Airbnb’s Work Anywhere Policy

Airbnb is leading the charge to enable digital nomads in their organization and yours. Their work anywhere policy provides one road map. Are you ready to follow their lead?

Airbnb recently announced that it wants to embrace remote working as the norm. In fairness, to fail to do so would have been the height of hypocrisy given that so much of its recent financial good fortune is due to remote workers (from other companies) who used Airbnb to find pleasant locations from which to work. But more than that, Airbnb believes that this is the direction the world is taking. According to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky:

today’s startups have embraced remote work and flexibility, and I think this will become the predominant way that we all work 10 years from now. This is where the world is going.

Brian Chesky email to Airbnb employees, 28 April 2022

The Policy Goal

So what is Airbnb’s new live and work anywhere policy? They start by identifying the problem they are trying to solve for:

We want to hire and retain the best people in the world (like you). If we limited our talent pool to a commuting radius around our offices, we would be at a significant disadvantage. The best people live everywhere, not concentrated in one area. And by recruiting from a diverse set of communities, we will become a more diverse company.

Chesky email

That said, they are aware that employees (and especially managers) will have misgivings about the reduced in-person time. Here’s how Chesky approaches the issue:

Now, I understand the anxiety of not seeing people in an office—how do you know if your employees are doing their jobs when you can’t see them? For me, it’s simple: I trust you, and flexibility only works when you trust the people on your team. You’ve shown how much you can accomplish remotely. In the last two years, we navigated the pandemic, rebuilt the company from the ground up, went public, upgraded our entire service, and reported record earnings, all while working remotely. It’s clear that flexibility works for Airbnb.

Chesky email

So the first hurdle is trust. And this is where leadership needs to be disciplined in its analysis, rejecting the old way of doing things in favor of assessing honestly the performance of the last two years. If your people stepped up, then they have earned your trust.

Airbnb’s Policy

Here are the main principles of the Airbnb policy:

  • Productivity determines location. Employees can work from home or the office based on where they are most productive — unless they are in a handful of roles that actually do require presence in a specific location.
  • Country-wide compensation. They can move anywhere in the country they work in and their compensation won’t change.
  • 90-day nomads. They have the flexibility to travel and work around the world. Airbnb is developing an open source solution that will make it possible for their employees AND YOURS to work in 170 countries for up to 90 days in each location.
  • Quarterly face-to-face. They will meet in person regularly for team gatherings, off-sites, and social events — likely every quarter for about one week at a time. People in more senior roles will be expected to gather more often.
  • One calendar to rule them all. They will work in a highly coordinated way — by using a single company-wide calendar to establish a shared cadence and by providing appropriate structural support.

Will it Work?

Skeptics will say that these pronouncements are rather broad and lack operational detail. Agreed, but that is the point of a policy: it is directional. The world will be watching to see how Airbnb puts this policy into practice.

They have flagged some of the human and legal challenges they will face but of the two, the human are most important. After all, if they do not find a way to build a healthy culture and provide up-to-the-minute training, their business will wither. This also means helping their managers adjust to this new way of thinking and operating.

As for the legal hurdles, Airbnb has a massive business incentive to figure this out — for themselves and for all their customers who would prefer the life of digital nomads. By making the solutions open-source, they enable a great deal of business for themselves and reduced hassle for their customers.

What About YOU?

You may not be able to do right now everything Airbnb proposes, but it is never too early to start thinking along these lines. Is there some way you could begin to move in this direction this quarter? This year?

Why bother? Because Brian Chesky is right. Technology is making geographical anchors for work much less relevant for the best and brightest employees. And aren’t they the ones you want to recruit and retain?

In my next post, I’ll take a look at how law firms might work with a similar policy. I hope you’ll join me.

[Photo Credit: Dessidre Fleming]

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