Read anything on what it is that a business or organisation needs to do if they’re going to attract and retain talent, and sooner or later you’re going to be directed to examples from California’s tech industry; and so to a Silicon Valley culture that places a premium on the importance of a work that has real communal purpose, of workplaces that encourage and reward talented thinking and doing, and of the ability to effect a campus experience, one that is as porous as it is magnetic.
Unfortunately, my own experience of visiting some of these campuses is that they are not everything they promise by way of being the kinds of workplaces that people love to be in – or visit. Often hard to get to, they’re the opposite of being part and parcel of a walkable environment, and cultivate worlds within the world. Here, external influence is noisy distraction, genuine choice unnecessary competition. The result: a real-world echo chamber, a workplace that, for all the talk of devotees, of the chance encounter, of connectivity, is neither attractive nor genuinely worth championing – whatever the salary or kudos which comes with working there.
Not so Airbnb, whose headquarters at Brannan Street, San Francisco, I had a chance to visit last year, and where I was shown around by the company’s head of real estate, Tido Presenti. For those who don’t know the campus, it’s slap bang in the city, just a few streets from where it first started up. It consists of just three buildings. Getting from A to B’s a 15 minute amble. Anyone can visit, gaining access by a gorgeous atrium, and which feels as friendly and commonsensical as AirBnB feels in digital space. There is security, and there are machines, but so far into the experience, and so the opposite of bristling, as to have next to no bearing on the public space. It doesn’t matter who you are, or why you’re here; you will be met and helped by a real human.
Clearly, for Airbnb, large is not necessarily good; neither is iconic; and nor is being hermetically sealed off from the world outside. Beyond its generous and permeable public interface borders, through which employees sally back and forth as they fit, the design, feel and programming of the campus and its activities borrow from its listings (the property’s AirBnB features), from its mission and from its business model. Workspaces are rarely fixed, are actual copies of real properties (chosen by employees), and are as varied as it is possible to get. Sharing is preferred to owning, movement to the stationary. Teams are spread across the buildings. Everything from the much celebrated conference room to a seemingly randomly decorated room to something that could only be described as a bedroom is designed to give the look and feel of a lived-in home.
Deeply eclectic, Airbnb is no show office. With employees encouraged to mix entrepreneurially with the wider community, and micro-financed to the tune of $2000 a head per year to contribute to the workplace environment, it’s a deliberately unfinished space, a space contiguous with the street and the block and the neighbourhood beyond, a space activated by a programme that encapsulates everything it is to move, to meet, and to enjoy the experience of a culture that is as much about the unexpected as it is the expected, one designed not by a social engineer, but that genuinely curries the myriad choice of its own marketplace. It’s a place made for – and by – the people that work here.
On which note, and to end: Learn from Airbnb. Know thy talent. Allow for an exchange between communities – work and host. Democratise design. Think icons not icon. Be cults not a cult. Create a workplace that feels owned by all – genuinely. Make work a lifestyle choice. Do this and your own employees haven’t just chosen to work with you. They don’t want to just stay with you. They’re your frontline brand advocates. They’re home. They’re part of the family – and worth their weight in any number of recruitment agencies, consultants, tools and what have you.
Image Credit: Gabriela Herman(Main Header Image / Featured Image)