AirBnB may be mapping out the future of work

May 23, 2022 in Product design

One of the companies that fascinates me at the moment is AirBnB. While I’ve obviously known of AirBnB - as we all have - for years as their design system and tool to sketch interfaces surely stood out. Over this past year, I think I’ve truly gotten a better sense for what kind of company AirBnB has become. For the last few months I’ve even listed part of our house on Airbnb and enjoyed interacting with the platform. It’s clear, easy to use, and cohesive.

As more and more companies are requiring employees to return to the office, AirBnB realised that the world had not changed momentarily, but permanently. The obvious step for a company like AirBnB is not only allow a work-from-home corporate culture, but encourage a work-from-anywhere one.

Employees are allowed to live and work in 170 countries for up to 90 days in each location. If you want, you can still go into the office every day.

“Two decades ago, Silicon Valley start-ups popularized open floor plans and on-site perks. Today’s startups have embraced flexibility and remote work. I think this will become the predominant way companies work 10 years from now.”BRIAN CHESKY

Brian Chesky (CEO) also suggested that firms will be at a “significant disadvantage” if they “limit their talent pool to a commuting radius around their offices” as the best people live everywhere. He points out that they just had their most productive two-year period in the company’s history — all while most everyone worked remotely. To pull this transition off, they will operate off a multi-year roadmap envisioning two major product releases each year. Which brings us to this post’s actual topic and the three points that stand out to me.

It’s better for users

From a UX perspective, it’s better for users as they can clearly understand what has changed and, even more importantly, why. Switching to two releases per year allows a clearer communication strategy focused around what’s “new” in comparison to incremental minor releases and bug fixes. If you consider a service like Netflix, you probably feel like it’s been just like it is now forever even though it’s gone through a ton of iterations and changes. This happened with users not just not knowing, but with users actually not caring.

It gives a chance to communicate with a wider audience

While we all know the big shows the Apple keynotes are, I was fascinated by how smaller companies like AirBnB, and even Figma, made new announcements recently that felt much more honest, transparent, and genuine. These releases gives AirBnB the media attention they wouldn’t receive otherwise and probably need. It reminds users of AirBnB in a non-intrusive way and ensures they will be top of mind when a user is looking for a place to stay while travelling.

It aligns the company internally

Perhaps more importantly than anything else, I think this release schedule aligns people internally. It builds consensus on the current focus - perhaps one of the most critical things within any organization. Clearly defining an alignment and prioritization from strategy to design to development to deployment. Clear goals is crucial for any organization not just from an efficiency point-of-view but from a talent retention point-of-view as well. All of us wants to understand not only what we’re supposed to work on, but why.

Let me close with a question or two. AirBnB’s announcement and strategy for their workplace environment is going against the grain of many large technology companies and startups, but does align with their corporate goals and business model. Does this make AirBnB more desirable to work for and do you think this is driving them to be an example of the “new normal” of working in the tech sector?

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