Workations In Action: Deep Dive on Airbnb’s WFA Policy

In today’s article we’re going to take a deep dive look at Airbnb’s Live & Work Anywhere program, its early goals, the roll-out and overall lessons learned.

Airbnb was not an early adopter when it comes to work from anywhere, for this, credit would have to go to platforms like Nomad Stays who offered bespoke solutions to this niche long before Airbnb.

However, is it clear that when Airbnb did press the accelerator on this, that it became an opportunity not just from a HR and employee benefit perspective, but also from a wider business strategy, even leading to an evolution of their product offering.

 

What Is The Airbnb Work From Anywhere Policy?

The announcement of Airbnb’s Live And Work From Anywhere Programme can be found here:

https://news.airbnb.com/airbnbs-design-to-live-and-work-anywhere/ 

The key components of Airbnb’s Live and Work Anywhere Policy included:

  • Employees can live and work in over 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location.  Via this program they can travel and work from other locations globally provided they have proper work authorization (and is verified ahead of the trip). 
  • Employees can choose between working from home or an Airbnb office.
  • Relocate within their country of employment without compensation changes.
  • While the vast majority of employees were able to access this program, some roles were restricted (most likely senior roles and any high permanent establishment risk roles, for example).
  • There remains a focus on getting the balance right for building relationships through in-person gatherings and also getting the right tools, training and processes in place.  There would be a particular focus on increased training for managers on remote leadership and team effectiveness (something which some companies recently calling for RTO have perhaps neglected).
  • Airbnb provides a $500 allowance for workers to travel

While the above is the end result, it’s more interesting in many ways to dig into how Airbnb got there.

This video below (at 3 hour 15 minute mark) from Airbnb CFO and Head of Employee Experience Dave Stephenson gives some helpful context to Airbnb’s Live & Work Anywhere Program.  He talks about the origins of these being driven by talent needs.  “It’s important to remember that the best people in the world are not all within 50 miles of San Francisco.” 

 

 

This other video below from Q Hamirani, former Head of People Operations of Airbnb as well as their Global Head of Live & Work Anywhere program, is extremely helpful in understanding their program in more detail.  In this interview, he is interviewed by Liza Mash Levin of Gable, where he gives a great insight into how Airbnb launched their work from anywhere programme.

 

So what were the key takeaways from these interviews?

 

Airbnb Work From Anywhere Program Kick-off: Asking The Right Questions

What was clear from this interview is that while they admitted they were somewhat late to the table, Airbnb did recognize that the world wasn’t going back in 2021/2022 so they started putting together a research and program team in Feb 2022.  

Q Hamirani talks about how “we don’t know which way the future of work in offices is going to go… We had to make sure that we studied how and what people wanted in the future of an office space and how we could meet those needs.”

Fundamentally, he talks about how they had a number of key questions to answer:

  • Where do we believe the world is going?  It was clear the world was moving towards flexible working.  They got this conviction from both their own leaders  and their own customers (where stays of 28 days or longer was the fastest growing category).
  • What are we solving for, why are we doing this and what is our goal?
    • The talent pool dimension was crucial in that they wanted to hire and retain the best talent from around the world, which would also help increase their diversity.

It became clear quite quickly that the goal was to meet various employee needs knowing there is no one-size fits all approach.  What was also clear was how “this program has such a vast impact across your people and workplace practices… We had to rethink our employee value proposition across the board.”

 

Airbnb Work From Anywhere Policy Launch: The 4 Pillars

By April 2022, within 3 months of putting together their program team, they had already announced the Airbnb Live & Work Anywhere programme.

Peeking behind the curtains, there were 4 key pillars of the program referred to by Q Hamirani:

  1. Employees can work from home or the office, the choice is theirs.
  2. Employees can really move anywhere within their country of employment and their compensation would not change, meaning they moved to value based pay within a country
  3. They launched the incubated Nomad program which became the focal point of their Live & Work Anywhere program, the aim here was to let employees live and work anywhere around the world.  This was by far the most complex part of the program.
  4. They wanted to get the right blend of both in-person and virtual connections so it was vital to make sure that they had the right balance of in-person gatherings to strengthen those connections and relationships.

 

C-Suite Buy-in Crucial for a Successful Workation Policy

A key component of the program’s success was the buy-in from the C-Suite who were all in behind this, not just as an employee branding and retention tool, but also as a way of expanding the total addressable market of their core product offering. 

You cannot get more committed than your CEO moving out of his home to work from anywhere around the world for a year.

 

The Employee Angle to Workations

Before the pandemic, 95% of Airbnb employees lived near a company office. As of April 2023, almost a quarter of employees were more than 50 miles from an office, beyond a comfortable commute.

And they seem to be loving it.

In terms of program participation, as of early 2023, about 20% of Airbnb employees had taken advantage of Live and Work Anywhere to relocate domestically or travel abroad.  By July 2023, 55% of employees had worked while traveling in the past year.

The numbers are likely to have climbed even higher since then as those numbers were only taking into account mainly the first year of the initiative.

 

What Impact Did Airbnb’s Work & Live Anywhere Program Have On Talent Acquisition?

Above is the data from Similarweb in June 2022 which shows the Airbnb career’s page website visitors.  Here you can clearly see an almost doubling of website visitors when the Live & Work Anywhere program was launched, which must have delighted talent acquisition and business leadership in particular, showing how attractive their offering positioned Airbnb in the war for talent.

Two years later we can observe above the visits to Airbnb’s career’s page for the period November 2023 to January 2024.  What is clear is that visits to the careers page do structurally seem to be materially higher compared to when the program was launched with over 850,000 visitors in January 2024 alone.

Of course the success of this is more than just a work from anywhere program, but there can be no doubt that offering this employee benefit does seem to have contributed to a much stronger employer brand in the global talent marketplace.

 

What Was The ROI Of Airbnb’s Work From Anywhere Policy?

Other than the positive impact of visitors to the careers page, what was the overall ROI (return on investment) of Airbnb’s work from anywhere policy? 

Unfortunately it’s not a black and white answer, but we can gauge its success from some of the key metrics Airbnb have published.

Q Hamirani specifically mentioned how “engagement scores, diversity metrics, recruitment metrics…are all trending in an amazing direction.”

Airbnb conducts an annual engagement survey and Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb’s Country Manager for ANZ, noted that “feedback from employees is very positive.”  The policy has also had a flow-on impact on Airbnb’s talent management, with an increase in the effectiveness of both attraction and retention strategies. 

Chief Financial Officer Dave Stephenson mentioned specifically that “the business has actually never performed better since we moved to this program, it’s working really well for us.” He talks in the video above about how “attrition rate has been lower than it has ever been” and also how “the diversity of our population has been better than it has ever been where underrepresented minorities are over 16% of our population. ”

This message was reinforced when we look at their 2022 full year results, the year they launched their policy.  Their CEO Brian Chesky specifically mentioned how “2022 was another record year for Airbnb. Revenue of $8.4 billion grew 40% year over year. Net income was $1.9 billion—making 2022 our first profitable full year on a GAAP basis.”  

Much more specifically, he referred in this letter how “Guests continued to stay longer on Airbnb. Gross nights booked in Q4 2022 for more than a week are 40% higher than Q4 2019. Nights from long-term stays (28 nights or longer) remained stable from a year ago at 21% of total gross nights booked. We’ve seen guests across all regions and age groups use Airbnb for long-term stays.” 

Looking at these results, it is quite likely that the overall market trend towards workations contributed to this longer average stay.

 

Airbnb’s WFA Policy: The Digital Nomad Visa & Immigration Angle

In Airbnb’s policy, they clearly state that it is up to the employee to ensure they have the right to work in that location.  This is consistent with many companies that we see globally, as otherwise the workload would in many cases be too high for HR and global mobility departments.

In a Business Think article, similar to the blog post initially announcing the policy, Susan Wheeldon notes how Airbnb is “open-sourcing” a solution to these issues. “We’re partnering with over 20 countries to offer remote work visas, and there are obviously more in the works. And all of that is about saying ‘if you can set it up for us, then other companies can use that as well.’ And then you really allow that digital nomad piece to take off,” she said. 

This concept of partnership has gained momentum and you can see it for example in how they partnered with destinations like Cape Town to launch a one-stop hub for remote workers. They also mentioned other destinations in this article here.

They even provided a specific guide for how destinations can attract remote workers here.

 

Airbnb’s WFA Policy: The Tax And Compliance Angle

What was striking about their policy announcement was how Brian Chesky talked about how “most companies don’t do this because of the mountain of complexities with taxes, payroll, and time zone availability, but I hope we can open-source a solution so other companies can offer this flexibility as well.”

To date we have not seen any open source solution offered, although they have partnered with a number of destinations (see above).

The specific risks they were most concerned about were not singled out, although its likely permanent establishment was at the top of this list. 

In any case, Q Hamirani, did mention how their program was designed to navigate the tax and legal complexities with support from experts.  He specifically mentioned how people can’t just travel anywhere they want without approval, instead they have to open up a request with his team who do a “very strong cross-functional analysis which determines the risk and then we let people go.”  

This does not make clear whether they make use of technology to automate the compliance risk assessments or not, however what is positive is how there is a well thought through cross-functional approach to assessing the risk in each case.

 

The Hire From Anywhere Angle of Airbnb

Q Hamirani referred to how “we wanted to continue to hire and retain the best talent in the world… by hiring from communities around the world we were pretty optimistic that our diversity could also increase.”

Susan Wheeldon mentioned how “it’s also helped us to retain extraordinary people”, who gave the example of a lawyer who said that, in the past, it simply would not have been possible for him to leave his regional country hometown he grew up in where he now lives with his family – while working in a full-time professional role for a company such as Airbnb. 

“The gains to that are extraordinary,” she said. “That also certainly helps us to attract and to retain really, strong talent.”

So it is telling that the number of job applications to Airbnb more than doubled after the program was announced. 

So how did they position the program in their hire from anywhere strategy?

Above you can see how Airbnb clearly leveraged this on their career’s page where the Live & Work From Anywhere program is prominently featured.  It is clearly seen as a key employer branding asset when positioning Airbnb in the global talent marketplace.

Looking more closely at this, it is fascinating to see how Airbnb made a very deliberate choice in positioning their “core” Airbnb roles versus “non-permanent contractor roles”.  Here they see an obvious opportunity in offering independent contractor roles for short-term projects that require certain skills.  This gives the business access to vital skills, but also preserves flexibility both on the business side but also on the talent side.  

For independent contractors, they have chosen Magnit as their key service provider who would appear to handle many of the contractor and Employer of Record arrangements.

 

What can we learn from Airbnb’s Live and Work From Anywhere program?

There are so many lessons to be learned from Airbnb’s work from anywhere program.  

They were admittedly late to the table compared to many of their peers, but they made a serious splash when they eventually did launch their program.  What stood out was how: 

  • They used is as a marketing tool but also eventually used it to fundamentally rethink their product 
  • It had the full support, in more ways than one, from the CEO 
  • The program delivered impactful business metrics
  • But it was a program where compliance was well thought through, this is non-negotiable for any company looking to implement a work from anywhere policy

Especially with some companies in the headlines for RTO (return to office) mandates, it is telling that Brian Chesky is out in the open calling some of those CEOs out by “guaranteeing many bosses calling people back to the office are going away to the Hamptons for the summer.”

 

Are You Thinking Of Implementing A Work From Anywhere Policy Like Airbnb?

For anyone looking to implement a work from anywhere policy like Airbnb above, we can help.

You can access our free work from anywhere policy builder here.  If you’d like to speak to one of the team, feel free to contact us here and we’d be happy to arrange a demo or see how we can help.

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Workations In Action: Deep Dive on Airbnb’s WFA Policy