many workers are delighted to reclaim hours wasted in Silicon Valley commute traffic, even if in the comfort of chartered buses complete with wireless internet.

French financial analyst Romain Daubec and his American wife, a Facebook employee, are leaving the Mission District despite a cut in rent due to the pandemic.

Reasons included that the cost of living is still high, the social scene has withered, and many of their friends have already left.

The couple set their sights on Denver, some 2,000 kilometers away but in a close time zone to Silicon Valley. They get the beauty of mountains and the joy of paying about 30 percent less in rent.

While Facebook and other tech firms ultimately adjust pay to local costs of living, states such as Colorado and Texas tax pay at much lower rates than San Francisco.

The exodus has left some downtown skyscrapers deserted, shops doubting re-opening, and streets haunts of the homeless.

Rents here have fallen by an average of 10 percent, while home prices in communities across the Golden Gate Bridge are climbing, according to real estate agents.

Even the wildfires currently ravaging California and much of the West Coast do not seem to deter those intent on leaving San Francisco for more remote communities in the region.

Home prices in San Francisco, however, have not dropped by much, and merchants are not panicking about the city's long-term prospects.

"There's kind of a reshuffling of the deck," said real estate agent Stenkamp. "Every time -- after earthquakes, the dot-com bomb -- people come back. Now is the time to invest."

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I went to grad school and worked in the Bay Area from '98-'01. It is a wonderful place with great architecture, weather and opportunity. But the downside is that the government is very pro-business and let's them open up mega-campuses but has/had no plan to build enough housing or public transportation. The imbalance is shocking and on a scale that I have never heard of except in maybe Hong Kong. If you want even a modest apartment near San Francisco the prices are now around $4,000/month. A victim of its own success.

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SF has become waaaaaaaaaaaay too expensive. They need to bring the cost of living down there so "regular folk" can once again live there without being fleeced. This just might be the ticket.

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California is responsible for its own fate, the state is run by a bunch of socialist with capitalist spending habits. When the tough gets going they just tax the people. The went from a 6.5 billion surplus to 57 billion in debt. Many people are leaving the state heading to Texas, Nevada and Arizona. Its a cess pool!

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California is responsible for its own fate, the state is run by a bunch of socialist with capitalist spending habits. When the tough gets going they just tax the people. The went from a 6.5 billion surplus to 57 billion in debt. Many people are leaving the state heading to Texas, Nevada and Arizona. Its a cess pool!

So much incorrect information about California! Entering the Covid-19 crisis California had built up a roughly $20 billion rainy day fund by virtue of running annual budget surpluses since 2008. No other state has been able to amass that kind of money for an emergency. Now the emergency is here and some of that $20 billion is being used to fill the hole in the state budget left by the huge reduction in tax revenues caused by pandemic driven business closures. Absent any changes in current spending there would have been a two year deficit of $54 billion. However the Legislature and Governor worked together to make the necessary budget reductions. The FY21 budget is balanced. There is no deficit. It does rely on receipt of a $12 billion Covid-19 relief payment. If that is not forthcoming the Governor and legislative leaders have already committed to cutting the budget further to keep it balanced.

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