WORK­ING ON AIR

At Airbnb, an of­fice ISN’T just a space to put a desk – it’s a place for CRE­ATIV­ITY, COL­LAB­O­RA­TION and true hu­man CON­NEC­TION that takes you on a JOUR­NEY.

Collective Hub - - CONTENTS - WORDS AMY MOL­LOY

how Airbnb en­gi­neers their of­fice spa­ces to build hu­man con­nec­tion and fuel cre­ativ­ity

Af­ter four months em­bed­ded within Airbnb’s of­fices, de­sign com­pany Gensler cre­ated a new open-plan space for their San Fran­cisco head­quar­ters that gives em­ploy­ees “con­tin­ual free­dom to choose where and how to work”.

Each room is dis­tinct, in­spired by a dif­fer­ent note­wor­thy Airbnb list­ing. There’s a library, full-ser­vice kitchen, com­mu­nal eat­ing area and spec­tac­u­lar city views. Ba­si­cally, ev­ery­thing you’d find in the per­fect Airbnb guest­house.

On any given day, you’ll find team mem­bers brain­storm­ing a project, wildly click­ing on fea­tures, or ogling the new list­ings that roll in by the minute.

Ac­cord­ing to Airbnb’s re­cruit­ment site (where there are cur­rently more than 100 va­can­cies ad­ver­tised for their San Fran HQ), the com­pany cares the most about “cul­ti­vat­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where our team can thrive”. The chairs are comfy, the fridge is stocked, and the sofa is named Ch­ester­field.

It’s one of 19 of­fices launched by the three founders world­wide since the cre­ation of Airbnb in 2008, when it was orig­i­nally called Air Bed and Break­fast. They have of­fices in Syd­ney, Bei­jing, New Delhi and Barcelona to name a few cities, and each has a unique theme.

When Airbnb opens up a new of­fice, it’s not just a place to put desks. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to put the brand’s unique mis­sion – to en­cour­age peo­ple to feel at home any­where – into prac­tice.

In co-founder Joe Geb­bia’s TED talk, ‘How Airbnb de­signs for trust,’ the en­tre­pre­neur re­veals how de­sign is key to the start-up’s suc­cess. For their model to work, it re­lies on build­ing con­nec­tion be­tween guests and hosts so the lat­ter feels com­fort­able enough to do some­thing they wouldn’t nat­u­rally do with­out trust – open their home to a com­plete stranger.

Just one ex­am­ple of how they do this is through the de­sign of their web­sites. Joe ex­plains that they know if po­ten­tial guests write an in­tro­duc­tory mes­sage that’s too brief (like, “Yo”), to reach out to hosts, it’ll fail to build enough trust, but too long and it’ll feel like an over­share and scare peo­ple away. >

The COM­PANY cares the MOST about CUL­TI­VAT­ING an en­vi­ron­ment where our TEAM can THRIVE.

The so­lu­tion? A mes­sage box de­signed to hit the “sweet spot” size-wise and help build trust nat­u­rally.

The same de­tailed thought goes into the de­sign of Airbnb’s of­fice spa­ces in or­der to build con­nec­tions be­tween the com­pany’s teams of en­gi­neers, data sci­en­tists, lawyers, brand man­agers and prod­uct de­vel­op­ers who co-ex­ist there.

So, how does the com­pany, launched by three broke mates liv­ing in one of the US’s most ex­pen­sive cities, cre­ate the ul­ti­mate en­vi­ron­ments for em­ployee in­no­va­tion – and how can other start-ups em­u­late it?

Well, here in Aus­tralia, Syd­ney de­sign com­pany The Bold Col­lec­tive were the ge­niuses be­hind Airbnb’s of­fices, which opened in 2016. They’re de­signed in the like­ness of Airbnb list­ings, sim­i­lar to the San Fran­cisco head­quar­ters. Staff chose their favourite list­ings and, as a re­sult, a Ha­vana din­ing room, a Swedish sit­ting room and a kitchen in­spired by Syd­ney eatery Coogee Pavil­ion are all part of the in­door land­scape.

“We want to cre­ate a sense of travel when we wel­come peo­ple into our of­fice,” Airbnb’s Aus­tralian Coun­try Man­ager, Sam McDon­agh, said when the of­fices opened. “Sim­ply hav­ing photos of list­ings and far-off places isn’t enough – we want em­ploy­ees and guests to [have] the feel­ing you get when you travel.”

That in mind, The Bold Col­lec­tive were given a clear brief: to en­sure the new work­place al­lowed Airbnb’s strong cul­ture to flour­ish and de­velop. In a blog post, the de­sign com­pany shared their in­spi­ra­tion: “It was ob­vi­ous the team en­joyed so­cial­is­ing and col­lab­o­rat­ing, and this new en­vi­ron­ment needed to sup­port this.”

Sev­eral staff re­quested an area to kick a ball around, the re­sult of which be­came a key fea­ture of the en­trance hall, where the el­e­va­tor doors open onto astro-turf (com­plete with AFL goal posts).

There are also el­e­ments of Airbnb’s ‘to­geth­er­ness’ ethos every­where. The kitchen has one long break­fast bar, there are comfy couches for brain­storm­ing and, in one of the many com­mu­nal ar­eas, a neon sign reads, ‘Be­long any­where’.

In the bath­rooms, the show­ers are rain­bow-cov­ered (a nod to a Syd­ney Gay and Les­bian Mardi Gras part­ner­ship), and the men’s room has a whisky bar.

In­te­rior de­sign web­site De­signBX de­scribed it as “part 3D brochure, part func­tional of­fice and part play­ground”, while Tido Pe­senti, Airbnb’s Global Head of Real Es­tate and Con­struc­tion, called it “a per­fect bal­ance of amaz­ing cre­ativ­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tive spirit”.

At the Syd­ney head­quar­ters, there are de­part­ments for busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, de­sign, em­ployee ex­pe­ri­ence and photos, plus a mys­te­ri­ous team who look af­ter ‘mag­i­cal trips’. Their role is to ig­nite the wan­der­lust of Aussie hosts and vis­i­tors.

Yet San Fran­cisco is still the epi­cen­tre of the brand, where an army of team mem­bers (Airbnb doesn’t dis­close ex­act staff numbers) cre­ate, col­lab­o­rate and push the lim­its of work and travel.

Lunch is a so­cial time at Airbnb, ac­cord­ing to ca­reers web­site The Muse, which of­fers a dig­i­tal be­hind-the-scenes tour of the head­quar­ters. The of­fice boasts an open kitchen, where lunch is cooked on­site by a chef ev­ery day. When it’s ready, the chef rings the bell to tell ev­ery­one it’s lunchtime, and em­ploy­ees gather around to en­joy the food – and friendly com­pany.

In­clu­siv­ity is an on­go­ing theme. As you walk into the Airbnb of­fice, you’ll be greeted by the com­pany’s ‘fam­ily tree’ mu­ral that fills one wall. Each new em­ployee adds them­selves to be re­minded that they’re all in this to­gether.

“It’s the en­ergy,” shares Belinda John­son, who works in the le­gal team. “There’s this pure en­ergy that drives the day. It’s an open-plan of­fice and hav­ing this abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with ev­ery­one around makes it very easy to col­lab­o­rate.” >

It was OB­VI­OUS the team en­joyed SO­CIAL­IS­ING and COL­LAB­O­RAT­ING, and this NEW en­vi­ron­ment NEEDED to sup­port this.

When it comes to de­sign­ing new of­fice spa­ces, work­ing with lo­cal de­sign­ers is im­por­tant to the brand. The com­pany is keen to har­ness the tal­ent of lo­cals in other ar­eas, too – in 2016, they added a ‘Trips’ ex­ten­sion to the plat­form, which al­lows trav­ellers to book ac­tiv­i­ties or ‘ex­pe­ri­ences’ led by res­i­dent ex­perts.

Airbnb’s head­quar­ters in Dublin has a com­mu­nal lounge area de­signed by ar­chi­tec­ture firm Heneghan Peng to look like a tra­di­tional Ir­ish pub, com­plete with stand­alone phone booths so em­ploy­ees can take pri­vate calls.

In São Paulo they worked with lo­cal ar­chi­tects MM18 Arqui­tec­tura to de­sign a space that was in­spired by the iconic Brazil­ian land­scape de­signer Roberto BurleMarx, famed for his fantasy gar­dens.

In Sin­ga­pore, Airbnb col­lab­o­rated with de­sign stu­dio FARM to cre­ate a 2800-square-me­tre of­fice space with flu­oro-or­ange stair­cases, a wooden am­phithe­atre idea-shar­ing area and a mo­saic-tiled kitchen.

The di­ver­sity of their of­fices re­flects the di­ver­sity of their list­ings (Airbnb’s 4 mil­lion global list­ings in­clude 3000 cas­tles and 1400 tree­houses).

So where do the three Airbnb founders feel most in­spired? For Brian Ch­esky, whose busi­ness role mod­els in­clude Walt Dis­ney, the San Fran head­quar­ters is a mo­ti­vat­ing lo­ca­tion. On In­sta­gram, he re­vealed the of­fices are ac­tu­ally in­spired by the worlds in Dis­ney an­i­ma­tions.

Mean­while, Nathan Blechar­czyk – an en­gi­neer by trade – has been known to bring his young daugh­ter into the San Fran­cisco of­fice while his wife runs er­rands. This is one of the rea­sons he works from a stand­ing desk – when his daugh­ter was an in­fant, it al­lowed him to wear a baby sling while typ­ing.

The brand’s third founder and Chief Prod­uct Of­fi­cer, Joe Geb­bia, who Col­lec­tive Hub met dur­ing his re­cent trip to Aus­tralia, spear­heads Airbnb’s in­no­va­tion stu­dio Sa­mara, which is based in of­fices ad­ja­cent to their San Fran head­quar­ters. In 2017, Joe also cre­ated a range of fur­ni­ture with de­sign firm Bern­hardt De­sign, aimed at adapt­ing to the needs of a shared space (pro­vid­ing a com­mu­nal liv­ing area or in­stant pri­vacy).

The ef­fect of com­fort on pro­duc­tiv­ity has al­ways been of in­ter­est to Joe. At univer­sity, af­ter grow­ing tired of the un­com­fort­able chairs in his art class, he launched a side-hus­tle sell­ing spe­cialty seat cush­ions to his class­mates.

A PER­FECT bal­ance of AMAZ­ING cre­ativ­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tive SPIRIT.

So, what’s next for the com­pany? With 65,000 cities now of­fer­ing list­ings, and a re­cent re­brand­ing project in China (there, Airbnb’s now known as Aibiy­ing, which means ‘wel­come each other with love’), the com­pany’s ex­pan­sion doesn’t seem to be slow­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Airbnb’s 2018 travel trends, their fastest-grow­ing mar­kets in­clude boom­ing Amer­i­can Mid­west­ern cities such as Indianapolis, the Bri­tish seaside, and the Brazil­ian coast­line.

While global hotspots, in­clud­ing Paris and Tokyo, still top the most-booked list, smaller cities, such as Lis­bon, are gain­ing. Be­yond the stan­dard ur­ban apart­ment, non-tra­di­tional homes saw the largest in­creases last year. Na­ture lodges and tra­di­tional Ja­panese inns are surg­ing the most in book­ings, show­ing that trav­ellers are in­creas­ingly drawn to homes that are rus­tic and unique, rather than sim­ply com­fort­able.

Where the next Airbnb of­fice will be, they won’t (yet!) dis­close. But we ex­pect lo­cal de­sign­ers to fight for the gig – and the end re­sult will be spec­tac­u­lar.

There’s this pure EN­ERGY that DRIVES the day.

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