🏰 Future of Work Feature: Q Hamirani of Airbnb
Global Head of Live and Work Anywhere, Airbnb
In This Edition
🧮 How studying Engineering led to a passion for people work
🗺️ The lessons learned from incubatingAirbnb’s Digital Global Nomad program
🏡 The process of creating a Center of Excellence and sharing knowledge
Q is a business-minded people and operations leader, advisor and executive coach. He joined Airbnb in 2018 as its first global people ops leader, and was responsible for the strategic vision, build-out and execution of Airbnb’s people operations function from the ground up. Additionally, he was responsible for leading Airbnb through numerous pivotal milestones including hypergrowth, pandemic responses, workforce restructuring, IPO and the future of work.
Most notably, Q ideated and incubated Airbnb’s Digital Nomad program globally in 2020 which eventually became Airbnb's formal Live & Work Anywhere program in 2022. This program created an extraordinary opportunity for Airbnb to become industry leaders in the future of work by leveraging their existing business model to enable their employees to live and work anywhere. Airbnb decided to invest in the creation of a newly formed cross-functional center of excellence (COE) to make this opportunity a reality. Q is leading the build-out and vision of this new formed team.
Q is a trusted advisor to founders, C-Suites, people executives and several accelerator programs globally. He leverages his first-hand experience from working across his own startups, various venture growth and PE-backed firms, Big 4 management consulting and Fortune 100 companies to provide valued insight and drive sustainable change.
What sparked your interest in people operations, the future of work, and executive coaching?
As I reflect back, it all stems from having a passion for helping people and making a difference for all the stakeholders involved — no matter what type of project or product I was involved with. In college, I studied Electrical Engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A lot of my time was spent sitting in a lab, building circuits and trying to make them work. But, I had this moment in my third year when I realized that I enjoyed engineering, but I missed the part of connecting with people and understanding different perspectives.
When General Electric was at my college career fair, they were recruiting for the Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP). I asked the recruiter if they had any other leadership programs as I wanted to explore a career beyond engineering. It turned out they had an Operations Manufacturing Leadership program (OMLP), and that’s how I started my career in operations on a factory floor! I was a 19-year-old kid on a manufacturing floor with individuals who had been working on a machine at that factory for 30-40 years. I arrived with no real-world experience with the goal of trying to help them!
I realized very quickly that if I were to succeed, it started with building trust and understanding what they were doing. Even as I was trying to implement operational efficiencies in their day-to-day lives like color coding the parts bins to help them easily identify when they were going to run out of them, I had to show them I was there to help. This experience helped me discover my passion for helping people, making the employees' and customers’ lives better.
Eventually this led to me working in the People profession because I recognized that a scalable way to help an organization succeed and bring out the best in their people is to work in the People Org and drive the programs from the inside-out — projects like the future of work, employee service excellence, executive coaching and a lot more over the years.
Currently, you’re a pioneer in the People field with the work you’re leading at Airbnb. What is your mission and purpose for "Work Anywhere" with Airbnb?
The mission of this new center of excellence that we've created is to really reimagine the workplace experience and the future of offices. We’re trying our best to revolutionize global mobility to empower living, traveling and working from anywhere — not just for our employees but also for the professional workforce and for HR professionals globally.
For us, it really came down to — can we become industry leaders by leveraging our current business model which is to partner with governments and destination marketing organizations to drive remote-friendly policies and programs or do we follow? We chose to lead, and it's been an amazing and magical opportunity for both Airbnb and myself in this position to drive something that has not been done before in any HR team or in a business.
With regards to the future of physical workspaces, I look at the next year as one to experiment, study, learn and see what our behaviors are driving towards, especially because we are not mandating any behaviors — we are leaving it completely up to the employee to choose if they want to come in every day or where they want to be. The world is our oyster as we gather feedback and iterate to a level of greatness.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished over the years?
I ideated and incubated Airbnb’s Digital Global Nomad program. In August of 2020, we piloted this program to support our employees and understand the complexity of regulations and tax implications when an individual wanted to travel across borders. We were simply responding to our employee’s interests.
At the time, we thought it would be a one-year temporary program. It was incredible having the opportunity to try something new while learning and working through it. Ultimately, this incubated program was extremely critical to enabling us to create our live and work anywhere program in April of 2022.
This project led to something even bigger — it had a ripple effect — it created an extraordinary opportunity for Airbnb to now become industry leaders in the future of work by leveraging our existing business model to enable our employees to live and work anywhere. As a result of that, we created this unique Center of Excellence. It brings together Airbnb's legacy workplace, immigration, relocation, mobility tax and operational teams to work in close partnership with corporate tax, accounting, employment legal, privacy, public policy and external comms teams to drive our vision and enhance our employee experience and business growth collectively.
It’s great to see how this program that we spent a lot of work on actually ended up becoming something bigger than even we anticipated at the time. This speaks to how we work at Airbnb — we are willing to embrace things that we have not done before with an ambition that at the end of the day, we want to do things differently to amplify the employee experience. The guiding principle evolved from helping our employees into now helping the world.
How do you collaborate with Communications?
Internal communications has always been a strong partner to me in any program I’m creating. I really rely heavily on their thought partnership and candor while we're developing programs. I view the collaboration as being two sides of the same coin because Internal and also Executive Communications help push the program boundaries — asking will it be relatable and eventually drive to adoption for our employees?
More recently, I've been working closely with External Communications as part of leading the live and work anywhere program. We now have a responsibility to share our programs with HR colleagues globally — for them to really understand how we're doing this so that they can in turn help their employees to live in travel and work around the world. As I go to conferences, I partner a lot with the Communications team so our messaging is unified on the internal and external fronts. We live in a world where you have to make sure that you're messaging is consistent.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in your field?
It really comes down to having the ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is more important because of the unknown circumstances which all of us have had to face over the past two and a half years since the world turned upside down on us.
With that comes the importance of having continued resilience to try new things, learning from mistakes and being okay if it's not perfect the first time you try it. That mindset of not having a playbook from the start and creating it as you go will really help you succeed and thrive.
How do you continue learning about your field?
When I’m working on a project, I’m in an obsessively passionate mode. I geek out and really want to study a topic and learn all about it. I'm also a big fan of podcasts. I like to listen to understand the macroeconomic conditions and the volatility around us. The All-In podcast is one of my favorites — they describe themselves as “Industry veterans, degenerate gamblers & besties Chamath Palihapitiya, Jason Calacanis, David Sacks & David Friedberg cover all things economic, tech, political, social & poker.” I've been following Redefining HR with Lars Schmidt, Founder offor a long time too. It’s a great show for people leaders.
What else would you our community to know about your field?
You don't have to grow up in HR to be a good HR professional. I would encourage people who are interested in the profession like myself to take the plunge and jump in because at the end of the day no matter what profession you’re working in, you have to be a good people leader to drive your teams productivity and success.
Thank you for reading The Switchboard. ☎️ Every edition is personally curated by me — Julia Levy. Learn more about why I write. Review the Index of past posts.
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This is a great read. Really resonate as a digital nomad : )