Would You Live in Company Housing?

coworkersI saw an article this week that piqued my interest – Facebook is building an apartment complex close to its Menlo Park campus for its employees.  The article and comments are highly critical of the idea, recalling the company towns of the nineteenth century.  The author sarcastically asks, “Who isn’t sick of their healthy work/life balance?”  Many of the commenters voiced that by living in a Facebook apartment, Facebook employees will be constantly monitored by the company and forced to work longer hours than they would otherwise.  They also seem to forget that leases exist.


To be honest, living in company housing like this situation (that is electively, in a city) sounds like a great idea to me!  I’m not speaking particularly about Facebook now as I don’t know anything about the company culture, but more broadly for any company I’d consider working for.


The first advantage I see is that this complex is only 1.5 miles from the campus.  As a former megacommuter, I highly highly value a short car commute (like we have now) or the ability to use alternative transport.  It would be very tempting to get into housing that would enable me to walk or bike to work.  I would imagine that most company housing would be located close to the company.  Having a short commute immensely improves work/life balance.


The second advantage I see – which is apparently a disadvantage to everyone else – is that your neighbors would be your coworkers. Now, I don’t think I would want to live in the same apartment with the people I work most closely with just for the sake of diversity, but in all likelihood that wouldn’t be the case for a large company, and this particular Facebook complex could only house 10% of employees. But I think it would be fun to live near other people who choose to work where I choose to work, you know what I mean?  Sort of like college!  (I should clarify that Kyle and I attended a collaborative, highly specialized (science and engineering majors only), tiny college that was absolutely perfect for us and we had an amazing experience.  So when I say it would be like college I mean that in a very positive way.)  I don’t think that my neighbors would be spying on me or coercing me into working when I don’t want to be, but maybe that’s my bias.


The article didn’t mention anything about this, but if there were a subsidy on the housing costs I would almost certainly apply to live in the complex.  Doubly so if the subsidy enabled me to live closer to work than I otherwise could afford to.  The exception would be if the total price was still higher than what I would be willing to pay for the advantages and amenities I would actually use.  There’s no value to me in being offered things as part of the ‘package’ of living in that complex that I wouldn’t use, so if that hiked the price I wouldn’t be interested.


I asked Kyle what he thought about this company housing proposition, and he said he would be concerned about being expected to work more, either at work or at home, because of living in the complex.  Personally, I think it would be pretty difficult to force me to work when I don’t want to be!  I pointed out to him that he had been interested in the UCSF grad student/postdoc on-campus housing when he was looking there for a postdoc – which is also walking distance to the building he’d be working in – and he seemed fine with that.  What’s the difference, really?


I do think it’s important to discern what the employer’s motivation is in offering this type of housing.  Is it to provide better work/life balance (like shorter commutes) to make employees happier and more productive?  Are they hoping that employees will end up networking and collaborating more at work because of mixing with their neighbors?  Or are they setting employees up for social pressure that will squeeze more hours out of them?  I don’t know what Facebook’s motivation is but the employees who are looking into the complex should try to figure it out!


Would you consider living in company housing?  What would you be concerned about or what would sweeten the deal?  How do you think it would differ from on-campus university apartments? 


photo from Free Digital Photos


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33 Responses to "Would You Live in Company Housing?"

  1. I think it would definitely depend on the situation and your co-workers. I have a friend that lives in faculty housing for one of the universities in Manhattan (she’s a post doc). It’s great because it lets them rent without living insanely far away from her job for less than she’d otherwise be able to. And her university is big enough that she doesn’t know anyone else from her department that lives in the same building.

    But for my job, I can see my boss wanting to talk about work at 4am if I lived in company housing. (Sometimes he loses track of time and courtesy for others…) And living with most of Mr PoP’s coworkers would drive me batty! There’s a faction of younger employees at his company that have all rented in the same apartment building and it is like a frat house. Fun for some, but not for me. =)
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    1. Emily says:

      I think it’s definitely a better idea for a large company, like your friend’s situation and the one I was thinking of at UCSF. In cities like those it’s crazy nice to have that short commute.

      My boss works at all hours too (or at least I get emails from him) but he’s pretty respectful of our need for downtime. Bosses shouldn’t be allowed in company housing, or at least not if they show up at your door!

      I definitely would not want the frat house atmosphere!

  2. Cash Rebel says:

    That’s an interesting idea. I’d definitely enjoy the college like atmosphere of everyone being on the same team, and I agree with you about commuting. Having a 10 minute commute is pretty much the best way to have a work life balance.

    I’d be concerned that there would be a sense of competition and people who used Saturdays for gardening instead of coding would be shamed. Definitely something I’d consider.
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    1. Emily says:

      It would depend on the company culture a lot – hours vs. output. Some grad students I know play the “I worked so much this week that…” game but others brag about their time spent non-work activities.

  3. Lucas says:

    We have very much lost the traditional society notion of work, family, faith, and neighbors all being the same group of people. Building more of that together sounds good, but I am more skeptical about a company doing it. My guess is they are viewing it as a way to create another benefit that people will be “averse” to loosing. And as our nature is much more loss averse then opportunity focused, the net effect is to create more “loyal” employees. I personally would prefer to have less of that subtle pressure in my life even if i know it is there.

    1. Emily says:

      You are right about that subtle pressure. I would hope that the lease term would be independent of continuing employment but even so quitting might be awkward if you continue to see your former coworkers daily.

      Good to hear from you again!

  4. E 2 says:

    I agree with you and prior commenters that it really, really depends on company culture and the kinds of incentives that are being set up. For instance, Google’s cafeteria with free meals for employees sounds amazing, but I have read that it also contributes to a culture of working late since you don’t have to go home for dinner, which could be harmful to family life. I could see Facebook providing a “late shuttle” from the office to the housing to help out employees, and that would be nice, but why the expectation that they’re there late? Given Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s “you shouldn’t have work life balance, work should BE your life” position, I would be suspicious of their company housing. That said, I’d probably go for it if it were conveniently located and inexpensive, and if the company had a family-friendly culture.

    Price would make a difference though. It could be similarly price or more expensive compared to other rental options – for instance, my university has a research center with housing for visiting scholars, and a bedroom in the (admittedly lovely, spacious, friendly) shared house costs as much as a decent one-bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood, or a third floor or less convenient two-bedroom. Same for grad student housing, it’s a ripoff. Sometimes you pay for convenience and community.

    1. Emily says:

      I guess I see the Google cafeteria/beds example as a chicken and egg thing – did the company make it easier for people to stay late/overnight after they were already doing it? or did they conceive of these ‘perks’ to get more work out of their employees? Probably some of both because honestly the latter alone wouldn’t make me work more. We already stay at work late into the evenings once or twice a week plus Kyle has stayed overnight a few times and free food and beds would make that easier. :/

      I don’t follow Sheryl Sandberg closely, but I didn’t get the impression from Lean In and the press I’ve seen about her leaving work at 5 PM every day that she thought work should be your life. Quite the opposite now that she has a family. I mean, she still works in the evenings but I think making the effort to be home for dinner is actually pretty good work/life balance for someone in her position.

      That on-campus convenience housing can be quite expensive. I think a contributing factor is that they offer short-term leases, right? So there is a lot of turnover and unoccupied units to make up for.

  5. I think it’s really interesting. While we aren’t in “company” housing, we live all on the same street as tons and tons of friends who are in med school with my hubs – as in, I could name 50 people in school with him who live walking distance from me. It makes for a really fun community but there is also this feeling like you can’t ever get your own privacy/space because there’s always someone you know wherever you go.

    1. Emily says:

      That’s a different perspective that I hadn’t thought of. We used to live around lots of other grad students when we were in our apartments but never felt like we lacked privacy. I actually kind of like recognizing someone literally every time we go to the grocery store. 🙂 I guess it would also depend how you like having personal relationships with your coworkers (I like it) – definitely going into company housing when you like a strict work/personal division would be a bad idea!

  6. I’m intrigued by the idea of density and the benefits it seems to bring to the workforce: smart people interacting in close proximity provides opportunities to work on cross-functional projects, quickly brainstorm ideas, & generally just builds the type of synergy that employers are after. However, I think the idea proposed by Facebook, Zappos, and others, wherein employees will produce these same benefits outside of working hours through housing density, is misguided. The benefits are seen in the office, not in how close I am to my neighbor. Jim Russel is an excellent blogger who writes on the subject and he tells the story better than I can.

    That said, from the worker’s perspective there are other great benefits: cheaper housing, better commute…
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    1. Emily says:

      Hm, very good point that makes sense to me. I would also think that the creativity will flow better in the office by having downtime and diverse experiences outside of it.

  7. I can say that I am not a fan. This is being done to take out the excuse for the employees that need to travel back home. They take the commute out and then slowly expect you to work longer. This type of thing happened in Google when they added sleeping rooms and provide you with gyms and cafeterias. They do this to ensure that you stay there longer than the typical 9 to 5. I wouldn’t do it.
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    1. Emily says:

      Do you think the expectations would really be different for the employees living in the company housing or would having the housing opportunity change the culture for all of the employees?

  8. Very interesting idea! Like you, my first instinct says wow that would be awesome to have such an easy commute! BUT why would they be motivated to provide this? I would think, though,that their motivation was to make their employees’ lives better because ultimately they would be more productive at work.
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    1. Emily says:

      That is very optimistic! 🙂 I’m optimistic, too.

  9. SarahN says:

    Like Mrs PoP my current boss wouldn’t know when to stop! Seriously, he called someone on holidays at 4.30pm on a Friday (we usually finish work at 3.30pm, and work every second Friday, so… Friday’s aren’t the time for being called generally). He’d definitely come around to check on work things if we lived in close proximity!

    I’d consider the idea – my BF walks to work now (at least one way), and I used to be able to do that with university. Hmmm, they’d definitely be benefits!
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    1. Emily says:

      I guess it’s good that your boss doesn’t know where you live! I would stop picking up the phone/answering the door. That’s what email is for!

  10. I have to say – a shorter commute is very, very tempting. I had an 80-minute commute this summer for a job and it tires you out – doesn’t give much time for your personal life. I might go for it for that reason alone.
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    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, my former commute was 90 minutes. Thankfully it was on public transport but I couldn’t bear it longer than 6 months – I moved closer to work!

  11. I would be happy to live in company housing as long as I didn’t have to shop in the company store, as described in the song “16 Tons,” sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
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    1. Emily says:

      Totally agree. Love that song.

  12. I’d be concerned to pegging housing to employment. When I was a kid, my dad was the manager of a small motel. There was a manager’s house on the back of the property where we lived, rent free, as a benefit of the job. However, one day, the owner called a meeting of all of the employees to announce the new owner of the motel, who in turn announced that he was laying off all of the employees to give jobs to his relatives instead.

    And with that, we had 2 weeks notice of loosing the job AND the house.
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    1. Emily says:

      That’s a nice perk but without the option of a lease that gives you a reasonable move-out time it’s not so attractive!

  13. From my understanding, Facebook is doing this because affordable housing is terribly difficult to find in the area where Facebook is and all these flush-with-cash folks actually end up pushing out a lot of old residents in the what-was-affordable neighborhoods, only making their relationship with the local community that much more fragile.

    So by housing a lot of their employees close to work, it can help keep pressure off the surrounding area housing markets.

    Personally, I’d be for it, so long as my company didn’t see it as a way to exploit me and I wasn’t being watched or anything.

    I also wonder how they’d handle incidents of crime or domestic disturbances? Like would police be involved or would it all be private? That would bother me if I lived there as I’d hate to think they’d cover things up.
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    1. Emily says:

      I didn’t put in this post but the article on the housing unit mentioned reserving a certain percentage for low-income residents. If that’s really Facebook’s motive, it doesn’t seem so terrible!

      It wouldn’t occur to me that police would be excluded if there are crimes (I also don’t agree when that happens on university campuses). I mean, why would it be handled differently from how a normal apartment complex would?

  14. I guess it depends on the employer. At my current job I’m on call 24-7, 365 (minus when I’m taking vacation time and I tell them “do not call or I will quit”) so I wouldn’t want to be living somewhere where my boss can “find me” and ask me to come into work. If I worked in another field or for another company I might consider it, in fact, like you said, I think it might actually be kind of fun. I loved communal living in college and met some of my best friends there.
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    1. Emily says:

      It sounds like it would be a good idea to assess the culture of the workplace and how respectful your boss is before agreeing to live in the housing! But that makes it tough for transplants, for whom I’m sure the housing is most tempting until they know the local market better.

  15. SP says:

    As long as the housing wasn’t monitored in a creepy way, I’d be all for it. I think it could be a great way for building a community at work and extreme networking! Like you, I am kind of happy to live around other people with similar interests… although I guess that is probably limiting in life and I should be more open!

    Short commutes are really nice.

    I’d also want somewhat flexible options in case of job change (6 months, or something reasonable). I’d want an out.

    1. Emily says:

      I agree there is a good way this could be pulled off, but I guess it remains to be seen if Facebook in particular will do it that way!

  16. […] @ Evolving Personal Finance writes Would You Live in Company Housing? – Facebook is opening an apartment complex for employees near its campus. Would you take the […]

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