March 07, 2023 by Liza Mash Levin

How Airbnb Is Embracing Workplace Flexibility And Building The Future Of Work

How Airbnb Is Embracing Workplace Flexibility And Building The Future Of Work

Table of contents


    The drivers behind Live & Work Anywhere at Airbnb


    3 main goals of Airbnb’s unique workplace strategy


    Setting the framework: Key elements of the flexible workplace


    The results: how the world (and employees) responded


    Lessons learned & the future of work


    The world looks up to Airbnb, and they look at the big picture

Community Stories

At the end of April 2022, an internal decision at Airbnb became global news: the company would allow its employees to live and work anywhere in the world as it began a shift to a remote work environment.

The result? 1,000,000+ visits to the Careers page on their website, proving that global talent recognized the signal they were sending — and wanted to come work for the company.

Now, almost a year after the launch, I spoke with Airbnb’s Global Head of Live & Work Anywhere, Q Hamirani, about the drivers behind the program, its goals, and early learnings.

This Coffee with Gable webinar was an impactful conversation, and I’ll share the main takeaways with you below 👇

The drivers behind Live & Work Anywhere at Airbnb

During the pandemic, Airbnb saw a need to support their employees to work from anywhere, mainly due to people wanting to spend time with family in an increasingly stressful global crisis. The first step was incubating their Nomad program around August 2020, planning it as a one-year initiative.

By mid-2022, their point of view changed due to several factors:

  • Customer data from 2021 showed long-term stays on Airbnb were the company’s fastest-growing category, indicating that people were traveling to explore the world but not setting roots in the new country
  • Employees wanted a long-term vision of flexible work arrangements so that they could make plans for their careers and personal lives
  • By this time, it was clear the world wasn’t going back to where it was, and flexible work schedules were now mainstream
  • The company has achieved incredible results (including a highly successful IPO) while working remotely, showing that remote work and exceptional productivity can go hand in hand

On top of that, Airbnb wanted to take a stance and position itself in the industry. So they gathered a team, put in a timeline, and set out to design the best possible program for their employees.

"It was obvious to us flexibility is where the world is going. We said we have to go there. Even if everyone else is going there in 10 years, we need to go there NOW so we can lead the change."

3 main goals of Airbnb’s unique workplace strategy

After analyzing where the world of work is going and concluding that workplace flexibility is the future, the next questions Q’s team set out to answer were, “What are we solving for? Why are we building this program, and what is our goal?

Here are the main goals they set for the Live & Work Anywhere program:

  1. Supporting employees with flexibility: With flexible work, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and Airbnb wanted to design a program that will satisfy various employee needs
  2. Hiring and retaining top talent: The company knew that restricting people to a geographic radius of an office would have a negative effect on employee retention and talent acquisition and wanted to continue positioning itself as a great place to work
  3. Increasing diversity: By hiring from communities around the world, Airbnb was confident their diversity would increase as the talent pool becomes broader and much richer when it becomes global.

Setting the framework: Key elements of the flexible workplace

When embracing employee flexibility or any form of remote or hybrid work, it’s not enough to say to employees, “Go work remotely and find your way around that.” You need to build a framework and set up the pillars that will carry the initiative and make sure your employees know what to expect and how to make the most of their flexible schedules.

For Airbnb, Q and his team listed out 4 key elements the Live & Work Anywhere program is based on:

  • Employees can work from home or the office. People know what is best for them, their work-life balance, and their personal lives — and the company supports that.
  • Employees can move anywhere within their country of employment, and their compensation will not change. This means you can move from a San Francisco condo to a Midwest farm, and your salary won’t change.
  • Employees can travel and live around the world, and the company will support them. Airbnb will support your decision to travel and live anywhere with all the learnings they have and a high-touch process.
  • Airbnb still has in-person gatherings. The company wants to facilitate relationship-building and ensure employees work together in a highly coordinated way.

The results: how the world (and employees) responded

So how did the launch of Live & Work Anywhere go? Well, we already mentioned the 1M+ website visits to Airbnb’s Careers page, which in itself speaks volumes about the priorities, workplace culture, and flexibility employees want from their employers.

But it’s the internal front that superseded anything Q was expecting. The employees’ reception of the program was incredible, and they were excited to learn the company invested time and effort into designing a holistic program that was relatable and based on their needs. They feel empowered to choose what is best for them, and they feel trusted to know enough to make that decision based on their personal needs.

What this shows is that employees will always reward companies who approach work with a flexible mindset, pay attention to employee wellbeing, and give thought to their company culture as a whole instead of putting out one-size-fits-all solutions.

Lessons learned & the future of work

With bold visions and programs come great learnings, and Q shared several of them with me and our audience. I’ll sum up the six main lessons below:

  1. Programs like these have a huge impact on the People and Workplace practices inside a company, so you need to reevaluate your employee value props across the board. Enabling team members to be flexible touches upon many different areas, from learning and development to the employee perks you offer.
  2. You also need to reevaluate how you run the workplace with a global employee base and a remote work style. How do you host employees from a workplace standpoint when you don’t have offices around the world? How do you innovate on the workplace front?
  3. Airbnb doesn’t know what the future of work will be — but they know it will need iteration. The company doesn’t mandate behaviors; they listen to employees’ needs, learn from them, and are ready to test ideas and iterate.
  4. There is a need for providing workspaces around the world, but not necessarily in-house. Some processes take too much time, capacity, and effort to do in-house, so Airbnb leverages marketplaces to provide employees worldwide with an equitable experience when it comes to office spaces.
  5. The workplace needs innovation and disruption of the 20-year-old model of onsite perks. Learning, experimenting, and innovating based on the levers of employee engagement and new ways employees do work is essential for designing the future of work.
  6. Flexibility comes hand in hand with accountability. The company doesn’t measure employees by how many hours they spent online but rather by their output and achievements. They are empowered to set their own hours and do their best work, but they must be accountable for it.

"When we launched our program, we told employees that flexibility will not work without accountability. They have to own up to their share of being accountable because we are trusting and empowering them."

The world looks up to Airbnb, and they look at the big picture

In the Workplace arena, many companies are looking to tackle the challenges of remote work by looking at one thing only: offering unlimited PTO to battle burnout, testing a four-day workweek to improve employee satisfaction, and boosting perks and benefits to attract job seekers.

Airbnb takes a different approach: they looked at the core of what their employees need, how they can do better work, achieve job satisfaction, and improve the company’s bottom line. Then, they developed a holistic strategy that touches all areas of employee experience and reevaluated how different departments work together to achieve synergy, efficiency, and flexibility.

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Written By

Liza Mash Levin


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