Expedia is one of the world’s biggest tech-travel companies with revenues of $12bn in 2019. Although this figure has more than halved during the pandemic, the company says booking rates for some key destinations are now touching pre-Covid levels.
The company was founded as recently as 1996, but is already preparing a revolution in its working practice. During the pandemic, Expedia’s people leadership team refined a new hybrid working strategy which will formally go live in January.
Here Stephen Lochhead, Expedia’s senior vice-president of global talent acquisition, talks about the past, present and future of this exciting new policy.
“It’s all about practice now,” Stephen Lochhead says when asked about Expedia’s current state of evolution. The change, he says, has already taken place. Now it’s time to make it work.
The People Team at Expedia have spent months fine-tuning their new hybrid strategy, and are already encouraging their colleagues to adopt the new model. Previously, 75 percent of company employees worked in-office, but now the vast majority will work to a ‘3-2’ split; everyone will be expected to work three days a week in the office.
The new strategy is based on research by three different Expedia teams: people function, real estate and analytics. The analysis, Stephen says, has shown a marked increase in support for hybrid working during the pandemic.
“When these surveys started in April 2020, only 25 percent of our employees were in favour of a hybrid return to work. By September 2020, this had increased to 55 percent and has continued to increase. Employee wishes evolved along with the pandemic itself and it was important that we kept abreast of this.
“We’ve also found that when people have tended to stay away from the office because of the pandemic, they have been working long, intense hours and they have had to juggle work and family. So what we’re saying is that while the flexibility of working from home is a benefit, there’s an overall benefit to the office as well.”
The importance of flexibility
The policy is designed to bend and flex. Stephen and his team are recommending that staff take one of their ‘working from home’’ days on Friday, as their research showed that office attendance prior to Covid was lowest on this day (it was highest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). However, individual employees are free to work from the office if they choose.
At the same time, the 5 percent of staff who were fully remote before the pandemic won’t be forced to give up this arrangement. “If we’re talking about a senior individual contributor who can be very productive in a totally remote environment, they are the people who worked remotely before and they are the ones who are free to continue to work remotely now,” Stephen explains.
Designing for disruption
Many other companies have followed similar paths, of course. Although 77 percent of people expect to work remotely at least part of the week in the new normal, the vast majority will be obliged to visit the office, too. As McKinsey notes, “the future of work is likely to be hybrid.”
What’s interesting about Expedia, however, is the emphasis the company has placed on the office side of the equation. Stephen is certainly a champion of presencial work, believing that “many positive things take place when people are together physically, around productivity and engagement.”
To maximise these potential benefits, each of Expedia’s premises has been designed to foster outside-the-box creativity, taking inspiration from the travel industry. The post-Covid spaces will be anchored not by traditional desks and departments, but flexible spaces which can be moulded to the people using them.
Staff can use pods which are known as ‘phone booths’ and replicate the telephone boxes millions of us have used to make frantic calls home from abroad. Then there are the rooms themed for different cities and countries, a little touch which is supposed to sharpen the focus around each meeting.
“We’ve made an enormous effort to build offices that are not just fit-for-purpose but are also amazing physical spaces to be,” Stephen says. “Looking beyond the buildings themselves, a lot of time and effort is spent with people leaders asking ‘ok, how is it that you have a productive meeting within an inspirational space?’
“There’s loads of open-plan and collaboration spaces. These can be formalised for really big, town-hall-type gatherings where you might want to bring together whole groups or offices, or really nice hub meeting-points to work through different problems in a way that’s different to a traditional meeting room.”
‘Going to town on Slack’
This versatile approach to office work is also evident on the virtual side of the equation.
The new remote collaboration has various facets, from all-hands townhalls to interactive group whiteboarding activities. But everything is underpinned by conversations on Slack, an area where the people leadership team has “really gone to town” in Stephen’s words.
“We’re really encouraging people to create community spaces. It might not be to do with something formal, like the output of a meeting. It might be to do instead with ideations that people have or social connections that people want to make, so they can find out what makes each other tick outside of work.
“A great example of how we use Slack would be ‘guess what, I’ve just tried this with a peer’ or ‘I’ve used this with a peer of mine, it’s worked really well, I just want to ensure I’m sharing it so people can benefit from it.’”