Even as Apple, Google, Microsoft and other large firms are moving towards variations on the three-day week at the office, Airbnb’s chief, Brian Chesky, reckons that model is unrealistic in the long term.
Airbnb last month outlined its vision for the future of work for the 6,000 employees at the vacation home rental platform: staff can choose to work remotely or in the office, they won’t be subject to location-based salaries, and they will have regular off-site and team gatherings.
It was perhaps a shrewd move by the company, which claims to be benefiting from people being more flexible about where they live and work, as reflected on Airbnb through longer-term stays of a week to a month.
EES: The future of work: How everything changed and what’s coming next
Chesky told Time in an interview that “the office as we know it, is over.” The office was a pre-digital relic for anyone whose job is carried out on a laptop he says, which means the office, “has to do something a home can’t do”.
“So maybe private offices will come back in vogue where people can’t work from home and they need a space and the company will have a space available. But will they need to work around other co-workers? I think you’re going to see a lot of people not even living in the same area; the only place you’ll have to be, for the most part, is the internet,” he said.
“People will still go to offices, but it’ll be for different purposes, for collaboration spaces. And if people go into an office for collaboration, do they need to go to New York City or can they go to a retreat in upstate New York?”
Google in August said it had approved 85% of requests by 10,000 staff for relocating or permanent remote work. Previously it had asked all employees to return to work by October 18, but this was derailed by the Omicron variant. In March, it asked employees to return to the office for three days a week from April 4. Apple will also require staff to come to the office three days a week on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from May 23. Amazon in October decided to leave the question of days required at the office to individual teams, after previously exploring a three-day office week for corporate employees.
Airbnb will hold in-person meetings for one week a quarter, which Chesky believes will be “enough human connection for the average person to come together and bond.”
EES: ‘Striking a balance’: How one company is rethinking the office for hybrid work
He admits there are limitations to relying on Zoom video meetings because social bubbles become smaller, but argues that three-day hybrid models won’t work in the longer term.
“The solution is going to be a true hybrid, not three days in the office. It’s going to be total flexibility, and then gathering in an immersive way when you need,” said Chesky. He argues that three days a week in the office becomes two days a week, and then two days a week becomes one day a week.
Chesky’s theory about office-space design is that it will move from multi-use spaces to single-use spaces. Before the pandemic, tech offices were comprised of loads of desks in open spaces with an edge of meeting rooms, and few private offices.