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Airbnb let its workers live and work anywhere. Spoiler: They're loving it

Carrie Kissell spent nearly three months on a sailboat after Airbnb told her she could live and work anywhere. "When the work day was over, I'd close my laptop and you know, go snorkeling," she says.
Carrie Kissell
Carrie Kissell spent nearly three months on a sailboat after Airbnb told her she could live and work anywhere. "When the work day was over, I'd close my laptop and you know, go snorkeling," she says.

Updated April 28, 2023 at 1:49 PM ET

When Carrie Kissell learned that her employer, Airbnb, was letting people live and work anywhere, she was on a sailboat off the coast of Key Biscayne, enjoying some time off with her partner.

The thought came to her: Why not just stay on the boat?

"It was this opportunity I couldn't not take," says Kissell, an internal events planner formerly based in San Francisco.

Her weekday routine for the next three months was typical — eat breakfast, open laptop, attend meetings, get stuff done.

"And then when the workday was over, I'd close my laptop and you know, go snorkeling," she says.

Work from home, work from the office, work from Argentina

At a time when more and more workers are finding themselves back in their offices at least a few days a week, Airbnb is going full throttle on flexibility. This week marks one year since the company announced its Live and Work Anywhere policy, and now, it's time to gloat.

Airbnb first announced its Live and Work Anywhere policy in April 2022. Since then, about 20% of employees have relocated domestically or worked abroad.
Joel Saget / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Airbnb first announced its Live and Work Anywhere policy in April 2022. Since then, about 20% of employees have relocated domestically or worked abroad.

"The business has actually never performed better since we moved to this program," says Airbnb Chief Financial Officer Dave Stephenson. "It's working really well for us."

Other companies, including tech ones, are taking a very different path.

The Pew Research Center found that among people whose jobs can be done remotely, just over a third are still working from home all the time, down from 43% a year ago.

At Airbnb, all but a very few employees have a choice: They can work from home (anywhere in the country where they're based), or they can go into an Airbnb office (there are 26 of them around the world).

Regardless of where they live in their home country, they keep their same salary.

And they aren't bound by geography, with the company allowing them to work in over 170 other countries for up to 90 days per year per country. Airbnb is talking to governments abroad about making it easier for all people to work around the world.

Talent doesn't want to be tied down

There is an obvious business interest here. People who can jet off somewhere with their laptops are potential Airbnb guests and hosts.

Freeing people from the office has also provided savings for the company, whose office footprint is now less than half of what it was before the pandemic.

Still, Stephenson insists that Live and Work Anywhere is really about winning the global war for talent.

"The best talent in the world is not all within a 50-mile radius of San Francisco," he says.

And that talent, Stephenson says, no longer wants to be tied down.

Before the pandemic, 95% of Airbnb employees lived near a company office. Now, almost a quarter of employees are more than 50 miles from an office, beyond a comfortable commute.

Steve Stecher and his wife Ana Ruiz and their children have spent most of their time in Argentina since last fall. To avoid overstaying the maximum time Airbnb allows in one country, they've also been exploring other parts of South America, including Valparaíso, Chile, pictured here.
/ Steve Stecher
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Steve Stecher
Steve Stecher and his wife, Ana Ruiz, and their children have spent most of their time in Argentina since last fall. To avoid overstaying the maximum time Airbnb allows in one country, they've also been exploring other parts of South America, including Valparaíso, Chile, pictured here.

A migration out of San Francisco

Steve Stecher has gone even farther than an hour's drive.

Stecher moved his family out of a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco during the pandemic, and since last fall they have spent most of their time in Buenos Aires.

That has dramatically changed their financial picture, says Stecher, a senior manager of quality assurance at Airbnb.

"Don't repeat this to my boss, but I think it's about 30%, or maybe 40% maximum, of the cost of living in the Bay Area," he says.

Stecher manages a team of about 140 people, many of whom have also moved out of California, but primarily to the Midwest and East Coast where they have family, he says.

"We did used to have a lot of fun in person," Stecher says about one of the tradeoffs in his new life.

Airbnb now flies teams in for regular in-person gatherings, which the company sees as critical to success.

"We are not remote first. We are just being intentional about how we gather," says Stephenson. "It's not a random three days a week where you hope to run into people at a water cooler."

Deploying a team called Ground Control, Airbnb works to ensure that the right people are in the right place at the right time for these large gatherings.

"We're still learning the right rhythms for when people are getting together," Stephenson says. "I think that's the biggest challenge that we have."

Benny Etienne, who works for Ground Control based out of Airbnb's Montreal office, spent much of the winter and spring in Mexico. "The change of scenery has a huge impact on your mental health," she says.
/ Benny Etienne
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Benny Etienne
Benny Etienne, who works for Ground Control based out of Airbnb's Montreal office, spent much of the winter and spring in Mexico. "The change of scenery has a huge impact on your mental health," she says.

Catering to different needs, and a healthy bottom line

Airbnb added 900,000 hosts last year, reaching a total of 6.6 million worldwide. Revenue growth has been strong. Stephenson sees these as signs the company is moving in the right direction.

Moreover, employees are happy. Airbnb's attrition rate is close to an all-time low and falling, the company says.

And Airbnb's goal of hiring more women and under-represented minorities has gotten a boost from the new policy.

"Now that we're in a live anywhere context, it really gives us an opportunity to cater to different needs," says Benny Etienne, a leader of Black@, the company's affinity group for Black employees. "Within a diverse group, we all have very diverse identities and diverse realities."

So far, only about 20% of Airbnb employees have taken advantage of Live and Work Anywhere to relocate domestically or travel abroad.

Etienne, who works for Ground Control out of Airbnb's Montreal office, is encouraging anyone who can take their work somewhere else to try it, at least for a week.

"The change of scenery has a huge impact on your mental health," she says on a call from Mérida, Mexico, where she's spent most of the winter and spring.

Farther south, the savings that Stecher and his family have enjoyed since leaving San Francisco have allowed his wife, Ana Ruiz, who worked in banking, to stay home with their children in Buenos Aires and also to travel, something the family is passionate about.

"We were just in our own little world in the U.S.," says Ruiz, who grew up in Mexico. "Now, to be in different parts of the world and live the culture and experience the food... and speaking a different language, it's just amazing. It's just so nice."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.