I’ve spent a lot of time writing about different companies and their attempt to bring people back to the office. I’ve written many times about how companies, especially big tech companies, are mixing remote and in-office work to create a hybrid working regime for their employees.
Of all the companies I’ve written about, the policy introduced this week by Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky deserves some digging. You can sum it up, as Chesky did, in four words: Live and work anywhere.
According to Chesky, employees can “work from home or in the office, whichever works best for you.” That alone isn’t particularly unique. Many companies offer a version as a similar plan. All of these companies are trying to find a balance between the needs of their business and the desire of employees to have flexibility in their working arrangements.
What makes Airbnb’s plan different — and what makes it the best yet, in my opinion — is that it’s not just a simple hybrid service. Here’s how you know the company actually means it:
“You can move anywhere in the country, like San Francisco to Nashville, and your compensation won’t change,” Chesky tweeted.
Those last four words are pretty important. In many cases, companies will let you move, but if you end up in an area with a lower cost of living, the company will adjust your salary accordingly. Not at Airbnb.
Airbnb does not plan to lower your salary just because you move to an area with a lower cost of living. Instead, the company will have a single level of compensation, per country, for a given role.
If you tell people they can move anywhere, but will have their pay adjusted if they move to a place with a lower cost of living, you are sending the message that you would really rather they don’t move. You tell your employees that this policy is primarily intended to give the impression that the company is flexible, without having to be flexible. They are not the same.
One is made so you can pretend you have a hybrid workbench. It’s something you do when you want credit for doing something for your employees, without having to. Think about the message it sends to an employee when you tell them that they now have the freedom to roam anywhere, but if they do, they will be worth less to the company than before.
Imagine you are an employee earning, say, $145,000 as a programmer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You move somewhere in Montana, Tennessee or Texas – because your company encourages employees to be flexible – only to find that you will now be paid $125,000. The company just told you that even though it expects you to do the same work and produce the same level of work as before, you are now worth $20,000 less.
All the philosophical conversations about hybrid working and letting employees work from anywhere is great. Pay attention to the details, though, because that’s where you’ll find out what the companies really think. This is where you find out what they really think about giving their employees flexibility.
Google, for example, is moving to a hybrid model that requires employees to be in the office three days a week. Employees can apply to work remotely full-time, but it’s not a given. In a recent interview, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company has “supported 85% of these apps.”
This means that Google is saying to 15% of employees who have decided that remote work is the best solution for their work and their life: “Sorry, you have to come to the office”. Pichai did not explain why the company says no so often. Maybe these employees have super important tasks that can only be done in an office. Maybe they need access to information or systems that are only available at one of Google’s high-tech campuses.
Except that, presumably, these employees were working from home for a while in the past two years. During this period, Google had several of its best performance quarters. It doesn’t seem like remote work has hurt the business, so it’s interesting that Google is saying to some employees, “we know you want to work remotely, but we’d rather you come into the office.”
Airbnb, on the other hand, acknowledged that working remotely isn’t slowing down the business at all. “We also had the most productive two years in our company’s history, while working remotely,” according to Chesky. Thus, the company is redoubling its efforts to give its employees real flexibility and options for the way they work. This might be the best plan I’ve ever seen.