Remote work-friendly homes need to have more than a desk and verified Wi-Fi. Airbnb may have missed a trick after carrying out its "biggest change in a decade."
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Airbnb’s latest alterations to how it allows people to search for places to stay was billed by CEO Brian Chesky as the “biggest change in a decade.” Maybe so, but some digital nomads feel shortchanged by a brand that’s championing a new age of mobility.
The home-sharing platform reorganized its search around curated categories earlier this month, expanding them from a limited number to 56, with room to grow.
Chesky has previously said workplace changes on the horizon meant traditional business travel reduces as more people will be untethered from not just offices, but their home cities too. Despite these comments, and the category revamp, experts say many digital nomads felt Airbnb had failed to address their needs with its new search criteria.
Coffee Tables and Stools
The main issues were failing to filter spaces by verified fast Wi-Fi and homes that offered a genuine workspace.
“You can look on Airbnb and a lot of listings will post their Wi-Fi speeds, but not a ton of them yet,” said Leah Ziliak, a community experience consultant. “You’re having to sift through them to see if there are reviews — is the Wifi good enough for video calls, those sorts of things. And that could be something that could be easily implemented into the Airbnb platform already.”
While a dedicated workspace can be listed in the amenities section of a listing, she said that too was difficult to search through. “It’s just all over the map. Sometimes a dedicated workspace could be a stool with a tiny table. Sometimes it can mean a real ergonomic chair with a desk. And sometimes it means a coffee table. You don’t really know what you’re going to get.”
Other useful factors would have been the ability to filter by “walkability” for guests without cars, information on local events within the stay timeframe, and details on co-working options near the property, she added.
A Commercial Risk
Another expert said Airbnb may be finding it difficult to walk away from its traditional leisure-focused market.
“Digital nomads are in essence constant travelers building careers at the same time, they aren’t leisure tourists,” said Mark Phillips, founder of Nomad Stays. “They often have a lot of commercial risk associated with choosing a place to stay. So it’s no surprise that leisure platforms are struggling to straddle their traditional markets and the growth in lifestyle-orientated markets like digital nomads.”
Besides technical specifications, Zillak said Airbnb should examine how it can help foster a sense of community, particularly for those constantly traveling to new cities as opposed to those remote workers who are simply taking a 30 or 60-day break away from their city.
Ziliak, who recently advised Cape Town-based Neighbourgood on best community practice, said it was important guests are “integrated” into a city as soon as they arrive.
But it’s a difficult task.
The attraction of Airbnb many for many people is it’s not really about co-living. Zillak herself admits its properties offer something special for those traveling full time that’s hard to get from a hotel.
“I travel full time, so Airbnb is a great option for me to feel more like home than a typical hotel. So it makes sense that a lot of nomads choose Airbnb over hotels,” she said. But more detailed community information and features could help it stand out among hotels or other brands, including Hostelworld which is helping connect solo travelers. She thinks there may even be an opportunity for Airbnb’s Experiences to play a role here.
Airbnb told Skift that digital nomads had “in large part inspired the change” announced earlier this month.
“It follows more than 150 innovations and upgrades across the platform over the past year to adapt to new ways of living and working, and we will continue to innovate based on feedback from hosts and guests,” a spokesperson said.
Airbnb also said it was working toward bringing digital nomads increased options, from partnering with destinations to help attract remote workers, to launching Live Anywhere on Airbnb which was designed to solicit feedback from digital nomads.
It added that its Verified Wi-Fi tool, introduced last year, lets hosts test their listing’s internet connection from the Airbnb app, and then have their wifi speed shown on their listing as verified. “Guests can also use our existing amenities filters to search for spaces with ‘Dedicated workspace’ and ‘Wifi’,” the spokesperson added.
However, perhaps digital nomads will have their calls answers by machine learning technology, which played a part in Airbnb’s latest categorization process. It might be this that ultimately closes the gap, and deliver the homes they need.
Airbnb’s filter overhaul coincided with its announcement of a new “work from anywhere” policy, which generated one million visits to its careers page. Smart move. But Twitter’s new head of remote work thinks it’s time for companies to stop using the term work from anywhere.
“I would never call it a work from anywhere policy,” said Rina Montalvo, head of talent mobility, immigration and flexible work program at Twitter, when asked what she’d do if she had a blank canvas when it came to setting company policy at a recent online event. “That’s the first thing I wouldn’t do. I’d stick with remote work.”
She said Airbnb had a plan behind their announcement, with the details revealing it’s applicable to U.S. employees. And technically, they can’t really work from anywhere.
She cautioned that well known companies needed to tread carefully. Brands like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Airbnb were being looked at right now as pioneers in this era of remote work, she argued, adding that employees can work remotely permanently, anywhere, as long as there are parameters with taxation and immigration.
“Give employees the exact definition,” she advised. “Remote work is here to stay, and it’s up to us to make it work … We’re not quite there yet 100 percent, we’re still trying to figure it out.”
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