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Airbnb CEO: 'Employees are in charge, not companies' in push for remote work

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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down how the spike in remote work has impacted the company's outlook.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. The talking heads had a hit with Burning Down the House and it was Airbnb that burned down the house with their earnings report on revenue expectations, blew past what the Street was expecting. Although, I don't think they want to burn down the house, if you know what I mean, given their business model. Melody Hahm joins us now with a special guest, Melody?

MELODY HAHM: Adam, you never fail to entertain me with those intros. As you mentioned, it was the first time that Airbnb actually reported results as a public company after the bell yesterday, handily beating those expectations on the top line, revenue in the fourth quarter coming in at 859.2 million, exceeding expectations, but still down 22% year over year. Airbnb also reported a net loss of $3.9 billion for the quarter.

And after some of that muted activity we saw in after hours trading yesterday, investors seem to have digested the news and are deeming it positive. Analysts across the board have upgraded the stock, which closed over 13% higher today, calling it quote unquote, "solid" and "better than feared" and "the best asset in travel." Let's bring in co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky. Thanks so much for joining us today.

BRIAN CHESKY: Thank you very much for having me on Melody.

MELODY HAHM: Yeah, so Brian, now that you yourself have actually digested perhaps a full day after your reported earnings, what were some of the biggest surprises perhaps being at the helm of a public company, having founded this company well over a decade ago?

BRIAN CHESKY: Well, I mean you know this whole journey has been nothing but surprises. I started this company when I was 25, turning 26, with two of my friends. My parents are social workers so, I never really was prepared for any of this stuff I'd go on this journey. And if that wasn't crazy enough, this past year was really intense. We lost 80% of our business in eight weeks last year when it felt like we were all to get in the foxhole together, rebuild our company, take it public on Zoom, and now prepare for our first earnings report.

But we're very, very pleased with the results and you know, I think it's a testament that people want to travel. That's what these results show, people want to travel. And they're using Airbnb because they want intimate experiences that I think a host who'd stay on Airbnb staying at a home provides.

And I think it's also showing that there's new ways people are traveling. You know, the lines between travel and living are starting to blur together. And so we're starting to see people getting Airbnbs for weeks at a time or even months at a time in this new world of flexibility. So I think that's a little bit of what the story is right now.

MELODY HAHM: Brian, when you talk about that remote work, live from anywhere. I did some reporting on that last year as some of my colleagues actually participated in that trend. How sustainable do you think that is post pandemic? Do we really think employers will let their employees off the hook? I've heard of now employers saying that they're going to be changing their salaries if they do decide to take that approach, right. I'm curious your thoughts there.

BRIAN CHESKY: My thoughts are employees are in charge not companies. Like the employees and the talent market is going to drive working flexibility, not the companies. Because if a company says these are our rules, they're not going to have the talent. And so I think what's going to happen is companies are going to move to the talent and to the market. I think what the market is saying, what people are saying is they want to have more flexibility. They want to be able to live anywhere. Companies are going to have to choose their policies.

I think what's going to frankly happen is probably this, most companies are going to end up in a hybrid model, where they are allowing employees to work distributed remote, but they're going to need to be within a certain ability to get to a headquarters or a hub. So you'll have a little bit of a hub and spoke, where employees come to a headquarters every quarter or so. Now there might be some employees that are expected to be in the office all the time. But I think the days of like the vast majority employees being in an office five days a week, those days are absolutely over for most companies. And I think that means that people more flexibility, they're going to live more places.

MELODY HAHM: Brian, that's sort of an existential question, right, because I know you have been a shining bright spot in the Silicon Valley area. We have seen this exodus, right, out of San Francisco for a multitude of reasons. What is your own perspective on your workforce, right, going forward in the years to come, do you anticipate changing your headquarters, perhaps not having an HQ? What do you think?

BRIAN CHESKY: I think we're going to remain in San Francisco and remain in California. It's a very special place. That being said, there is no question that there's going to be a lot more flexibility. I think the idea that you have to physically be anywhere is changing. The place you have to be now is on the internet. The place you have to be is on Zoom. You don't actually have to be in that many physical locations for more things. I think that in and of itself is going to change a lot.

So I think what's going to happen is all the companies, including us, we're going to be more flexible generally speaking, about where people live and how they work. I think the exact way-- that what the exact policy is is to be determined. We have not put out our go forward policy for work from home but I have told our employees, our new policies are absolutely going to involve a lot more flexibility.

And I think for any company who says like we're going back to the way things were. I think that's just defying like laws of human nature. I don't think any of us are going exactly back to the way things were.

MELODY HAHM: Yeah, it's a good point. Speaking of flexibility. One of the new product offerings you have is flexible dates, right. So folks can search for a window of time, can be a lot more open ended. How have you seen that sort of getting picked up? Do you anticipate that a great majority of Airbnb users will be using that feature?

BRIAN CHESKY: Yeah, I mean, we've seen, Melody, a paradigm shift in how people are searching for travel on Airbnb. It used to be that people knew where they were going when they went to Airbnb. That's why there's a search box and it says where are you going. And then they knew when they were going, we'd have a date picker and they'd say check out-- check in February 10th, check out February 15th.

Now 40% of our guests who come on Airbnb either don't have a location in mind or don't have a date in mind. The reality is they're in a house, they're saying I'm feeling stuck in a house, I want to go somewhere, I'll go anywhere within a couple hundred mile radius and I want to go in the next couple of months.

So we're going to do is we are allowing more flexibility. On Tuesday of this week we announced flexible dates. So when you go to the date picker, instead of adding your dates, you can just tap a button, it says I'm flexible. And you can say I want to stay for a weekend, a week, a month, and you can say in the next week and the next month, you can really pick these really broad searches.

And I think that's where it's going to go. That fewer people are traveling for business, fewer people have very set destinations. And it really means they're open minded. And this means we can point travelers and demand to where we have supply. So it really helps balance supply and demand.

But it also I think levels the playing field because instead of people going to just 20 or 30 cities, now they're going to go to thousands of cities. They're discovering national parks, they're discovering smaller communities, rural towns. And so I think this is a really exciting opportunity for travel and that leveling of the playing field rises the boats for everyone in travel and I think that can also benefit Airbnb.