On April 28, 2022, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky emailed his thousands of employees with an update: they would now have the choice to work from the office or remotely, without restrictions or required time spent onsite; their compensation would not be contingent upon their permanent residence; they could travel and work from anywhere in the world for up to 90 days a year; the organization would have regular gatherings and off-sites; and they would continue to work in a highly coordinated and streamlined way aligned to one company calendar.
The announcement came after the platform ultimately grew throughout the pandemic, although its users’ behaviors shifted significantly. One in 5 stays booked on the platform were for 28 days or longer, and even shorter stays of seven days increased for 44% to about half of all bookings.
The news also follows Chesky going on a nationwide tour living and working from Airbnbs across the U.S. Starting in January 2020, he began staying with different hosts in different cities to experience his own product and learn more about the user experience of those working remotely from Airbnbs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
While remote work and the ability to work from anywhere in the world make perfect sense for the travel company to embrace purely based on their function, many other companies that are able to allow for remote work are currently navigating how it looks for them and their teams.
“This was trending to take place in the next five to 10 years,” Joe Ferrio, president of South Florida-based technology staffing company Mafe Resources, said. “COVID has been the catalyst to really expedite it.” In May, the Partnership of New York City reported only 8 percent of office workers in Manhattan were back to the office five days a week, while 78 percent are hybrid.
Getting out of the office
“I think that in some cases, for workers, it can feel like the office exists as the surveillance, and I think that inherently makes people feel more on edge,” senior writer at TechCrunch Amanda Silberling told The Org. Being concerned with things like your appearance, posture or being away from your desk for any period of time can add undo stress about things that don’t matter or contribute to the work you’re doing. “It can create this feeling of having to make sure that I'm performing or being productive in a specific way.”
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Specialist Charlene Chinn thinks the time away from the office has also created more independence in employees — for the better. “I think there's a different level of energy that you have to put out in the work that you're doing, because you're not next to your office mate or seatmate in the office,” she said. “It’s solely on you if you're at home because you don't have that level of access right away.”
Of course, there have been plenty of ways for colleagues to connect during this time whether it’s Microsoft Teams, Zoom or other avenues, but Chinn also pointed out that this can allow for autonomy, higher confidence in oneself and greater trust between management and employees. “When you put your trust in your employees and your employees see that, they'll produce,” she said.
With the announcement, Chesky said, “Despite everything, we had the most productive two-year period in our history.” He quickly followed this with an acknowledgement of how it was challenging for many on his team sharing the level of flexibility he wants to build the future of working at Airbnb on.
Other tech companies and startups are offering fully remote options as well as returning to the office with a more hybrid approach. However, it often comes with a caveat. Stripe is offering their employees to work remotely, but they will have to take a pay cut to live in cities where the cost of living is cheaper than that of their HQ cities of Dublin, Ireland and San Francisco. To soften the blow, they offered a $20,000 bonus for those who opt to move away.
Both Facebook and Google have been navigating hybrid work and cutting the pay of those that decide to opt for remote work options. “If you're going to get a pay cut for moving somewhere with a lower cost of living, then you're not going to move there,” Silberling said. Cutting pay in exchange for remote work can sound much more like a consequence than a perk.
This is why the most notable difference in the Airbnb announcement is that pay will not be impacted by where employees choose to live. Potentially, a developer making San Francisco money could easily reside in Fort Wayne, Indiana where the cost of living is approximately 14 percent less than the national average.
“I think this really speaks volumes, because we all know a lot of these companies will try to lowball you and they will not be forthcoming with what compensation looks like if you don't ask the right questions,” Chinn said. “Having a company who's already putting that out there at the forefront just offers another point of relatability where an employee can say, ‘Yes, this company gets it.’”
Bringing on the best of the best
Offering fully remote work without penalty to compensation affords Airbnb access to talent worldwide. “They're gonna get the best of the best in any given market. They're going to be able to select and poach people in other major metro areas and entice them with a higher pay and the remote availability,” Ferrio said. “In theory, they're going to get the best developers or tech people in the country.”
From an image perspective, Airbnb is a global company, so broadening its hiring pool makes sense. However, with the specific programming language the platform is built on, it requires them to be able to search for candidates worldwide. “There could be only 100 people in the country that could write that type of code,” Ferrio points out. Offering more of what candidates want – autonomy and compensation – has the potential to let Airbnb build the best team. Hiring the right people for the job regardless of location is an investment in the future.
Being at the forefront of this shift not only affords Airbnb access to the best talent—it gives its employees even more reason to stay. “Within the conversation around the Great Resignation and how employees are not necessarily leaving because of a bad team member or a bad manager versus the company culture, I think the culture of a lot of companies is what is shifting the workforce,” Chinn said. “Establishing certain cultural patterns in an organization can either hinder or help your organization long term, and it ties back to employee retention.”
Benefits for the team and the brand
Parallel to broadening the access to talent, prioritizing the choice without penalty can bring a wider range of people into the company. “I think there's a lot of value in having diversity at a company and I think it’s often overlooked how remote work can really benefit disabled people, especially in tech,” Silberling said.
“I hope that other companies will also be able to understand that sometimes working in an office isn't best for everybody,” Silberling continued. Without diversity, different perspectives can easily be overlooked, particularly in apps. “When I've written about tech accessibility in the past, a lot of the time it feels like disabled people react by asking things like why there wasn’t anyone who is blind to test out this screen reader.”
She also pointed out the importance of geographic diversity for a company like Airbnb. “They're building a product that people all over the world use. If only people who live in certain locations were able to help build that product, that creates biases,” she said. “There may be certain things they wouldn't be thinking about that they should be thinking about because they aren't experiencing what it's like to live in Kansas or something.”
Unexpected implications of remote work
According to the team at Mafe Resources, more highly skilled developers are now living outside of major cities. “I'm seeing candidates in every part of the U.S. that we once didn’t,” Brett Morreale, chief talent officer and partner at Mafe, said. “It’s small towns in Georgia or Florida that I’ve never heard of. There is a premium technology engineer architect living there, and he's working for a huge Fortune 100 because – in the last few years – he's been allowed to go remote and got a mansion in the middle of nowhere.”
However, companies like Airbnb offering the equivalent of Manhattan or San Francisco salaries to live anywhere are also driving the cost of living up in certain housing markets. Miami’s rental market is an example, with rental prices jumping up 58 percent since March 2020 as remote workers left and are leaving tech hubs for sunny South Florida weather.
Similarly, Kingston, a small city just north of New York City, saw an influx of people in 2021, with the number of houses sold up 90 percent from the previous year and the cost of those homes up about 34 percent. The area is expected to see the costs continue to rise in 2022, but at a slower rate than last year.
“We have a 150 person company as a client, and their salaries would typically be about $120,000 a year,” Morreale said. “The national average is $165,000 and they just hired two people at $165,000 because they know what they have to pay now.” Candidates and employees now know there are companies out there that will pay them what they want, with the flexibility they desire and the benefits that are most important to them.
Will Airbnb’s remote work policy disrupt the future of work?
After the announcement went public, Chesky shared that the Airbnb careers page saw about 800,000 visits in a period during which it would typically see around 80,000. There are undoubtedly benefits to be had by all parties with remote work.
“Generally, companies where the people are happy are probably going to do better because if your staff hates going to work, then it reflects in their work,” Silberling said. “I wish that companies would have an emphasis on treating employees like they're humans, because I think treating people like they're human is never a bad idea.”
“If you're a publicly traded company, the concept of simply treating our workers better is unfortunately not going to be a great argument,” she adds. However, there are plenty of financial benefits for the company to ensure happy employees and less permanent office space.
“Giving somebody some money to buy a nice desk chair and get a new laptop is probably going to be cheaper than putting a tennis court on your startup campus,” she said. This announcement puts the pressure on Airbnb to succeed as they set a precedent for companies offering fully remote options. She adds, “I hope that they succeed and prove that they can be as productive, if not more, by giving people this flexibility.”