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Airbnb CEO Bets the House on Remote Work, but Will it Work Out?

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky has a few choice words to say about the future of the office, and landlords might not like them. Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit, Chesky riffed on various office and future of work topics, saying “the office as we know it is kind of an outdated notion” and “as it’s currently designed, it’s an anachronistic form factor from a pre-digital age.”

The home-sharing platform recently announced a bold new flexible work policy, giving employees free rein to work from home permanently without impacting their pay. And starting this fall, employees can choose to work from more than 170 countries for up to 90 days annually. “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,” Chesky said in an email to employees on April 28th.

All of this means Airbnb will spend less on office space and shrink its footprint because only a fraction of workers will be in the office simultaneously. Chesky said they plan to spend more on travel entertainment to gather people, though there will be fewer business travel meetings “because many things can be done over Zoom.”

This sounds like terrible news for office landlords, but remember that many more huge tech office occupiers like Google and Facebook are massively expanding their footprints, not shrinking them. Apple is also busy fighting with employees on mandating a return to the office a few days a week.

It should also be noted that Airbnb has profited from the remote work revolution. Chesky told the Wall Street Journal the company wouldn’t have recovered as quickly during the pandemic if it wasn’t for millions of people living and taking “work vacations” in Airbnb rentals. The company has an initiative aimed at digital nomads called Live Anywhere, a year-long program that gives people the chance to travel worldwide while working in Airbnbs.

Airbnb’s remote work policy could backfire on them, too. Employees are celebrating the move, and the company’s careers page has been viewed 800,000 times since they made the announcement, Chesky said in a recent earnings call. But the remote work experiment isn’t over quite yet. There have been several positives from companies working entirely remote, but some big downsides, such as employee burnout, weaker ties between co-workers, and possibly higher turnover. The jury’s not out on an entirely remote company yet, but some companies are taking the chance, anyway.

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