Airbnb Singapore: A global company powered by local passion
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Airbnb Singapore: A global company powered by local passion

Airbnb office space

For an international brand that encourages everyone around the world to “Belong Anywhere”, picking a diverse country like Singapore as its Asia headquarters was the natural thing to do.

“Singapore’s identity as a culturally vibrant nation, its state-of-the-art infrastructure and the country’s reputation for producing some of the top minds in Asia made it easy for us to make a decision when we wanted to set up a regional HQ,” said Jake Wilczynski, head of public affairs for Airbnb Asia Pacific.

In the Singapore office, which has more than 200 employees, there is a borderless vibe.

From a beach house in Beirut to an art studio in Seychelles, meeting rooms and common workspaces in the Singapore office are modelled after real Airbnb listings around the world.

“Home is where the heart is and to different people, this could mean different places around the world,” said Wilczynski.

“Depending on what they feel like for the day, employees get to pick a space and in the process, work alongside and get to know people they wouldn’t normally have a chance to in a traditional office environment – a borderless world definitely begins with a borderless office.”

While this borderless mindset encapsulates the company’s ethos, there is also a focus on building a strong local core of employees in each global office – and developing talent through training.

Airbnb meeting room
Meeting rooms are modelled after actual Airbnb listings. This is an identical remake of a holiday home listing in Kuta, Bali.

Act local, think global

From the conventional apartments and villas to the whimsical castles and treehouses, Airbnb has over 5 million listings across more than 191 countries.

Despite its cosmopolitan outlook, the secret behind Airbnb’s success lies in its willingness to understand the inner workings of local markets.

This is achieved by incorporating a strong local core to have a good understanding of the country’s culture and background.

For example, when Airbnb Singapore started its “Experiences” initiative – an add-on product to its accommodation services where users get to learn more about a country through handcrafted activities run by locals – it required the input of Singaporeans to narrow down on country-specific experiences that would truly impact users.

From making traditional rice dumplings at an 86-year old restaurant in Market Street to going on walking tours of pre-war shop houses in the Joo Chiat area, Airbnb Singapore’s “Experiences” initiative has become a massive hit among visitors.   

Besides choosing authentic local experiences, Singapore employees also enable Airbnb to fully understand the context of the nation’s policy environment and align the company’s practices and values accordingly. This is especially important for the Airbnb office in Singapore, which also doubles as the region’s headquarters.

“When we think about regulations, we don’t do that from a perspective of what works in other countries. We do what works best in a local context and having a strong Singaporean workforce makes it easier for us to understand what works and what doesn’t more clearly,” said Wilczynski.  

Skills transfer

As the first region to announce an internal coaching programme for its employees, continuous learning and employee development play an integral role in the Singapore office.

This is done by selecting mentors among senior executives who will coach juniors in any part of the region on new skills or new roles. It is a form of skills transfer.

In tandem with the Singapore government’s push for lifelong and continuous learning, the internal coaching programme has seen both local and overseas employees benefitting from a mutual sharing of ideas and skills.

Singaporean Marianne Tan is one employee who has benefitted from the programme. Starting as a customer experience specialist, she switched to a quality insights analyst after undergoing a mentorship programme in data analytics.

Despite the fact that her mentors were based in countries like Korea, China and San Francisco, she was able to connect with them and pursue her mentorship via the “Webex” initiative—a series of video call sessions which would take place regularly at least two to three times a month.

“There’s this culture of sharing and a willingness to learn new things that is spread across the office. The framework for growth is there, all you have to do is take the first step,” she said.

Local employees in Singapore are also offered opportunities to work in offices abroad on a long-term basis.

Apart from mentorship and overseas stints, all employees undergo a one-week onboarding programme in Singapore. It serves as a way for employees across the region to build bonds with the team.

Those attending the programme will have a Singaporean buddy assigned to them, who not only helps them to settle into a new working environment but also acts as a local ambassador for the duration of their stay here.

From bonding over bowls of fishball noodles at Amoy Street Food Market to taking in the calming sights of nature at Upper Peirce Reservoir, the local ambassadors make it a point to engage foreign employees in several non-work related activities in order to make them feel right at home.

Singaporean Michelle Goh, who is part of the Southeast Asia public policy team at the regional HQ, explains that this helps to improve relationships.

“Working in a regional HQ is very different from working in market offices because you get to meet people from all across the world and learn from them about their best practices. I think this type of skill sharing is important especially for a company that believes in the power of collaboration and working across borders,” she said.

Airbnb pantry

The Employee Experience: On-the-house meals, yoga classes and gardening workshops

Forget the traditional human resource function. At Airbnb, it has been replaced with Employee Experience.

Moving away from the typical work system that usually follows a top-down approach to decision-making at the workplace, Employee Experience gives employees the choice and power to dictate their work lives.

From the type of food they eat to the number of hours they put in, Airbnb has translated employee empowerment into successes for itself, both monetarily and culturally.

The logic here is simple: an employee with a larger say in his or her daily work life is more likely to go the extra mile for the company.

Employee Experience initiatives have also brought the culturally diverse workplace closer together. One of the regular events organised by the employee experience team is the monthly “AirShare” session where every employee is given the platform to share a skill, talent or craft with the wider employee community.

This has paved the way for an intercultural sharing sessions where employees from different parts of the world share unique traits of their countries and cultures. For example, a Brazilian employee once conducted a series of beginner Jujitsu classes, while an employee from Japan gave tips on silk screen printing techniques.

Ground control manager Junie Ong who oversees such initiatives feels that appreciating the diversity of the company’s workforce has played an integral part in its success thus far.

“The strongest part of our brand is our people – it’s as simple as that. When you truly believe in something, you become part of it and that’s what we’re really about at Airbnb,” she said. 

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