Through this entire fellowship, I have never once felt unsure about a company until now. In every single case, I have had a definitive view about my experience at the firm; I loved Google in Pittsburgh, thought that I could never work at Ernst & Young, was inspired by Everyday Cafe, and so on. Airbnb, however, left me unsure of whether I loved or hated their work environment.
First, let me say that I love Airbnb as a company; I think that their peer-to-peer system of exchanging goods is one of the most brilliant things ever done in business. My respect for them was only furthered by their explanation of the experience program, the love team, and the steps that they are taking to ensure the safety of their patrons. My consternation came not from any company practices, but instead, from the individual office that we attended. The office encouraged community by making food for their workers and forcing workers to interact with all of their team members. Teams were set up in neighborhoods such that they all sat in the same region of the office; these neighborhoods each had their own unique flavor and personality. Here is where my issue begins: no one has their own desk, and decorations that would normally be placed on a desk are placed on the mantelpieces of the neighborhood.
Now, on the one hand, this sort of methodology can definitely bring a team closer together and form an exceptionally cohesive unit of people. On the other hand, however, I would worry about workers losing their sense of individualism in this sort of environment. Some may argue that losing individualism creates cohesion, I would argue that cohesion is not necessarily the best thing for a team. To use a metaphor, many would see this as mixing together a perfectly blended smoothie; all of the ingredients combine to form a sweet taste that none of the ingredients could form on their own. I see this more like putting a Hawaiian pizza in a blender; all of the ingredients lose their individual properties and just mesh into one nasty glob of sweetened cheese.
In many ways, this is one of the great questions in my mind about running a business. To what extent are employees allowed their own individual freedom and characteristics, and to what degree must they fall in line with the overall business approach? I have a sneaking suspicion that Airbnb’s American offices have a greater level of individual freedom than those in Ireland, as this seems to be company culture in my view. Americans seem to have a stronger belief in the individual than the Irish, and the Irish seem to have a stronger belief in community than Americans do; this certainly shows in the way that each country does business.