Airbnb’s recent announcement that most employees will now have full flexibility to work from home if they choose as well as from almost anywhere in the country that they work in for up to 90 days a year provides one of the clearest signals yet that the post-pandemic world of work has the potential to be fundamentally different for an increasing proportion of the workforce.
CEO Brian Chesky’s communication of the policy change highlighted some positives from the pandemic-period work from home timeframe – with increased productivity being a major outcome as well as the ability to address constrained talent pools within geographical locations.
While some businesses are encouraging employees to return full or part-time to the office, the importance of Airbnb’s new workforce approach is not necessarily the fact that its people aren’t tied to a desk, but that the business actively trusts employees to make the right choice for themselves – as well as the business. Airbnb has framed their approach around the individual, while looking at how effective collaboration can achieve a productive, cohesive, and inclusive culture within a blended workforce model.
The adaptation that organisations and people displayed during various lockdowns and restrictions has greatly accelerated trends that were already there. Working from home, adjusted hours and shorter work weeks have all been trialled or in-action in many organisations for many years. But the pandemic meant that virtually every organisation had to radically rethink their workforce model and put in place the enablers to make flexible working work from both an employee and employer perspective. It has given birth to a multitude of different evolving models being tested from which we can learn from
Airbnb’s change of policy, the rapid acceleration of a blended workforce model and rethinking the concept that work is a physical place is just one critical example of how employers need to create a truly inclusive workplace. Just as working from home is not suitable for everyone, no future fit workforce model should be seen as move to a new set of binary choices – True inclusivity means developing models that are shaped around an understanding of the needs and talents of every individual and not just the work that they do, to ensure employment for all in the future is more engaging, more rewarding, and more productive.
Below are three excerpts from our Future of Work Playbook, Xynteo co-developed with Verizon and launched last year. Development of this playbook of nine recommendations for leaders and businesses was produced in conjunction with 18 organisations and interviews with 27 workers in the US, UK and the EU.
Making work better, for all of us
The production lines of the Industrial Revolution gave birth to our modern understanding of productivity – output per hours worked. But productivity metrics often overlook the human reality that more hours do not necessarily lead to more output. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many workers into their ‘home offices’ – but this is accelerating as workers across industries and sectors are re-evaluating the role of work in their lives.
We can see new norms of productivity developing all around us.
A human-centred future of work demands a new approach to productivity. As workers increasingly take on tasks that require uniquely human skills such as creativity, critical reasoning and empathy, empowering workers to harness and optimize their own productive potential can boost both worker wellbeing and business performance.
Various governments and businesses are experimenting with shorter workweeks at full pay. For example, Iceland trialled a four-day workweek between 2014 and 2021.
Microsoft and Unilever have also both recently tested a four-day week, augmenting reduced hours with business practices and technology solutions designed to help employees achieve more in less time. Microsoft’s pilot in Japan, which used its own productivity tools and enforced shorter meeting times with fewer participants, reported a 40% increase in productivity.
How work works throughout our lifetimes
In a world where workers change jobs on average every 4 to 5 years and the expected length of a working life is increasing (more than 35 years in Europe and up to half a century in the U.S.), the traditional career ladder is clearly out of date. Rewarding stability and progression within a single business or industry needs to evolve into a space where workers acquire skills, remuneration and meaning in their work across sectors and types of employment.
What we need to help employee create are multi-chapter working life.
Giving workers the tools to design and imagine alternative career pathways, coupled with access to ongoing career counselling, cross-disciplinary talent-sharing and trusted peer networks will help them transition to new roles. Well-known companies have initiated ways for their people to explore personal and corporate purpose (KPMG's Higher Purpose initiative, BCG’s Secondment Experience and Unilever’s U-Renew). These enable staff to develop their knowledge and skills and apply their learning in the real world, much like a paid learning sabbatical.
Other are introducing ‘returnships’, full-time, paid internships for adults who want to rejoin the workforce after taking time off (AWS’ Returners, LEAP at Microsoft, REACH at LinkedIn or Recharge at PayPal).
Both these types of programmes represent a shift in how we think of careers, how businesses enable flexibility in their talent pool and provide avenues for advancement that match individual’s aspirations.
Tech works for humans, not the other way round
The intersection of humans and tech in the workplace has the potential to deliver huge benefits but realising the potential for the future of work requires that tech’s impact on humans equips all kinds of workers with the skills to use tech effectively.
From bias in automated hiring and firing, to privacy concerns and employee surveillance, the use of new tech in the workplace can have unintended consequences. Leaders need to invest in learning – both building technical expertise and learning beyond their field in topics, such as ethics.
Efforts are also underway to ensure tech talent has the necessary knowledge and diversity to act effectively. Deepmind has set up a dedicated ethics and society team to ensure it lives up to a rigorous set of ethical standards, and organizsations such as All Tech is Human are promoting knowledge-sharing about ethics and responsibility in the tech industry.
Initiatives are working to improve diversity in the tech industry with the likes of AI for People aiming to end the underrepresentation of Black professionals in the U.S. tech sector by 2030 and the Localization Lab has helped translate open-source technology into over 220 languages to facilitate diversity in tech development.
New platforms and organizations are emerging aimed at evaluating tech companies’ commitment to ethics and stakeholder engagement. Practices from outside the tech industry – such as the use of participatory processes in city planning – could be used to better assess the social impact of new innovations.
Creating your own future of work
The importance of Airbnb’s recent policy change is that it shows us that the future of work is here, already. Last year we launched the Future of Work Playbook; a series of nine recommendations to business leaders looking to create flexible, supportive, and inclusive working environments. Each of the plays was generated through a six-month design phase to bring together a global community of experts and leaders from business, government, labour and academia invested in partnering to reshape work as we know it.
Development of the Playbook included 18 organisations (in addition to our partner, Verizon) and interviews with 27 workers in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Sweden to test our recommendations and understand their perspectives on the future of work.
We encourage you to review the playbook - including the three examples above - and get in touch to see what we can do together to make the future of work, work for us all.
Or contact us to find out how we can help your leaders and organisation create planet-positive and inclusive growth.