Coronavirus leads Israel's tech workers away from the city

Residents of Israel's expensive and congested central region are finding that the rise of working from home makes the advantages of city life less appealing.

Clockwise from top left: Ori Winokur, Head Of Original Content at Artlist (Courtesy), Asaf Ganot, CEO of ControlUp (Photo: David Garb), Nicole Priel, Partner & Managing Director at Ibex Investors (Photo: Elisa Szklanny) and Matan Abutbul, SOC Manager at Cybereason. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Clockwise from top left: Ori Winokur, Head Of Original Content at Artlist (Courtesy), Asaf Ganot, CEO of ControlUp (Photo: David Garb), Nicole Priel, Partner & Managing Director at Ibex Investors (Photo: Elisa Szklanny) and Matan Abutbul, SOC Manager at Cybereason.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“Before coronavirus started, I lived in a small apartment in Tel Aviv-Jaffa for 15 years,” said Ori Winokur, head of original content at Artlist, a Royalty-free Music Licensing Platform.
“But within the first few days of the first lockdown, I understood that my family couldn’t continue living in our 70 sq.m. apartment the way we had been. We always had some ideas to eventually leave the city, but being so close to work was a big incentive to stay. But the realization that we would be moving to remote work gave us the courage to actually do so.”
Winokur and other residents of Israel’s expensive and congested central region are finding that the rise of working from home makes the advantages of city life less appealing. Many Israelis are following the global trend of moving away from the large innovation centers toward more affordable neighborhoods.
“Our family first found an arrangement to live in a kindergarten in Hadera for six weeks, where the kids could play freely and we could work on the wi-fi. That was an interesting life experience, and when we got back, it was very clear to us that we couldn’t continue in our apartment. Our place was so small, I was literally working next to the toilet. So we moved to Givat Ada, a small town outside of Haifa with a population of about 15,000. Now, we are paying less for our big house with a yard than we were for that tiny apartment, and we are a two-minute walk from the water.”
Givat Ada is less than an hour from Tel Aviv by train, Winokur says, so the arrangement should be sustainable even after the pandemic ends. “Our company is anxious to get back to the office, and I’ll have to go to Tel Aviv a few times a week when this is over. But this experience helped me realize that there is no reason to continue paying such high prices to stay in the city”
Asaf Ganot, CEO of ControlUp, made an even bigger move. Ganot moved to Sunnyvale, California in 2016 when his company, which develops technology for managing computer systems in organizations, opened up offices there. But now, the company has closed its offices in favor of remote work, and Ganot has moved back to Israel, where the company has 120 employees.
“Previously, we had about 60 employees in California, but we found that there is a greater pool of talent available when you move outside of Silicon Valley. The decision has saved the company a lot of money and helped us get through the worst parts of the crisis. We have employees all over the US, and we are looking into opening an office somewhere else. There are advantages of being in the center of Silicon Valley, but for my family, there are more advantages of being back in Israel, so we moved to Ramat Hasharon in the past year. Another co-worker did the same.” The company has since raised $27 million in funding from investors.
Another Israeli company, the data syncing and storage company Panoply, also recently closed its San Francisco office in favor of remote work, said Nicole Priel, managing director of Ibex Investors, which is an investor in Panoply. California is becoming less favorable a location for Israeli companies, due to the large time gap from Israel, the high prices, and the competition for talent, she said. Instead, she said, many are moving to less-expensive locations with nicer weather and lower taxes, especially, Miami, where the mayor is spearheading a large campaign to attract top tech names.
“COVID accelerated the idea that you don’t have to be located in the heart of Silicon Valley to launch a start-up,” Priel said. “Funds that used to invest only in companies that they could meet face-to-face now think differently, and the advantages of moving can be significant to the company.”
Meanwhile, even a temporary move out of the city can provide a respite for some. Matan Abutbul, security operations Manager at Cybereason in Tel Aviv, joined his company in November, a month before the nation’s third lockdown began. Once the office closed, he headed back to his family in Eilat to live with his parents.
“It is nice spending time with my family again, I’m saving money, and the sun is very nice,” he said. “I don’t think this arrangement can be long-term, because I need to interact with my co-workers, and there are some things I can only do in Tel Aviv, but knowing that I could do this during a lockdown has been very rewarding,” he said.