As we navigate the future of work, businesses are struggling to find their footing in terms of remote and hybrid work policies. Many companies now face a figurative fork in the road. Should you continue the remote policies you had during the pandemic, create something new or go back to the way things used to be: working in the office every day.
Feelings amongst leaders are mixed - but the data is clear.
A majority of employees favor an increase in flexibility with over 70 percent of workers wanting flexible remote work options to continue, according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend’s Index. As eager as employees are for an increase in flexibility, many are also craving more meaningful ways to connect at work with over 65 percent wanting more in-person time with their teams.
The result is that the vast majority of companies, about 9 out of 10 according to McKinsey, are pursuing the adoption of hybrid working policies. Hybrid work allows for the best of both worlds: time on your own to be productive, along with time in the office to be collaborative. That being said, it can be difficult to apply flexible remote work options company-wide, as some employees may need to come into the office due to their responsibilities or may need to be fully remote due to their home location.
At the end of the day, creating the best remote or hybrid work policy for your company is not black and white. It’s a whole lot of gray. So, how do you navigate that space? We have some principles that can help.
Using Airbnb’s recent Work From Anywhere policy announcement as an example, I will extract key best practices that you can use to craft your own, unique approach that is in line with your company culture.
If you could work from the Bahamas for three months next year, would you? AirBnb’s new Live and Work Anywhere policy will allow its employees the flexibility to make that choice.
On April 28, 2022 Airbnb’s CEO announced to its employees and the public “Airbnb’s design to live and work anywhere.” The word choice here of “design” is intentional as Airbnb believes the power of design is a key element of their business. Two out of three of Airbnb’s founders were designers and graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, including current CEO Brian Chesky.
As Airbnb states on their website: “Design is in our DNA and it’s embedded in everything we do.”
So, it’s no surprise that if Airbnb is rolling out a new workplace policy it wouldn’t be crafted, created or launched. It was “designed.” This may seem like a small and meaningless choice, but it’s not. Language helps fuel culture. The intentionality of their word choice is a reflection of a policy that feels tailor made to fit within Airbnb’s culture and values.
Chesky shared that in order for this policy to work it had to combine the best of both the digital and physical worlds. The digital world allows for ultimate flexibility and ease of connection via platforms like Zoom, while the physical world is ideal for connection and collaboration. A balance of the two is necessary for success.
An email to Airbnb’s employees outlined the key elements of this new policy:
Here’s what I love about Airbnb’s new policy. It is thoughtful, innovative and directly aligns with Airbnb’s business model and mission: "to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere." Prior to the pandemic, Airbnb’s focus was primarily travel and leisure. After the pandemic hit, they pivoted to providing remote work locations for a dislocated, remote-friendly workforce itching for a change of scenery.
This trend is reflected in their sales. At the end of 2021, 20% of nights booked were for stays longer than a month, and half were stays longer than a week. I personally know a number of people who booked Airbnbs in locations as far and wide as Hawaii and Greece to be their new remote work locations.
This new policy isn’t lip service, either.
The CEO, Brian Chesky, has been leading by example and working remotely from Airbnbs for the past two years. In addition, at the same time Airbnb rolled out this policy for their employees, they also launched a Live and Work Anywhere initiative externally to “help support destinations to become the most desirable and remote-worker friendly locations around the world.” Representatives from destinations can apply, and if they are a good fit, Airbnb will create a landing page on their website for this destination that they promote to their customers.
Although a number of companies have made broad announcements about their new flexible remote or hybrid work policies, what makes Airbnb’s stand out is how closely this particular policy aligns with its mission and business internally and and externally.
So, what can other companies learn from Airbnb?
There is no single right answer when it comes to creating flexible hybrid and remote work policies. The best approach is to design a policy that aligns with your company’s business needs, culture and employee preferences. I’ve outlined five key best practices companies should implement when crafting their own hybrid or remote work policy:
Let’s dig into each of these further.
What kind of company do you desire to be? The answer to that question should be embedded within your culture, a shared set of values that are operationalized and lived out by your employees each day at work.
For Airbnb, they desired to be a company that creates a sense of belonging anywhere. And if you can belong anywhere, you should be able to work anywhere. That being said, there may be companies that value in-person interactions and collaboration more than flexibility and will have a policy that reflects that. Either way, you need to begin with what matters most to you and then design a policy that helps support it - whether that is increasing remote flexibility, in-office collaboration or finding a healthy balance of both.
Before COVID-19, six percent of the workforce worked exclusively from home. By May 2020, 65 percent of the workforce was working from home according to Gallup. During the pandemic, employees had an unprecedented opportunity to experience the pros and cons of remote work. Before designing your own hybrid or remote work policy, it will be important to gather employee feedback via surveys and focus groups. This will help uncover areas of flexibility that your employees valued, areas of friction, where your employees feel most productive and how much they value in-office and in-person working opportunities.
Now that you’ve defined your culture and the principles integral to supporting it, along with gathering employee feedback, it’s time to take a look at your business and operational needs. Are there certain roles or tasks that require employees to come into the office? Have you noticed that there are meetings that are better done remotely vs. in-person? Are there naturally days where it makes sense to work from home? Some companies prefer to designate days in office, while others have decided to make it completely flexible based on team and employee preferences.
Airbnb shared that in spite of their extremely flexible policy, there are still some roles that will need to be done in the office and those team members were communicated to separately. It will be important to determine how this new policy will support your day-to-day business needs, in addition to your culture and employee preferences.
There are many benefits to working remotely. 90% of employees report the same, or higher, productivity levels when working from home rather than the office according to Owl Lab’ 2021 State of Remote Work. Working remotely often allows for more focus and less distractions.The downside is that workers have shared that it can feel isolating, lonely and fuel disconnection. That’s why it’s so important to give your workforce a healthy balance of remote and in-person opportunities. Airbnb is giving their employees the option to work from home or the office. In addition, those who choose to work remotely will have opportunities for in-person collaboration and meetings at least once a quarter.
Airbnb is being forthright that their new Live and Work From Anywhere policy is a work and progress and will evolve. The best way to craft a flexible remote work policy is to acknowledge this is new territory. We are all in the midst of a massive period that requires testing and adjustment. Specifically, at your company, employees need to play an active role in sharing what is working and what is not working when following the launch of any new flexible remote and hybrid work policies.
81.5% of workers feel empowered to hold their leaders accountable for a better workplace according to Workhuman’s 2022 Human Workplace index with over 56% willing to leave if they don’t see their employer making necessary changes within 30-60 days. This speaks to the importance of treating your employees as co-creators of the workplace experience and being agile enough to adapt and make changes to address feedback, as needed.
Our workplace has undergone a revolution that was fueled by the changes required to support work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders need to meet this moment and consider their culture, business needs and employee preferences when designing flexible hybrid and remote policies.
77% of job applicants now rate remote work as the second highest benefit that was important to them (salary being the first). These policies have quickly become a cornerstone of the employee experience and can help fuel retention, recruitment and business growth.
If you aren’t considering remote work as a key aspect of your brand strategy and actively evaluating the best way to integrate it within your culture, you could be missing out on opportunities to retain and hire new talent.
If you are looking for a partner you can trust to help you transform your communications and culture, we can help. Let’s talk.
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