Airbnb: Driving away work malaise with a home-like workplace

Home is where the heart is and this holds true as long as it is the only place in the world where your body aligns with your mind without requiring any external motivation. 

Imagine a workplace that makes it unbelievably hard for you to draw lines between home and office? Well, you might ask for a kitchen, a bedroom or even a library. From a nerd cave to a demo den to a place to meditate and practice yoga, or write on the walls, to a green atrium with 1,226 square feet of beautiful greenery that stretches up to three floors high, name anything and Airbnb’s offices have got it for you. You wouldn’t be surprised to see quiet Rooms (for praying), Mothers’ Rooms (for breastfeeding), and all-gender bathrooms. Other thoughtful details include dog cookies for canine visitors, and birthday cards and anniversary balloons to send to others around the office.



And, that’s nothing short of a company’s efforts to provide a home-like workplace to its employees.

Well, I certainly don’t see any luck seeing your employees’ interests wane at a workplace as cool as this!  Do not forget that valued employees are valuable employees. So what can you do to make your employees feel inclusive? No clue? 

Beef up to learn how Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, went from creating a workforce where you can belong anywhere to making people feel they belong here with some of the most thoughtful yet tangible core values at work.

Here are 4 simple lessons that Airbnb can teach us to transform your company’s employee experience.

#1 — Being a great host to both customers and employees

“ Belong Anywhere” — the mission statement that Airbnb is predicated upon. What does it mean? They strive to be a host until you feel you’re home no matter which part of the world you are in. Airbnb knows it’d be unfair to apply this principle just to its customers while leaving behind its internal customers — the employees. For, if your employees do not feel home at the workplace, their underlying ideology about work-life balance might get tampered. To establish this emotion concretely, Airbnb has created some amazing workspaces like I mentioned earlier, that would perennially scream your names.


#2 — Blowing up the HR department for Employee Experience

Traditionally, HR at Airbnb was broken up into three groups – talent, recruitment and ground control (which dealt with workplace culture) – Mark Levy, the company’s global head of employee experience told Forbes.

Once in a discussion, Mark Levy, the former CHRO and the present Global head of employee experience of Airbnb, suggested that Airbnb have an employee experience group by taking a cue from the Customer Experience Group. This caused them to blow up their HR department and bring all the different teams together.

Now this means adding facilities, safety, security, food, global citizenship, social impact, diversity, and belonging functions and developing the specialist areas of total rewards, learning, talent design, and talent systems — “everything in the whole journey of an employee’s experience,” as Levy describes it.


Absolutely. In doing this, Levy expected to transform the whole workplace as an experience by orchestrating the different facets of work-life such as mental, physical, emotional, virtual and aspirational experiences. To broaden their vision and to begin partnering with other functional groups such as marketing, facilities, real estate, etc, they decided to create a memorable employee experience as they create a customer experience.

Employee Experience officially starts even before an employee could join the company. Besides, Airbnb has a ground control team that ensures employee engagement by upholding the culture, getting them to be and getting employees to be interactive at the workplace.

If there’s one thing that you need to learn from Brian Chesky, the CEO, and co-founder of Airbnb, it is the art of framing Airbnb’s core values and keeping its culture resonating with the same. 

When you make your employees feel they’re invested in, you’re intangibly evoking their sense of self-motivation and hence a concrete reason to stay with you.


#3 — Champion the mission: The concrete hiring process

Chesky doesn’t compromise when it comes to hiring: he was physically present during every single one of Airbnb’s first 300 hires. He often circled back to one particular question: “If you had ten years left to live, would you take this job?” And that’s how it took 4 long months for Brian to find Airbnb’s first software engineer. Even if the panelists belong to roles outside that of the interviewee, they still have a say when it comes to cultural assessment.

#4 — Being a cereal entrepreneur

Chesky always believed in hiring people who would dive headfirst to come up with a solution rather than keep beating around the bush and depending on others to handhold them. In 2008, when the company was in a $40,000 debt, the founders came up with an idea of selling Democratic and Republican themed cereals. Basically, they used the current scenario that was prevailing then, to their advantage. Surprisingly, all the Obama’s cereal boxes were sold out thus covering their debts.

Chesky believes, entrepreneurs have a host of reasons to stay self-motivated or at least get on the ground to create one for themselves. And, this means long-term and loyal employees, no wasted hours on motivation and more. With an entrepreneurial mindset, scrappiness comes as a trait. And, this is one of the hacks shared by the company to hold highly self-motivated employees carrying a sense of belongingness.


But what does Airbnb reap out of this?

A glimpse of Airbnb’s Glassdoor reviews page would show you how great a player CEO Brian Chesky has been to hold a 97% approval rating. Another interesting piece of article that I came across about Airbnb, was the one that talked about how a 52-year-old joined Airbnb and learned about age, wisdom and tech industry!

Reinforcing this, Airbnb has great room for a diverse culture too. Since 2016, Airbnb has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as a top workplace for the LGBTQ community, scoring 100 percent on the organization’s annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI). Airbnb strives to support LGBTQ employees and is proud of several of its unique policies in place. Recently, Airbnb also adopted an official U.S. policy to support transgender employees in the workplace and managers of employees who are transitioning.

“If we are going to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, we need to make sure that belonging starts within Airbnb.“

You know what you want your workforce to look like. If you aren’t able to articulate your values to your employees, no one else will be able to either. This is why it’s highly essential to build your culture before hiring anyone. Your culture inspires the people around you when it is not just articulated but only when it is religiously practiced. 

Are you on a relatable journey too? Remember, it’s never too late to transform your company’s employee experience any day. All you have to do is:

#1  Identify and understand the purpose that your existing HR teams serve. Ask your employees. Talk to them about what could’ve made your company a better place otherwise. 

#2  Have a culture in place and stick to your mission as you scale up. Because culture is language. And if you do not have one in place, you just can’t imagine the chaos that’d be waiting for you otherwise. 

#3  The bottom line is that employees tend to be far more resilient when their workplace feels nothing less than home. While in the case of Airbnb, the whole intent behind blowing up the HR was to broaden the scope of HR by venturing into new horizons of employee experience, it is to be understood that employee experience is no longer an overhyped or underrated concept.