Why localized compensation in a work-anywhere world isn’t so simple

Last Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook’s 48,000 employees that he expects upwards of 50% of the company will be working remotely within 10 years. After outlining many of the advantages that remote work confers — including to “potentially spread more economic opportunity around the country and potentially around the world” — he added that those who choose to move to other places in the U.S. or elsewhere will be paid based on where they live.

“We’ll localize everybody’s comp on January 1,” Zuckerberg said. “They can do whatever they want through the rest of the year, but by the end of the year they should either come back to the Bay Area or they need to tell us where they are.”

Facebook isn’t pioneering something entirely new. The concept of localized compensation has been around for some time, and it’s used by tech companies like GitHub that have primarily distributed workforces. Still, questions about whether it’s fair to pay employees based on their location are sure to grow as more outfits adopt remote-work policies.

Despite Facebook’s uncharacteristic transparency about its thinking, not everyone thinks the tactic makes sense.

One longtime Bay Area recruiter who typically focuses on executive searches calls “disparate pay for the same work” a “dangerous place to be.” Explains the recruiter, Jon Holman, “Even if you invoke the geographic disparity arithmetic based almost entirely on housing costs, what if a new openness to telecommuting means that more women or people of color can aspire to some of these jobs? Are you going to pay them less than the mostly white and Asian-American engineers in the Bay Area? I doubt it.”