I've spent a lot of time writing about different companies and their attempts to bring people back to the office. I've written quite a few times about how companies, especially big tech companies, are blending remote and in-office work to create a hybrid work arrangement for their employees.
Of all the companies I've written about, the policy introduced this week by Airbnb's CEO, Brian Chesky, is worth taking a deeper look. You can sum it up, as Chesky did, in four words: Live and work anywhere.
According to Chesky, employees can "work from home or the office--whatever works best for you." That alone isn't particularly unique. A lot of companies are offering some form of a similar plan. All of those companies are trying to figure out how to balance the needs of their business with the desire of employees to have flexibility in their work arrangements.
The thing that makes Airbnb's plan different--and what makes it the best yet, in my opinion--is that it's more than just lip service to hybrid work. Here's how you know the company actually means it:
"You can move anywhere in the country, like from San Francisco to Nashville, and your compensation won't change," Chesky tweeted.
Those last four words are pretty important. In many cases, companies will let you move, but if you end up in an area with a lower cost of living, the company will adjust your salary accordingly. Not at Airbnb.
Airbnb doesn't plan to lower your salary just because you move to an area with a lower cost of living. The company will, instead, have a single pay tier, by country, for a given role.
If you tell people that they can move anywhere, but they will have their pay adjusted if they move to a place with a lower cost of living, you're sending the message you'd really rather they not move. You're telling your employees that this policy is mostly just meant to make the company look like it's being flexible, without actually having to be flexible. Those aren't the same.
One is done so that you can claim you have a hybrid work plan. It's something you do when you want the credit for doing something for your employees, without having to actually do it. Think of the message it sends an employee when you tell them they now have the freedom to move anywhere, but if they do, they'll be worth less to the company than before.
Imagine you're an employee making, say, $145,000 as a programmer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You move to somewhere in Montana or Tennessee or Texas--because your company encourages employees to have flexibility--only to find out you'll now be paid $125,000. The company just told you that even though it will expect you to do the same job and produce the same level of work as before, you're now worth $20,000 less.
All of the philosophical conversations around hybrid work and letting employees work from anywhere are great. Pay attention to the details, however, because that's where you find out what companies really think. That's where you discover how they really feel about giving their employees flexibility.
Google, for example, is moving to a hybrid model that requires employees to be in the office three days a week. Employees can apply to work remotely full time, but it's not a given. In a recent interview, Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, said the company has "supported 85 percent of those applications."
That means Google is telling 15 percent of the employees who have decided that working remotely is the best fit for their work and their life, "Sorry, you have to come to the office." Pichai didn't say why the company is saying no that often. Maybe those employees have super important jobs that can only be done in an office. Maybe they require access to information or systems that are only available at one of Google's high-tech campuses.
Except, presumably, those employees were working from home for some period of time over the past two years. During that time, Google had several of its best quarters of performance, ever. It doesn't seem like remote work has hurt the company, so it's interesting that Google would tell some employees, "We know you want to work remotely, but we'd rather you come to the office."
Airbnb, on the other hand, acknowledged that working remotely didn't slow the company down at all. "We also had the most productive two-year period in our company's history--all while working remotely," according to Chesky. So, the company is doubling down on giving its employees real flexibility and options for how they work. That's might be the best plan I've seen yet.