Protocol | Workplace

'The candidate is king': How tech workers can leave Silicon Valley, but keep the pay

In the battle over cost-of-living salary adjustments, job seekers have won. For now.

An illustration of the blurred globe with pins

Although it sounds more equitable, HR experts debate how fair it really is to issue a blanket pay policy regardless of location.

Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

This story is part of our Salary Series, where we take a deep dive into the world of pay: how it's set, how it's changing, and what's next. Read the rest of the series.

Last month, the CEO of marketing startup Iterable, Andrew Boni, made a surprising announcement: The company would be moving to 100% "geo-neutral" compensation. Iterable's roughly 500 employees, working across 33 states as well as the United Kingdom, would be paid equitably regardless of where they lived, with the salaries of those living in the U.S. anchored to the most competitive market, the Bay Area, and those in the U.K. anchored to London.

"If you're a software engineer and you're talented, there's not a great reason why you shouldn't be paid the same if you're living in San Francisco versus if you're living somewhere else in the U.S.," Boni told Protocol.

Iterable's move, though unusual, is becoming increasingly common in a tech industry that has in recent months witnessed an almost unprecedented competition for talent.

"I've been doing this for 22 years, and the candidate is king right now," said Megan Slabinski, a district director for global staffing firm Robert Half.

In the past, "it was kind of like old school 'Mad Men' thinking," and companies thought that they could dictate the terms of compensation and issue things like cost-of-living adjustments without pushback, according to Scott Orn, the COO of Kruze Consulting, which works with seed-stage to series C-level startups on their accounting, finance and HR practices. Finding someone "out of market" or outside of the major cities like San Francisco and New York was a way to reduce compensation costs, added Slabinski.

That is no longer the case, according to tech executives, investors and industry experts who spoke to Protocol. Today, startups and public companies alike are losing candidates in secondary or tertiary markets who are getting competitive offers "that are blowing historic offers out of the water," observed Katie Hughes, a partner at General Catalyst. Venture capital is more active "than anything I've ever seen in my career," and that activity has translated directly into the competition for talent, she said.

One sign that companies are loosening their grip on relocated workers: PEOs, or professional employer organizations, which help companies with their state and local tax compliance, have doubled their market share in the second half of 2020, and "it's gotten even stronger in 2021," according to Orn. What this means is that startups that used to have employees in two or three states, for example, may now have them in six to eight.

One reason companies may be moving away from the old model, or geo-differentiated pay, is that it's frankly easier, said Bethanye McKinney Blount, the CEO and co-founder of Compaas, a compensation analysis software company. When companies have geo-differentiated pay structures, figuring out compensation can get complicated quickly due to the "very nuanced permutations" of salary bands. Having a national rate makes compensation much easier to manage and administer from an internal systems perspective, said Blount.

The move is also strategic for smaller startups that otherwise have a harder time competing with the Googles and Facebooks of the world, according to Zuhayeer Musa, a co-founder of, a website that crowdsources and analyzes tech industry compensation packages.

But even the FAANGs are moving away from their strict, tiered compensation system, according to Hughes. Musa told Protocol that in the past, large public tech companies might have had three tiers, with employees in Tier 2 cities like Chicago or Atlanta being compensated maybe 80% to 85% of what those in Tier 1 would command, and so on down the line. Today, those companies are feeling pressured to go down to, say, two tiers instead of three, and decreasing the differential, said Hughes.

Officially, geo-based pay is still king. Spokespeople from Microsoft, Google and Facebook all confirmed in statements to Protocol that they do indeed still issue market-based compensation. Google even developed a Work Location Tool to "help employees make informed decisions about which city or state they work from and any impact on compensation if they choose to relocate or work remotely," according to a Google spokesperson. As of early August, around 10,000 Google employees had applied for fully remote work or to transfer to a different office since the launch of the tool in June.

Despite its popularity with employees, it's not always in the company's favor to issue geo-neutral pay. For one, it's usually more expensive. Each additional tax nexus in a state is an added cost and a headache for HR departments to sort through.

And although it sounds more equitable, HR experts debate how fair it really is to issue a blanket pay policy regardless of location. It can cause cultural tension within an organization when a person who lives in Bozeman, Montana, for example, gets paid the same as someone living in New York. That salary would go a lot farther in Bozeman, said Hughes, which can get awkward and poses a question of inequity.

Despite the changing tide, there are also always exceptions. One notable example: Stripe, which offered $20,000 bonuses and a 10% pay cut in September 2020 to all employees who chose to relocate to a less expensive city. Stripe, though, has the advantage of a major valuation and imminent public listing. "No one's going to leave," said Orn.

Tech workers will do well to remember that compensation trends in Silicon Valley would still be considered outliers in other industries, whose cultures are still deeply entrenched against remote work. Like the CEO of Morgan Stanley famously said to bankers itching to stay remote in June, "If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York. None of this, 'I'm in Colorado and work in New York and am getting paid like I'm sitting in New York City.'"

Protocol | Workplace

The whiteboard wars: Miro and Figma want to make meetings better

Miro and Figma separately launched features on Tuesday aimed at improving collaboration on their platforms.

Whiteboard rivals Miro and Figma each released collaboration improvements.

Logos: Figma and Miro

We expect a lot from our productivity tools these days. You can't just stroll over to your team members' desks and show them what you're working on anymore. Most of those interactions need to happen online, and it's even better if the work and the communication can happen in one place. Miro and Figma — competitors in the collaborative whiteboard space — understand how critical remote collaboration is, and are both working to up their meeting game.

This week, both platforms announced features aimed at improving the collaboration experience, each vying to be the home base for teams to work and hang out together. Figma announced updates to its multiplayer whiteboard FigJam, and Miro announced a new set of tools that it's calling Miro Smart Meetings. Figma's goal is to make FigJam more customizable and accessible for everyone; Miro wants to be the best place for content-centered, professional meetings. They both want to be the go-to hub for teams looking to get stuff done.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Workplace

Hybrid work is here to stay. Here’s how to do it better.

We've recovered from the COVID-19 digital collaboration whiplash. Now we must build a more intentional model for hybrid work.

This is a call to managers to understand the mundane or unwanted projects their employees face, and what work excites them.

Photo: Adobe

Ashley Still is Adobe's Senior Vice President of Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships.

When COVID-19 hit, we were forced into a fully digital mode of business operation. Overnight, we adopted available remote work tools — even if imperfect, they were the best tools for the job.

Keep Reading Show less
Ashley Still
As Senior Vice President, Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships, Ashley Still leads product marketing and business development for Adobe's flagship Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings. This includes iconic software brands such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Her expanded remit now includes Adobe's strategic partnership work with technology companies globally, including Apple, Microsoft and Google; and driving Adobe's fast-growing mobile app business. Her team is also responsible for the demand generation marketing campaigns that makes Adobe the market-leader, across creative and document productivity segments. Previously she was Vice President and General Manager, Adobe Creative Cloud for Enterprise. Here her team delivered an integrated content creation, collaboration and publishing solution that securely enables brands to create exceptional design and content. Prior to this, Ashley was Senior Director of Product & Marketing for Adobe Primetime, an Internet television platform used by Comcast, Turner, NBC Sports and other global media companies to deliver TV content and dynamic advertising to any Internet device. Under Ashley's leadership, Adobe Primetime won an Emmy Award for the Adobe Pass TV-Everywhere service. Ashley joined Adobe in 2004 following her internship with the company and held several product management positions for Adobe Photoshop. Still earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and her Masters degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Protocol | Workplace

Meet the productivity app influencers

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there is a somewhat surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app.

People are making content and building courses based off of their favorite productivity apps.

Photos: Courtesy

This is the creators' internet. The rest of us are just living in it. We're accustomed to the scores of comedy TikTokers, beauty YouTubers and lifestyle Instagram influencers gracing our feeds. A significant portion of these creators are productivity gurus, advising their followers on how they organize their lives.

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there's a surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app. They're a powerful part of these apps' ecosystems, drawing users to the platform and offering helpful tips and tricks. Notion in particular has a huge influencer family, with #notion gaining millions of views on TikTok.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at

Payments Infrastructure

Power Index: Payments Infrastructure

A data-driven ranking of the most powerful players in tech — and the challengers best positioned to disrupt them.

Welcome back to the Protocol Power Index, a ranking of the most powerful companies by tech industry subsector, as well as the companies best positioned to challenge them. This time: payments infrastructure.

The payments stack has been evolving dramatically in the last decade with the rise of ecommerce and new forms of money transfers, and though it's a sector that's been touched by Midas through each of its iterations, there's somehow still space for newcomers to be minted. Payments giants have ceded coveted territory to new market entrants during the process, but they are hardly down for the count.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
Latest Stories