Airbnb co-founder bets on remote work amid return to office

(Bloomberg) — Home-sharing company Airbnb Inc., initially crippled by pandemic shutdowns but revitalized by the recent travel boom, is betting remote work is here to stay.

Stays of 28 days or more — typically done by so-called digital nomads who can do their jobs from a variety of locations — now account for about a fifth of Airbnb’s business. And this year, the company made “work from anywhere” permanent for its 6,000 employees, eliminating pay tiers based on a location’s cost of living and allowing employees to work until 90 days a year from any region where Airbnb operates.

The company recently released a policy guide for cities and countries looking to attract remote workers, like Tulsa, Oklahoma, which attracted more than 1,600 people and boosted the region’s economy by nearly $20 million last year.

Bloomberg sat down with Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk to discuss how he sees the remote working revolution unfolding. His responses have been edited and condensed.

What is the purpose of the remote working guidance document?

There is a huge demand for remote work. What is interesting are the strategic implications for cities. Historically, cities have done a lot to attract businesses to boost their economy. And now there’s this opportunity to speak directly to workers and their families and demonstrate why this city is a great place from a quality of life perspective. Employees don’t have to choose between their well-paid job and an excellent quality of life. They can have both.

There are many cities attractive to remote workers where the cost of living has skyrocketed as more people move there. Does this come up in your conversations with these cities?

There are pros and cons to everything – one person’s economic development is someone else’s gentrification. All in all, this phenomenon certainly stirs the pot a bit, and I think that’s probably generally a good thing. During the pandemic, you’ve seen people go to places like Florida and different suburbs, and they just got a little overheated. But I think as we move into a stable state, the opportunity can be spread over a larger area.

Have you seen an impact of Airbnb’s remote work policy on employee satisfaction or engagement?

What we’ve seen during the pandemic is that engagement hasn’t fluctuated much. I think there was so much going on in the world that in some ways people’s perceptions and feelings about the company were kind of stuck. What we’ve seen change a lot is people’s attitudes towards remote work. When we asked employees in September 2020 if they wanted to come into the office less than once a week – so basically not to be in the office – it was 37%. In November 2021, it was 59%. It is revealing.

You got rid of location-based pay tiers. What was the reason for this?

If you reduce people’s wages if they move, are you really creating flexibility? It is a very difficult decision for employees to make this trade-off. We spend a lot of money on talent, and we spend a lot of money on offices. In the future, we will spend less money on offices. So our thought is that everything will eventually fall.

What is lost by not having people coming to the office?

It worked well in the short term, but I wonder if there are longer term implications that we don’t yet fully understand. From personal experience, it’s less fun to work from home than in the office. But there’s overhead in getting to the office and there’s an inability to balance things the same way. There is this kind of compromise between the efficiency of life and the pleasure of colleagues. I think a lot of people, especially those with kids, say, “I’ll take the efficiency, please. This is what I need right now. If you’re fresh out of college, you might say, “I want to socialize, it’s important to me.

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