Airbnb’s new remote work policy and what other companies can take away from it

The future is flexibility: A fact that even Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb, can’t overlook any longer. A few weeks back, the company announced that starting from now, employees can choose to work remotely for as long as they want. They can also move within the country they work in without the loss of compensation—a huge step towards more employee freedom. Let’s look at what the motivators are behind huge companies like Airbnb choosing to make such drastic changes. 

Why this change?

Being a major player in the travel and hotel industry, Airbnb was hit hard over the last two years. However, the company came back stronger than anyone would have imagined, the least Brian Chesky himself. By December 2021, their revenue increased by 25% compared to the previous year. And all that because people around the world were working remotely from Airbnbs. 

Being the driving force behind the company’s success, remote work has turned from an enemy to a friend. Since employees were forced to work remotely due to the pandemic, there was a sentiment that Airbnb shared with so many other companies: The productivity and performance of the brand noticeably increased. 

Chesky is sure that remote work will be the future of his company and, as he thinks, of work in general. And even though there have been a plethora of companies embracing remote work and the beloved home office, there are still a few points in Airbnb’s policy that are different. They are refined and a product of the learning curves and experiences gathered over the last two years. Having been through the thick of it all, Airbnb’s policy could serve as an impulse for other companies as well. 

Basically, Airbnb has come up with five main principles that form the core of their policy:

  1. Employees can work from anywhere they want. They can either choose to work from the office or stay at home. 
  2. Employees can move anywhere they want within the country they work in. Compensation will not decrease when doing so. 
  3. Digital nomads are welcome! Employees will have the ability to travel up to 90 days of the year in about 170 countries.
  4. Company gatherings will become more frequent and last over a longer period of time. Chesky announced that every quarter, employees will be expected to attend gatherings lasting one week at a time. 
  5. The workflow will continue to be highly coordinated for these policies to work. The company will focus on two major product releases a year as a goal. 

Now, let’s break these points down, shall we?

The desire for more flexibility

As mentioned above, one of the main reasons Airbnb managed to recover so quickly from the pandemic is remote work. Flexible work schedules allowed people to travel more and encouraged them to work from wherever they wanted. Many have done that by renting an Airbnb, either as a place to do work remotely or to live near a family member or friend. 

In Airbnb’s specific case, some people will still need to work in the office. Not every role and responsibility can be carried out remotely, a learning curve many other organizations can surely relate to. With remote work gaining so much popularity in the course of the past years, it is also important to acknowledge that this isn’t an option for every company. Doing the best for the company and the employees does not necessarily correlate with elaborate remote work policies.

The revolution of living

A significant game-changer in Airbnb’s new policy is the ability for employees to move within the country without a change in compensation. Moving within the country, especially in the US, usually leads to a decrease in compensation, a defeating and frustrating fact for many employees. Airbnb clearly distances themselves from these norms. Employees can move freely within the country in which they work without any reduction in their salary. 

In a climate where inflation is driving living costs through the roof, especially in and around major cities, Airbnb’s approach to keeping paychecks the same throughout the whole country is highly valuable for employees. If they choose to leave the city and move out to the countryside or suburbs, their compensation won’t change, even if their living costs decrease. 

According to Chesky, relocating internationally is still quite complex and cannot be supported at this moment in time. However, given his optimistic tone, even this could be possible in the future.

Nowadays, talent knows its worth and is hard to find and retain on the job market. This fact is also acknowledged by Chesky. In his e-mails to the employees, he wrote: “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.” It not only allows the company to find the best talent, but is also a huge advantage for those who are bound to their homes. Caregivers and people with disabilities, for example, are limited in their time and flexibility. Remote work can be a great chance for them to succeed within their industries. 

Travelling made easy

Travel is one of the things the world has not been blessed with over the last few years. So now that it’s possible to visit different countries again, it is clear that employees yearn for it. As we all went more digital, the importance of location has decreased. 

Chesky himself plans to stay in Airbnb’s throughout the next couple of months, so he can easily hop from city to city. This is a trend that he thinks will become even more prominent in the future and is important to consider, and from which the company itself can highly benefit, of course. He links this to the digital nomad lifestyle that grew popular during the pandemic. Here, people often do not have a permanent home base, but travel the world while working remotely. Especially amongst younger talents, having the opportunity to work in this kind of way is highly valuable.

Chesky makes an important step for digital nomads: “Starting in September, you can live and work in over 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location. Everyone will still need a permanent address for tax and payroll purposes, but we’re excited to give you this level of flexibility.” Airbnb will partner up with local governments to make the paperwork aspect easier and add many more countries to this list. 

Also, testing services first-hand will undoubtedly be very beneficial for the company. Especially now, with remote work on the rise, some services might be outdated or simply no longer fit the needs and expectations of the guests. Having employees visit accommodations around the globe can help improve the whole Airbnb experience. 

It also makes sense that a company built on the experience of travel wants their employees to experience the same thing. Living in Airbnb’s, seeing the world, and living the spirit of the company first-hand will surely act as a driving force to bind them to the company. This level of flexibility is something any company can benefit from, and it will earn them the loyalty of their employees. 

Fostering the culture

Another drastic change in Airbnb’s policy is that company gatherings will be more frequent, every quarter lasting for about one week, to be exact. What can seem to be extensive and inconvenient for employees is, in truth, a way of showing that Airbnb cares about building and preserving the company culture. Chesky thinks that deep human connections are essential for a successful working experience, and he plans to foster them amongst his employees. 

Having had to cut a quarter of their workforce, which amounts to about 1,900 employees, at the beginning of the pandemic, it seems like Airbnb wants to secure the employees they have left. Chesky stated that he would be more than happy to bring these people back to the company, but that he would be cautious of making decisions regarding this too early in the process. Many companies can probably empathize with this sentiment. Employees should always be the most important asset of a company and feel valued by their employers. Employees who feel unsafe in their jobs and positions may also feel uneasy about their company.

Coordination is key

With employees being all over the place and in different time zones, coordination needs to be tweaked to the max for the company to operate efficiently. A high degree of trust needs to be offered here since it does more bad than good to constantly look over the employee’s shoulder. 

Not only does coordination need to be on point, but employees also need to have clear, common goals they can strive to achieve. Chesky has set the goal of completing two major product launches each year, which will be the overarching goal of everyone involved. Everything in the calendar will be worked around these two launches. 

Changing the future of work

What Airbnb encourages with these new policies is one of the grounding principles of a successful business: trust in their employees. Because, at the end of the day, the hard work and daily successes of the employees are what make overcoming challenging times possible. Flexibility is a worthy reward and can be set as an example for many other companies. 

In 2020, Chesky said that Airbnb was “trying to be really thoughtful about what kind of company we want to become.” Looking back, it has now become clear what type of company that is: one with a modern approach, embracing employee freedom with the help of remote work. In his announcement, Chesky clearly stated that he believes this will be the future of work and positions Airbnb as a pioneer company.  

Even though these benefits are obviously great, we should keep in mind that they are not simply a selfless and noble deed from Airbnb. Finding talent is hard these days and competition is high amongst employers. Offering these options increases Airbnb’s chances to hire the best from the best. Shifting the focus more and more to the needs of the employee could be beneficial for other companies as well, especially those having trouble recruiting suitable staff.