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Living and Working in Separate Cities: The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between

At this point, everyone knows about Silicon Valley’s crazy housing prices. I grew up in Cupertino, California, and my childhood home must have gone up in value 40 times in the past 40 years. That’s not unusual around the Bay Area, and it seems like homes are only growing further and further out of reach — especially for individuals living on a single income.

One solution to avoiding these high costs is to regularly commute: Fly in from another city for four days, and fly home for three days every week. In my experience, this kind of business travel provides great opportunities to make connections and build relationships — and it’s been going on for years. Like anything, of course, you can find positives and negatives in living and working in two different cities, but with prices still rising, more people are considering it.

Zapier even introduced a de-location package for new employees. If a new hire wants to leave the Bay Area for a cheaper city, the company reimburses up to $10,000 in moving costs. The distributed company already functions with team members across the globe, so promoting a better standard of living for its employees was an obvious next step. It sure beats living in your car!

I’ve worked in the Valley most of my career. As the area became the innovation capital of the globe, I witnessed the corresponding gold rush and land grab from my front porch. Just the other day, I saw an 825-square-foot cottage listed for $1.9 million in Mountain View, California. (No, no bubble here….) And renting isn’t any better. Even well-compensated engineers feel the pinch when they have to spend 40 to 50 percent of their salary just to rent a place near work.

With prices like that, it’s worth it to consider the pros and cons of a lengthy commute.

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The Good: Separation and Expansion

When you work between two cities, you can have the best of both worlds. You have the discipline of being in work mode in one city while having downtime in the other. If you have family located in one city and you work in the other, you can be highly productive when you are at work — and then more present and focused on family at home.

You also benefit from expanded life experience because you get the best of two different locations and cultures. Many people are attracted to the slower lifestyle of a second city, and telecommuting gives them the ability to establish roots and a presence there while staying connected to the busier innovation city. You get the best of both worlds, and technology makes it easy to accomplish.

The Bad: Time and Health

One downside is the commute itself. In some ways, I love it because I see the same people on a regular basis on Southwest flights between Los Angeles and Silicon Valley (it’s a very active corridor!). However, the time it takes to commute can also be draining and expensive. The Silicon Valley “mega-commute” is a real thing and often involves a drive longer than 90 minutes or more one way.

That kind of commute can affect both workers and companies. One U.K. study found that workers with long commutes were 33 percent more likely to have depression and 37 percent more likely to worry about money. The same study found that when workers could technically work from home, but weren’t allowed to, they lost 29 working days a year.

However, the moral of the story isn’t to avoid living and working in two different cities — it’s to learn how to make it work if it makes sense for you.

My Take on the Weekly Grind

Given that my job is to bridge the worlds of Silicon Valley and Hollywood, I fly up and down the coast several times each month. (I’ve been doing this so often and for so long — decades, in fact — that I even have my own Southwest gate agent at the San Jose airport terminal!)

It works great because I have active networks in both areas and can participate in client meetings and social activities in both locations on a regular basis, which suits me.

Practically speaking, if you do the same, your housing and travel expenses may increase — unless your employer subsidizes and offsets some of those costs. But, in general, the people I know who commute on a regular basis have learned to make it work to their advantage. If you have a chance to try it for yourself, I highly recommend taking it and optimizing the personal and professional opportunities that come from living and working in the spaces between two places.

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