When ten miles is just too far

We are all being encouraged to work flexibly but as Billy MacInnes discovers a short move proved simply too much for Reddit's CEO

Here’s a moving story that revolves around a bizarre question: would you resign if you weren’t allowed to relocate your company’s headquarters by ten miles? It seems a weird question to ask in an age when people are frequently forced to relocate to keep their jobs if their employer decides to move its offices to another location. Ten miles, give or take, wouldn’t be enough to leave your job over, would it?

Turns out that it was for Reddit CEO Yishan Wong who has quit his post after a disagreement with the company’s board over proposals to move its headquarters from San Francisco to a new office in Daly City (which is about 10 miles away). According to a blog post by Reddit investor Sam Altman, the catalyst for Wong’s departure was a disagreement over the location and the amount of money available to spend on the lease. Altman stressed that the board didn’t ask Wong to resign, “he decided to when we didn’t approve the new office plan”.

In reply posted on Quora Wong agreed with Altman’s explanation, writing: “All of the reasons that Sam has outlined in public are true. I know it sounds somewhat unbelievable because it’s so weird, but if it was made up, I think any PR person would have come up with a better made-up story.”

He went on to suggest the deeper reason behind his resignation was that the Reddit CEO job (particularly for a first-time CEO) was “incredibly stressful and draining”.

Wong accepted the office location issue could probably have been worked out because the board was “a very supportive and friendly one”. But he thought having an office in San Francisco was “an incredibly difficult thing given the strains the city is facing and the high rents it imposes on employees who wish to live close to the office”.  Nevertheless, he acknowledged many of Reddit’s employees “live there so the proposal to find an office location just outside the city (Daly City is immediately to the southwest outside of SF) was very unpopular, and there are plenty of startups who locate in SF and are very successful.”

He suggested that if he had found the job energising rather than draining “this probably wouldn't have been an issue I resigned over. But it was, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't relieved to have the burden off my shoulders”.

The irony is that, as the New York Times pointed out, Wong’s departure comes only weeks after Reddit informed employees not based in San Francisco that they had to relocate back to headquarters or leave the company. In a twitter exchange on 1 October 2014 with David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails web development framework, Wong confirmed Reddit had initially asked employees in other locations to relocate back to San Francisco within two weeks or quit before extending the deadline until the end of the year.

“Originally we asked for decision in 2 weeks but realised almost immediately that was too short and extended the timeline to EOY <end of year>,” Wong wrote. The rationale for the company’s decision was “to get <the> whole team under one roof for optimal teamwork”.

Did it succeed? One thing we know for sure, irrespective of whether all Reddit’s employees in other locations made the move back to headquarters, is that one team member is missing because it wouldn’t move its headquarters.

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