In 5 Bullet Points, Airbnb Has Cracked the Code on Hybrid Work

In 5 Bullet Points, Airbnb Has Cracked the Code on Hybrid Work

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We’re in the third year of work’s greatest experiment of all time. The results, often conflicted, are still coming in. And leaders are confused more than ever before.

They wonder: What’s our official position on WFH — or do we call it hybrid? Or flex? What about all this office space we’re paying for? Will WFH work for my business? What about when we need people to be in-person for connection and collaboration? What does it mean for my recruiting and talent strategy?

The questions are never-ending. It’s a tough time for leaders out there. It’s an even tougher time for employees. In my own global research at Potential Project, we see that bad bosses are running amok as organizations grapple with the brave new working world.

There are, however, examples of leaders and companies doing it right. Airbnb took what seems to be an intractable problem for today’s organizations and succinctly summed it up into 5 simple yet elegant lines:

Here’s our design for living and working anywhere:

  1.  You can work from home or the office
  2. You can move anywhere in the country you work in and your compensation won’t change
  3. You have the flexibility to travel and work around the world
  4. We’ll meet up regularly for gatherings
  5. We’ll continue to work in a highly coordinated way

I know that not everyone is Airbnb. You don’t have their scale of economies or their growth or their brand recognition. But I say, that shouldn’t matter. Within those five lines, Airbnb has managed to send a signal to their people – and the whole world – that the company is truly human-centric.

Here are the subtle but powerful elements of humanity in those five lines which every brand and company can recreate themselves, no matter what their business, brand or bottom line is. Because, at the end of the day, it’s human beings we’re designing for.

Give people options and make them feel like they have a choice

When people feel forced or compelled to do something, they express psychological reactance. Sixty years ago, psychologist Brehm coined the term to refer to people who rebel against social institutions when they feel a sense of their freedom is lost or threatened. Give people options in where and how they want to work so they feel personal freedom.

Ensure fairness is maintained

The psychology of (un)fairness is evolutionarily ancient. Other species, including monkeys, dogs, and birds, react strongly to situations they consider unfair. See this video to see just how miffed a monkey can get when they receive an unfair offer. Telling your employees that their compensation won’t be affected depending on where they choose to live is only fair. You pay your people for the job they do irrespective of where they choose to live.

Don’t lose the connection

No matter how flex you want to get, there is absolutely no escaping the fact that human beings are intensely social. This “ultra-cooperation”, in the words of American psychologist Michael Tomasello, is uniquely human. We cannot work (or live for that matter) without other people by our side. As much as flex is key for maintaining fairness and freedoms, we still need the connection.

For a hybrid/flex strategy, regular in-person functions will be critical. Think of it at satiating your people’s desire for human connection. As a few weeks or months passes, they’ll thirst for face-to-face. Fill their cup. Create a space where gatherings can happen (side note: notice Airbnb’s carefully chosen and wonderful use of the word ‘gatherings’, over meetings or offsites, to insinuate the social nature of people coming together).

Ease people’s anxieties

Leaders, especially mid-level managers, are continuing to express concern that their teams won’t be as effective in an open, flex work environment. And they’re correct in feeling hesitant. A very recent article found that people who collaborate virtually are less creative than their counterparts who collaborate face-to-face.   

Facing this limitation and being honest about it is key to mitigating its risks. Airbnb’s last point about continuing to work in a “coordinated way” promises its leaders that they are on top of it – that its teams’ ways-of-working will be protected with the right processes and policies for optimal output.

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