Earlier this week, I had a chance to talk to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky about a range of topics, including new features the company is introducing. First, however, we talked about the company's move to let its employees live and work anywhere, and how he came up with a plan that made sense for Airbnb.
You can listen to the full interview here:
Airbnb is in an interesting position, since not only is the company putting in place a policy that allows its team to be fully remote, but it has also seen the way people are using its product to do just that. Every company is trying to figure this out, and a lot of them have defaulted to what has become known as "hybrid work."
In many cases, that means employees are required to be in the office three days a week while working from home the rest of the time. According to Chesky, that form of hybrid work isn't going to work.
What a lot of people did is they create a thing called hybrid. And hybrid was two days a week or three days a week in the office--which kind of doesn't give you a lot more flexibility than the old world. I thought maybe there was a different form of hybrid. Maybe instead of asking you to come in three days a week, which I don't think will work because three days a week will become two days a week, and two days a week will become one day a week, and then everyone comes in the office a different one day a week. And so I thought maybe there was a different form of hybrid, where we combined the efficiency of Zoom with the infrequency, but the meaningfulness, of interpersonal interaction by getting together one week a quarter. And frankly, if that's not enough, we can adjust it.
For a lot of companies, it seems like the default assumption is that employees need to be back in the office for at least some structured amount of time. Largely that's because the people who make decisions about how employees work are usually people who have spent their entire career working in an office.
"Most of the people saying that they want everyone back to the office are over 50," Chesky says. "There's just a demographic thing, like the older you are, the more inclined you are to be uncomfortable with the idea of flexibility and digitization. I understand that. It's a generational thing."
That doesn't, however, mean it has to be that way. A better version of hybrid work, according to Chesky, is that the default assumption about where you work is that you'll be wherever you work best. For most people that's probably home, or an Airbnb in some far-off, inspiring location. Chesky himself has been working from different Airbnbs for the past few months.
Then, companies can bring people together for extended periods, a week or two, to do the things you can't do virtually, like build meaningful relationships with your team. That doesn't have to be at an office--in fact, it's probably better if it isn't. If your goal is to create relationships and connections with your team, take them somewhere that is likely to happen.
One of the most interesting things about our conversation is the reason Chesky is so bullish on giving employees the flexibility to live anywhere. For Airbnb, it means the company can recruit the very best people without worrying about whether they're willing to relocate.
The best people don't live in New York, they don't live in San Francisco, the best people live everywhere. And some of them are in New York and San Francisco, but they're really everywhere. And so, as a CEO, I have to make a calculation. If I limit my talent pool to a radius near my office, does the increase in productivity of their being near my office overcome the lack of talent I can hire? In other words, if I can hire someone in Ohio, and they are twice as good, that means the person near me has to be twice as productive. Otherwise, I'm at a net loss.
At the end of the day, I think talent wins. I think ultimately people are going to make a calculation, that the efficiency of being in close proximity is less than the efficiency of having more capable people if they're dispersed, because ultimately every company is in the market for talent.
It's worth mentioning that Chesky has the data to back it up. He says that despite the pandemic, the company just had its most productive two years ever. That came while his team was working remotely, which gave him the confidence to make it the default.
A lot of that productivity came in terms of improving the product. Chesky told me Airbnb made 150 changes to the product just last year alone. Today, however, Airbnb announced what Chesky describes as its biggest upgrade yet, letting you search not just by destination but also by type of property.
Want to stay in the coolest treehouse? Now, you can search for treehouses. You can do the same for national parks, or great pools, or cabins, or any one of a number of categories. In fact, Airbnb has categorized all of its listings to give users a far better search experience. And for travelers who want to stay longer, Airbnb is allowing you to split your stay at multiple locations within one search.
The bottom line is that Airbnb is making the product better at the same time it's focused on making its company better for the people who work there. I don't think that's a coincidence at all.
"The last thing I'll just say is the word technology basically means the word change," Chesky says. "And if you're unwilling to change, then you're basically saying you won't be around in the future, and we intend to be around for a long time to come."