How Airbnb is adapting to the new normal

When the pandemic struck, Airbnb was forced to make a quarter of its staff redundant. Here, we speak to the company’s chief design officer, Alex Schleifer, about the importance of transparency during these times, and the role creativity can play in helping brands get back on track

In a statement sent out to all of Airbnb’s employees on May 5, co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky announced the company’s decision to lay off 1,900 jobs – 25% of its total workforce – in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “For a company like us whose mission is centred around belonging, this is incredibly difficult to confront, and it will be even harder for those who have to leave Airbnb. I am going to share as many details as I can on how I arrived at this decision, what we are doing for those leaving, and what will happen next,” he said in the statement, which was later shared publicly on its website.

Chesky proceeded to go through the decision-making process step by step, explaining how the company’s revenue this year is forecasted to be less than half of what it earned in 2019, and that despite already raising an extra $2 billion in capital and cutting costs from every corner of the business, it was still not enough to save all of its 7,500 staff. He also outlined the measures it is taking as a business to support people who have been let go, including a generous severance package and refocusing the company’s internal recruitment team to help departing employees find new jobs.

Banner image and above: Airbnb Hosts Anna (Italy) and Imaan (Cairo) are two of the hosts who have opened their homes to offer healthcare staff and first responders a place to stay during coronavirus

PR Week called the statement “a perfect example of how to lead in a crisis”, while in a piece for Forbes, Khalil Smith wrote: “The way Airbnb has chosen to handle and communicate a necessary business decision during a tough period in human history, is both caring and just. For those impacted by layoffs, at Airbnb and beyond, the humanity of this message won’t be enough, but it will help. And messages like these send a message, to those who have left, to those who remain, and to those who would consider working at a given organisation.”

Along with hospitality and events, travel is one of the industries that has been hardest hit by coronavirus. Brands in this space are currently grappling with the harsh reality that no one really knows when travel will return properly, and even when it does finally begin to reemerge, our summer holidays and city breaks will inevitably look very different than they did in a pre-coronavirus world.