Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says ‘the office as we know it is finished’

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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky thinks the future of work could mean the death of the office in its current form

(Illustration Airbnb/iStock/Washington Post)
(Illustration Airbnb/iStock/Washington Post)

The last two years of the pandemic have led the head of Airbnb to radically change the way his company’s 6,000 employees work, and it has nothing to do with the past.

“The office as we know it is finished,” Brian Chesky said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post. “It’s an anachronistic form factor from a pre-digital era.”

Hybrid work isn’t ideal either, he says.

The manager of the home-sharing service believes that the gathering of employees in spaces will always exist but in a completely different form. Indeed, more workers will opt to relocate to different cities, states or countries or travel regularly, Chesky says. The CEO, who is also a co-founder, has already visited a dozen different cities since January work remotely and plans to continue the nomadic lifestyle with his 9-month-old Golden Retriever Sophie Supernova throughout the summer, he said. Airbnb, which reported a net loss of $19 million in the first quarter on a 70% increase in quarterly revenue to $1.51 billion from a year earlier, benefited from the rise in travel.

Chesky unveiled policies earlier this month that allow employees to live and work from anywhere in their country with no change in salary. They can also work in over 170 countries for up to 90 days at each location. To help more people move abroad to work, Airbnb is working with around 20 countries to remove some of the paperwork associated with obtaining a temporary work visa.

“We want to partner with countries to make it easier…so you don’t have to go through a crazy amount of paperwork,” he said.

We sat down with Chesky, who told us about New York. Here’s what he said about the future of work.

Airbnb plans to allow workers to work from anywhere and its CEO thinks other companies should follow suit. (Video: The Washington Post)

Q: Why do you think your new work policy will be successful?

A: Partly because we announced the policy less than two weeks ago and since then over a million people have visited our Careers and Jobs page. We only have 6,000 employees. Ultimately, I don’t believe CEOs can dictate how people work. The market will. Employees will. Flexibility will be the most important benefit after compensation.

Q: Do you think your policy will attract another talent pool?

A: One of the benefits of flexibility is increased diversity. If you limit yourself to hiring people only in San Francisco [for example] then you are limited to the diversity of people who can afford to live [there]. You can add offices and other locations, but the real diversity [comes] of a diverse set of communities.

Q: How do you ensure that employees who come into the office do not receive preferential treatment?

A: I’m not sure that people who go to the office will see management more often. My management team is already in all the cities. And I won’t be in the office, so they won’t see me very often. The most visible way to see people is usually Zoom because it’s hard to walk around the office and see what people are doing at their desks. Things are actually easy to follow digitally.

At the same time, we try to be super intentional, so we expect each employee to be together one week per term. This week will not consist of random meetings. These will be meaningful experiences that we will design to build trust, connection, and do meaningful collaborative work.

Q: Why should other companies follow your vision?

The vacation rental and tourism company recently announced plans to allow most of its employees to work wherever they choose and be paid the same. (Video: The Washington Post)

A: We will help popularize and accelerate an inevitable trend. You cannot undo this. Screens will get better, internet will get faster, everything will be better. Digital experiences will become increasingly real. People will have more and more freedom. So, number one, companies should do it because it’s unavoidable. But number two, don’t you want the best people?

Q: What is the future of compensation in remote work?

A: Location-based compensation is going to be considered an outdated practice. In a world of flexibility, where people don’t have to be back in the office five days a week, guess what’s going to happen? A lot of people who work from a laptop will go somewhere else. Salary is based on work, not location.

Q: How will the offices be different?

A: If an office didn’t exist today, would we invent it? And would it look like today? I think what will happen is that there will be spaces in which people will work. Offices will have to be more single-use. So if you want a creative space, you want a room with lots of [working] space and large tables. If I want to be head down, I’m going to have a lot of private spaces. If we do an offsite, maybe we have a retreat space with lots of nature. We need to ditch the form factors of 50 years and imagine if you were starting from scratch, what would you do? You would probably do something different than what you have today.

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky explained how his company hopes to improve diversity and talent by enabling friendlier remote workplaces. (Video: The Washington Post)

Q: Will the Airbnb office change?

A: Absolutely. This will radically change. I like to see how things are used and then design them. [Chesky used to be an industrial designer.] So I will first see how people return to the office. But don’t get me wrong, in a year or two, our offices, [will be] somewhat unrecognizable.

Q: What impact would these ideas have on real estate?

A: Open floor plans are not ideal for towers because towers separate you by floors. I encourage cities to think about converting commercial real estate into residential real estate.

What we need to do is design new physical communities where people want to hang out and where you don’t have to force them to come back.

Q: To what extent was your new work policy based on the current talent wars?

A: We have always been in competition to attract talent. It’s been going on for decades. This is just the next chapter. Now, instead of people competing to have nice offices with on-site yoga, what they’re going to compete for is having the most flexibility and the strongest culture.

Q: What technologies are needed for the future of work?

A: What would make it even better? Satellite internet, things like Starlink where you can go off the grid or off the beaten path, and you’re not limited to the infrastructure of a town or city. It would help. Even better camera technology, even higher resolution screens, which are inevitable, so when you connect from a laptop it looks more real.

Q: Will the metaverse play a role in the future of work?

We are living in one of the loneliest times in human history. Digital connections aren’t always as nurturing as physical connections. So we really focus on how online or digital technology can be a gateway to an in-person connection.

Q: What are the biggest challenges employers will face in this next era of work?

A: If a company chooses to bring people back to the office three days a week or five days a week, those CEOs and companies will struggle to retain people, maintain morale, and hire. They are going to have very big problems.

For businesses that embrace flexibility, we’re going to have a different problem. How do you ensure that people can still form meaningful relationships at work? But we don’t think the solution is three days a week in the office. We believe these will be immersive and intentional gatherings.

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