Remote Work: Location based compensation

12 Jun 2023

The Evolution of Work

Once upon a time, location was not a factor in finding a job. You worked where you were. We didn’t even think about any other possibility. Your physical location limited your job prospects and your earning potential.

Living and working as a software engineer in Mexico, working for a great technology company was merely a dream. And the dream involved relocating. Fast forward a couple of decades later and the dream has become reality, but with a twist. Remote work is the norm, not the exception.

As an industry and society though, we are still adapting to the new reality. There are a lot of arguments in favor of remote work, many against. And companies and employees are figuring out how to make it work. What is the best setup, processes, philosophies, techniques, etc.

One of such is location-based compensation adjustments.

Location based compensation adjustments

A few days ago I received an intriguing job offer. The role was interesting, the company well known in the startup world. But, there was a hitch. They offered less than the advertised range. They applied a 20% location-based adjustment to the offered compensation because of where I live. Despite the job being remote, they considered my physical location a factor to apply to my compensation.

I’ve seen many companies that do this, I usually ignore those job postings but in this instance I missed the fine print.

I often question the logic behind this. In the past, my sole focus was to be a master at my craft. I invested years to build and improve my skills, to understand the nuances of software development. Now, my geographic location, irrelevant to my ability as a developer, was a deciding factor in my compensation.

The Company’s Perspective

Location-based compensation adjustments are often pitched as a means of fairness. The argument is that since the cost of living varies significantly from one region to another, it is equitable that pay scales are adjusted accordingly.

Does it? Does it truly promote fairness?

Is it really fair to pay an employee less money for the same work just because of where they happen to live? Isn’t it a bit too much that the company is taking it upon itself to police which standard of living their employees should have based on their role and position?

Could it be that it just happens to save some money?

I understand companies need to maintain profitability. I don’t take it personal when companies do this, or when they offer below market base compensation because that’s all they can afford. It is my decision if I want to work for that company based on other factors. But we should call things what they are.

Turning Down the Offer

In the end I chose to decline the offer. It simply didn’t sit right with me. I just knew that this was going to sit in the back of my mind and be a constant reminder that the work that I would do was considered to be -20% less valuable, regardless of its own merits. It’s not about the money, but the principle.

As I said, I didn’t burn any bridges. I had a very lighthearted conversation with the Hiring Manager. I understand that’s what they do, and it’s up to me if that is how I want to work, and decided it wasn’t.

Final Thoughts

So here we are, at the frontier of a new era, where you can do work from anywhere in the world. As we navigate this blurred landscape we should try very hard not to bring the old paradigms with us. We should shed the old, outdated practices and develop new ones. It’s time we moved away from arbitrary factors like location and focused more on the skills and the value we bring to the table.

A the end of the day, it’s the human behind the computer that counts, not where they happen to live.

Let’s create a future where fair compensation isn’t determined by a map, but by the merit of our work.