tl;dr: With the advent of globalization, and ubiquitous “me too” vacations, there are more and more jobs that require workers to be flying or on the road. Instead of raising the standards of living across the global and making the dominant work culture more accessible to workers everywhere, we end up relying on outdated infrastructures (cities/freeways/trains/airports) to handle the population’s commute. I voice my opinion in a couple of directions for solving these issues.
No, you didn’t read the title wrong. Remote culture goes hand in hand with universal health care (and the lack of).
I did not always live in the U.S.A. I come from a small island called Taiwan when I was 14. Growing up, it was normal for me to go to the doctors and pay small co-pays and get the yearly check-ups with my single-income family of 4. Taiwan has universal health care, it was not a perfect system. But, if you pay your taxes, then usually you are not looking at a crippling bill after any length of stay in the hospital.
My father (in his 40s at the time), had fallen ill and had to put his salary work on hold. He did odd jobs and small contracting work here and there, and worked mostly remote. Luckily, his long term illness was covered completely under universal health care, and it left our family enough income and saving to pursue life in America.
My mother, who was working as an accountant at the Bureau of Tobacco and Alcohol, received the news that our green card application came through for the entire family in the 1990’s. We were all excited about starting a new chapter in Maryland (that’s where our relatives used to live). But, there was one complication:
The United States Does Not Have Universal Health Care.
My father’s weekly care cost would be at least one to two thousands dollars, which isn’t the kind of money we have at all (even today). After lengthy discussions between my parents, they decided that my father will stay behind and look after himself.
It would not be another 10 years until my mother finally made her way back to him. Until both my sister and I graduated from universities and found places to settle down in California, we visited every year during the summer.
By then, it was already 2009.
The Bay Area was a quieter place before 2010
After graduation, I moved into Mountain View and enjoyed a relatively relaxing job there. Gas costed $2.30 per liter, I drive local on El Camino and head toward Palo Alto. Houses were priced around 700–850k. Condos went for 350–400k. Software Developers made a salary in the range of 60–90k. If one works hard and save up, it was not a stretch to put together 80k for a downpayment on a condo in the heart of Mountain View. (That condo would go on to sell for 1.05 Million dollars in 2018). There were not as many cars on 101 and 280. We found time to hike (at Mission Peak/other places), or meet up with friends to watch movies and go to the Asian food court in Milpitas.
It did not feel like the bay area today. It felt more like an extension to Berkeley, where nerds are nerds, nerds were not high salary businessman, trying to make as many deals as they can.
I bought a humble little Condo in 2010, thinking that I will try to pay it off as fast as I can, so I can trade up for a 3 bedroom house by 2025. However, the startup boom happened.
We Had FANG Explode in Market Valuation, We Had Unicorns, We Had Cryptocurrencies, We Had People on Blind claiming high Total Compensation, We Have House Flippers, We Have Tesla, We Will Have Self-Driving Cars.
But We still don’t have an acceptable Remote Work Culture. We still don’t have universal health care. I am afraid without those two, We won’t have affordable housing, and We will continue to have massive delays with commute traffic and outdated infrastructure. This is even after accounting for self-driving cars.
If you look at what is asked of a modern developer and everyone else working in either startup or Tech company for that tech salary, you will often see people being expected to put on multiple hats, and either work weekends or nights. We do all this so that we can hope to make enough to compete with the purchasing power of people working at the big 4.
Why not get a job at the Big 4? Then, it will be smooth sailing from there.
— Says the person who got in early on.
Have you seen this on medium or reddit or hacker news?
So, How would Remote Work Culture Solve some of these problems?
I will list some of benefits in no particular order:
- Less cars on the road, because database admins, operation people, and developers can work from home, attend Google Hangout/Zoom/RingCentral meetings, and be on Slack anyway if you need them beyond their usual Jira tickets.
- Now these remote workers, who have a little bit more flexibility with their life, can think about if they are happy with the current environment that they have lived in in the last 5 years. Are they happy with the real estate market? Are they content with the quality of public education (seems some teachers will need to commute 4 hours a day to teach classes because they cannot afford to live anywhere near the school?)
- How about those lines at the popular restaurants? You love waiting in line in the cold?
- You would have more time to finally go to a doctor’s checkup, and have that coffee with friends whom you have not seen since you first moved into the bay years ago. Overworked people tend to neglect their health the most. Having everyone stuck in commute and working like busy ants does not a healthy population make.
- 2–3 hours less on the road. Maybe you will use your cellphone when you drive a Tesla, but why not just stay home to begin with? Youtube/Netflix streaming is better there.
Ok, How about Universal Health Care? How does that help?
Many people choose to stay in a salary position because of the covered group insurance premium. I was like that from 2007 all the way until I got married. Then, suddenly I started receive health care coverage from my wife. I then decided to start working as a IT consultant with Dave Lin (goes way way back, long time friend from Berkeley).
Guess what? You do not need to die for the company when you work as a consultant. You are there to offer expertise and help solve tough issues that they are currently lacking bandwidth to work on.
When you do good work, you are offered additional referrals down the line. You are not rewarded with fixed salary and more work. If your client wants you to do more work, it translates directly into more billable hours.
You can also say no to more hours.
You could even find new clients and charge a higher rate (using a multiplier of local market rate)
It is fantastic.
Of course, consultancy is not for everybody. I did not consider it as an option when I was single. I probably would have started earlier if I lived in Taiwan.
Having universal health care would be a giant leap in convincing people to sought out better areas of living rather than better areas of earning.
The California Gold Rush comes and goes. We are still in a California Gold Rush right now. If we actually managed to get universal health care (fingers crossed), we can take control of our health and mental well-being for at least 2 days a week. We can go hike during the weekend. We can have family outings, read a book.
Maybe We can find more Peace.
Now wouldn’t that be nice?
P.S. Experienced consultants can scale horizontally in pay without cutting throat with company politics or needing even more specialization/education. You are also not bogged down in meetings (those would be billable hours). Like everything else, 99% of software written today is becoming legacy software tomorrow for consultants to maintain. 75% of the websites are made in WordPress. People run old java/Node code. You get the idea.
If you are interested in working remote and need some guide, just ask. We are here to help!