Amid a housing crunch in one of America’s most expensive places to live, a San Jose, California-based recruiting startup called MainStreet wants to pay tech workers $10,000 to move out of the Bay Area and work remotely.
The company, launched this month by three ex-Googlers, says it will help candidates find roles in engineering, product management, and UX and UI design, and set them up remotely at one of MainStreet’s co-working offices, where they are promised to get access to videoconferencing training and a community-oriented environment with regularly scheduled events.
For workers to receive the $10,000, they must get hired by one of MainStreet’s clients and work remotely out of a MainStreet office for at least a year. The company declined to disclose how many clients it has, though it says most of them are located in the Bay Area. Co-founder Dan Lindquist says that “several thousand people” already have given their contact information to indicate their interest in the program, and “about a third” of those interested submitted applications.
The buzzy promotion, which is not the first of its kind, reflects the rising interest in remote work—and also how absurd costs have gotten in the Bay Area, where wages haven’t caught up with the rising cost of living. In San Francisco, the median price of a house is $1.35 million and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,600 per month. Even tech workers with six-figure salaries are having trouble affording housing in the Bay Area.
MainStreet expects to relocate 10 to 20 people early next year to a co-working office in Sacramento, California. It’s also eyeing an expansion to Salt Lake City, Utah; Reno, Nevada; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Nashville, Tennessee, Lindquist says.
If you’re thinking at this point about the possible parallels to WeWork, Lindquist wants to allay your fears. He promises a “higher level of oversight” at MainStreet co-working sites. While client companies will make the final decision on who to hire, MainStreet will help with initial screenings to assess whether candidates are likely to succeed as remote workers. Qualities that the company will look for include an ability to communicate clearly and efficiently, comfort with written communication especially, and a willingness to be self-directed.
Lindquist says MainStreet will charge clients an ongoing fee for hosting and managing HR-type benefits, and that by hiring outside the Bay Area, companies will save around 30% to 40% on salaries and expenses. MainStreet also will provide a community liaison at its co-working offices to set up holiday parties and happy hours, to help ward off the loneliness that can affect remote workers.
If recruits are still feeling disconnected from their employers, MainStreet will work with the client companies to help resolve the issue. And if anyone hired through its recruiting program gets fired, MainStreet pledges to help the person find a new role and will offer up to a $5,000 monthly stipend for three months as well as healthcare benefits for the entire family.
“It’s this slightly higher touch version of remote work where you’re hopefully taken care of a little bit better, and it doesn’t feel so isolating,” says Lindquist.
The $10,000 promotion to uproot your belongings and move to a new place is not without precedent. In 2017, web app maker Zapier, which is entirely remote, created buzz for offering new hires a “de-location package” of up to $10,000 to leave the Bay Area, though Business Insider reported that only four people accepted the offer and relocated. State and local governments in Vermont and in Oklahoma have offered similar remote-work relocation packages to attract new residents and bolster their workforces.
The increase of remote-worker initiatives speaks to how, in a tight US labor market, companies are increasingly turning to places outside the major tech hubs for talent. But job opportunities in tech are still concentrated in coastal cities with exorbitant costs, which is one reason the tech industry has had trouble attracting a more socioeconomically diverse workforce—because it’s difficult for anyone but high earners to afford to relocate to those places.
Lindquist does not see himself moving out of the Bay Area anytime soon, saying that having MainStreet based in the Bay Area will help forge connections with client companies. The sentiment reflects one of the biggest challenges in remote work: the lack of connections and networking opportunities that come more easily in big cities.
Lindquist, who serves as MainStreet’s chief product officer, says the firm ultimately will focus less on exporting tech talent from the Bay Area and more on creating tech communities where workers are already located. The $10,000 relocation offer, he says, was meant to draw attention and to demonstrate the firm’s mission of creating tech-oriented jobs in rural and suburban parts of the US.
“It’s really about helping people who already live in those places and want to have good careers there without having to move to the Bay Area in the first place,” he says.