Airbnb is betting that the future of travel is work

Your new home office?
Your new home office?
Image: Airbnb/Adam Planas
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Pre-pandemic, most people thought of travel as falling into two categories: business or leisure. But the rise of remote work is making it easier to combine the two, whether by adopting the digital nomad lifestyle or simply extending a vacation for an extra (working) week.

Airbnb is working overtime to put itself at the center of that shift. The 13-year-old company is doubling down on working from anywhere as a default option for its own employees, while also tweaking its strategy on the assumption that remote work will continue to influence travel in the months and years ahead.

Airbnb’s work-from-anywhere policy

Unlike other companies that have taken heat for promoting remote work to customers but not employees, Airbnb changed its own policies last month. Employees are now allowed to work remotely as much as they like, and can move anywhere in the US without taking a pay cut.

Airbnb has an obvious incentive to push for the normalization of working from anywhere. In January, co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky went so far as to say that he would himself be working remotely and effectively “living on Airbnb.” But Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk says the internal policy is really about attracting and retaining staff.

“I actually predict that in this war for talent, all these companies that are offering a hybrid solution are going to increasingly find that hard to sustain,” Blecharczyk told Quartz. “Because their employees are going to have other options elsewhere.”

Remote-work tensions are already playing out at other tech companies. Apple, Google, and Microsoft have rolled out policies requiring employees to come into the office three days a week. Apple employees in particular are chafing at the company’s prescriptive approach to hybrid work, and its decision to make a promotional video about using Apple products for remote work while forcing its own employees to commute.

How remote work shaped Airbnb’s redesign 

On May 11, Airbnb introduced a site redesign that features several changes related to remote work. One new feature—“Split Stays”—is a response to the growing length of the average Airbnb booking.  Blecharczyk says more than half the nights booked are for stays of seven days or longer, and one in five are for 20 days or longer.

The longer the stay, however, the harder it can be to find a home that’s available for that period of time. “Split Stays basically allows you to find a pair of homes that can accommodate your trip duration,” Blecharczyk says.

Another new feature is a “categories” search function that allows Airbnb users to look for potential destinations based not on a particular town or city, but on the type of experience they’re looking for—from historic homes to places with fancy kitchens or cabins close to lakes and national parks.

“In a world where you have more frequent opportunities to travel, you’re not getting on an airplane every single time; you’re going to get in your car and go somewhere nearby,” Blecharczyk says.

Airbnb executives are embracing remote work

While Chensky has been trying out the digital nomad lifestyle, Blecharczyk has been working from home exclusively since the pandemic hit. Many executives are eager to get back to the office themselves, but Blecharczyk expects remote work to be a way of life for him going forward.

“I still reside in San Francisco, and I do plan to go into the office from time to time in the future,” he says. “But it’s going to be the exception, not the norm.”