Head of Operations at Airbnb says rolesharing boosts skill sets company wide

Head of Operations at Airbnb says rolesharing boosts skill sets company wide

Industry: Tech
Interesting to: Employers & Candidates

E3 S2 - Talk Roleshare Podcast
"I think the benefit would be you have, diverse and complementary skillsets."

- Q Hamirani, Head of People Operations, Airbnb

Hear about the future of roles from "Q" Hamirani, Head of People Ops at Airbnb. Why skills agility, and sharing roles for cross pollination is a part of their employee experience and hyper growth strategy.

Episode Transcript

Sophie Smallwood: Hey, this is Talk with Roleshare, I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roleshare.com.

Today we talk with Q Hamirani. The Head of People Operations at Airbnb? He shares with us interesting insights on his future of work vision, how Airbnb focuses on agile skills and a twist on role sharing. It's great to talk with you today. I read an article recently about how Airbnb is laser focused on employee experience. And I'd love to understand how your role impacts that.

Q Hamirani "Q": Yeah, sure. So I've been with Airbnb for about seven months now and I'm leading up the people operations function. And one of my main goals at Airbnb is how do we ensure that. It's twofold. One is how do we build our programs for operations in terms of HR operations, to ensure that we're not sacrificing the employee experience in the process. Because typically, as you build things for scale, you tend to make it a little less personalized because you have to deal with so many more individuals. So really setting up all the programs from scratch. Operations in HR at Airbnb has not typically had a strong focus because we haven't had the critical mass yet, which we have recently in the past few years, and we're going to continue to grow.

How do we bring efficiencies without growing our own ops headcount to match the hypergrowth we are in? And then simultaneously, on the talent front, how do we motivate the HR ops groups to understand that they can do a variety of tasks within. If we just keep the HR hat on for a second, within HR there are multiple hats, if you talk about a very myopic vision of role sharing, how do individuals in the operations function get exposure to a variety of roles in HR just by being in ops? So it could be benefits, comp, recruiting, because ops touches all those pieces. And really building a career progression map for this is how you could do multiple roles while you're in ops, and then this prepares you for a role in HR or outside HR, because shared services and operational frameworks and HR are relatively new. When I say new maybe in the last five to 10 years, but it's been a focus in HR. But it's not a new concept. It's been leveraged by functions across finance and IT for a while now. So really a kind of cross-pollinating, and a lot of the operational work that we do almost on a day-to-day basis, partners with legal, finance, IT, payroll. So the nature of our role is cross-functional. So how do we make sure we not just collaborate but also think through other functional responsibilities to make sure we are keeping ours intact?

Sophie Smallwood: Interesting. Are you seeing that as a trend today that people are looking to share a role with someone to get exposure to different parts of the business?

Q: Yes, I am.

So prior to Airbnb I was at Jones Lang Lasalle. Very very big scale, my shared service for HR was 60 people. So I had to figure out how do I motivate them and give them cross experiences. I think one of the things we talked about that I'm focusing more on as I build not just a career framework, but also onboard new employees into hiring into the ops framework, is I think the key is really to..., one of the extreme points of view, which I do believe in is a futuristic job description is not really what you need to do today. It's you have the learning agility. Are you adaptable? Are you willing to just jump in an ambiguous situation and figure it out? Because I think truly one of the perks of being in an operational type role is if we just talked in HR operations just about what we did in HR, we would never be successful. So, yes, it's probably an informal role sharing, but we have to think through what finance needs, what payroll needs, what legal needs. On a personal note really quick, so I'm an electrical engineer, I did electrical engineering in undergrad. I worked in financial operations for five years. The global strategy with Aon for a few years, run my own companies.

And then I landed in HR for the last eight years. And one of the things that I've learned is, it's because I had non HR experience through my career is why I'm so successful in HR. I think that's kind of telling on breaking down the silos, if you will, on your expertise within a function, or even within a group, or within a company to a large extent, where you need those experiences. And the only way you can do that in a non-linear fashion, like I ended up doing all my career, is promoting it sooner in terms of your responsibility to manage finance and HR operations, just as an example, or finance and HR and payroll systems, because we are all on the same system. So I think traditionally, it's been a little hard because leaderships have been functionalized by an area of focus and obviously, the traditional way of aligning budgets, aligning priorities and goals, and they don't always synergize. So I think one of the future of work is just going to be how do we just look for the person who has all the agility dimensions vs. having a core skillset on processing something that we do today, that may change significantly tomorrow.

Sophie Smallwood: What you're saying around agility reminds me a bit of the immune system. I read somewhere recently that people who have diverse backgrounds, have stronger immune systems. In this case, diverse exposure to different roles or skills would make you stronger inside of a company. Makes sense to me. So when I initially reached out to you -- we're a startup Roleshare, we're the smart matching site for people who want to share roles -- what was it about what we're doing that intrigued you?

Q: I think initially it's just thinking out-of-the-box and not just thinking out-of-the-box, but like thinking futuristic and in an area that typically has been ignored for lack of a better word. And the way, I operate is I try to think similarly. And I'm also involved in a lot of HR tech startups, both on strategic advising capability and also just keeping my eye out there. So it just aligned with, A. I was intrigued by what you guys are trying to do because having a contingent workforce, to your point earlier, the gig economy becoming more and more a significant portion of the workforce for a company. We have to factor how they operate, how they work, and not a lot of emphasis is typically based on that kind of population. So I was just intrigued, and role sharing just given my background, have worked in four different functions, and landed in HR for the last eight years. I've seen it firsthand and I was just intrigued and wanted to talk more and see what I could learn from what you guys are doing and what I can show from my experiences.

Sophie Smallwood: Great. So we think one of the main benefits of sharing a role, and the way traditionally share was we discussed, it's about two people who are looking for extra career flexibility, whatever the reason behind the need for that flexibility. They want exposure to different parts of the business. That could be the flexibility they want. Or it could be that actually they just want more time to do other things that are completely different passions outside of work. So the "why" is up to the individual. But we believe that it's also a really great way to bring in workforce diversity, at varying levels of organizations. And whereas in the past you, when you were putting a role out on LinkedIn and looking to fill it, you might have only individuals who are looking for full time roles. And so there's a whole pool of candidates out there that you can't touch because they're not looking for full time. And so this helps drive diversity. But I would love to get your take on vision and see if we were to look forward five years from now.

Q: So I think the vision would be to have kind of two dimensions. One is the traditional dimension influx more into the population, like you said, in terms of having someone who has not run a function, who has no experience in an area, and giving them the opportunity to do that, that has something that's not new, but it's not necessarily being done well. And a lot of organization, meaning promoting internal mobility, giving them the platform to say, OK, you can do another project, but it's going to take time. So it's not like we're not going to factor in when you do it, but we'll just say you do it. And then the other pieces, I think just promoting part time work options for individuals. And I think it's probably being done now at organizations more on a reactive level. So, for example, if someone has been in an organization for long and they have a different motivation, then it's entertained because of the kind of institutional knowledge that person has developed. I think where we need to head is doing that on the front end as well to recognize that the more diverse skill sets you have.

So if you have multiple Part-Time folks versus one, that automatically in my mind is diverse skillsets because each individual is different in the way they think and the way they would have applied their skillsets. I think that's why we need to focus on. And I think we have to figure out in terms of the recruiting cycle, how does that impact recruiting? Because obviously then you're potentially looking at additional, exponential recruiting capacity. So I think that's something that organizations have to figure out in terms of how do you invest on the front end if you want to kind of promote that flexibility? And then the third dimension is just contingent, the gig economy. How do they fit into this whole picture? Often, they fit in on, again, a reactive basis on the need for work being done.

Yes, they're part of the gig economy. They may not be employees, but they could add equal or more value than in terms of skill sets and what we can do to progress. So how do you integrate that workforce into simple things like team meetings? I've been at organizations where the gig economy or the contingent workforce hasn't been included in any team meetings for multiple reasons that are complexities on that do so. I'm not saying that's straight up the right answer, but how do you give them enough context so they can add value and feel engaged and then promote that sharing? So I think we have a long way to go in general, not for Airbnb specifically, but as organizations. I think Airbnb typically does a better job than a lot of my prior companies in the sense where we look at the agility piece when we are promoting internal mobility or if individuals are seeking out other roles because of the nature of us being an hypergrowth. Right. So a function that may exist today didn't exist a year ago.

So it's not like you're trying to move to a function that existed, it's growing. So everyone gets that. So I think that's where we need to go. But there is some work to be done not just in HR, but across the organizations to say, "yes, I'm in I'm in this function and I'm going to support it." And that really comes at the leadership level, all buying into the fact that this is good for our business. In the long run, we will do this collectively because what sometimes ends up happening is one group will do it, the other group doesn't really see the benefit and won't do it, and that's not the best use of it either.

Sophie Smallwood: I understand Airbnb has healthy employee benefits packages, but I really like what you said around proactive versus reactive approaches to flexible work. And I'm curious what you think it will take to get to a proactive approach on all flexible work options.

Q: How do we make sure the people managers, who are a critical piece in the workforce management, how are they geared and equipped to make sure that when someone's going out on leave, or has a different priority or wants to do something different? How do we approach that in a kind of non-traditional sense? Because the traditional is "oh they need to do something else. I just need some someone full time or this won't work for me and we should figure out a different solution" to some extent. How do we equip people, managers to say, "these are the benefits, these are what you should be doing, this is what you should help them because of their goals?" Because at the end of the day, we are in an economy. They are in the world, I should say. Where if you don't factor in what the individual is voicing to us in terms of their preference and personal situation, they're eventually going to feel disengaged because they're not going to feel the sense of belonging and commitment from leadership to them. Right. And all this hinges on the traditional thing, which is still really important is it's a two -ay street between the organization and leadership, really working with the workforce to make them feel engaged and belong in any scenario that they bring across. So I think we have, like a lot of organizations, potentially just work to do on how do we make sure we help our managers be more equipped. And then, you know, I think in general, we're very, very flexible. We talked even about the smaller things like work from home. You know, it sounds very basic. But, you know, I have worked in organizations, but they don't work from home. Those are those are become necessities today. So we do a good job at Airbnb.

But when you think of the overall ecosystem, you know, working from home, allowing it is one thing, but how do we give them the tools and skillset? So if they are working from home, both the individual and the manager, they can stay connected. So there's multiple dimensions. I think that this has to kind of play out together to promote just the ability to be flexible in conjunction with getting new experiences in conjunction with making sure that they get the right support to do it, because it's one thing to saying to it and it's another making sure that they're successful when they choose to do it.

Sophie Smallwood: Ok, so you need technology in order to properly enable flexible working, including role sharing. The good news is that there are a ton of software tools out there today that didn't exist in the years previously. So this is all perfect timing. Let me ask you, what is the first word that pops to mind when I say job sharing or role sharing?

Q: Cross pollination. That's two words, but that's what comes to mind.

Sophie Smallwood: So job sharing has been around for a while, about 40 percent of the fortune. One hundred top companies offer it as a perk, but adoption inside of those companies is still relatively low. Why do you think that is?

Q: I think it's twofold. One is I think today's organization. If you look at the traditional organization that, you know, maybe a Fortune 500, it's very set up in a way where the top down the way the organization are set up are relatively siloed for lack of a better word. Each organization has very specific goals. They have very specific priorities. And I think that's what drives the overall kind of motivation on what they are focused on. So it's not, I don't think it's to the extent where people don't want to support it. I think they are just naturally based on the org structures of organizations, fairly tunnel visioned to some extent on their own function. And this is why I think even to support this and to make it happen, it has to start out almost like the role sharing, not just the concept, but actually the practical aspect of it. It needs to start at the leadership level and kind of propagate its way. Because otherwise you just end up hitting conflicting priorities. I think the traditional or the org structure of an organization has played a big piece in how they would support it and how they would cross collaborate to help facilitate cross pollination.

Sophie Smallwood: What you said earlier around senior leaders leading by example and sharing roles themselves, I think is really important when it comes to driving adoption. Instead of a company leading inspiration, champion communities are extremely important. And within that community, you need to make sure you have a representative sample of the organization. Obviously, senior leaders are critical piece of that. I understand today Airbnb does not offer the ability for two people to share a role formally. Is this something you would offer in the future, perhaps?

Q: I think we'll have to over time. I think both Airbnb being on the cutting edge of just people practices and experiences. We do some amazing stuff here, which is what attracted me to come here. I think we will have to do it over time because I think that's where the workforce is going. I think multiple experiences and having just not even within a company, multiple companies maybe at a time, or your own company and another company is kind of where the workforce, not just workforce, where people are going. And I think we'll have to over time.

Sophie Smallwood: So let's say tomorrow Airbnb decides to formally offer the ability to share roles. What do you think the challenges would be?

Q: How do we make sure we continue to be collaborative and efficient? Because sometimes one of the things is you could have two people in their role working different schedules. But the projects move so quick, the organization changes so quick that that might be a tough challenge to keep up, from my perspective. So I think that will be a big one on, "Yes doing it." But how do you make sure while you're doing it, you're not causing too much disruption because there is value in and having someone do something continuously for a period if we keep the rest of the dimensions aside for a second.

Sophie Smallwood: From a recruiting perspective, what are some of the things you would need to consider for candidates who want to share a role?

Q: I think clearly from a recruiting capacity, it sounds like when you're looking at two candidates and pushing them through versus one, or just multiple in the roleshare, you're going to need more recruiting capacity is my thought process on evaluating the roles. Making sure they're kind of not just recruiting capacity, even interview capacity and overall capacity. And in an environment where we're in hypergrowth and we need to hire a lot and we are already over capacity from a recruiting standpoint, I think that makes it challenging.

Sophie Smallwood: And operationally speaking, what are some of the things you would need to consider?

Q: Making sure that we have the capacity to onboard to hire them in our systems to make sure all the other capacities that are needed essentially to funnel more people through, even though they are doing the same job, that still if two people join our firm today or one, you know, we have to make sure they go through our onboarding intense onboarding process so that team needs to be at capacity. So there's just a pipeline thing, because I think if you have two or three people doing a role, you have to make sure that they are embedded in the culture and they're on board at exactly the same way to make sure that our overall DNA is preserved.

Sophie Smallwood: And what do you think the benefits might be from day one?

Q: I think the benefit would be you have, diverse and complementary skillsets. But I think the flip side of that is also, the biggest thing I've learned working in HR is people are different. And how people synergize and collaborate with each other is somewhat unpredictable.

Sophie Smallwood: Sure. Yeah, that makes sense. Now, Airbnb probably has queues of qualified candidates waiting to join your organization. How accommodating do you need to be to your existing employees to keep them engaged?

Q: I was just going to say, you know, the folks that go through our recruiting process and our part of our organization go through a very, very stringent recruiting process, not just on skills, but we have a culture fit. We have core value evaluations, but we have people that are specifically trained, that are volunteers in our current organization to evaluate on fits. So people that have made it into our organization, they're in for a reason that we believe that they are aligned with us, and we've done a lot of pre-work to make sure that happens. So our focus is always on making sure that irrespective of there's a long line out the door, we have to make sure that we kind of keep them engaged, be it through internal mobility, be it through role sharing options, flexible work. That is a focus. And I honestly think that should be a focus for any organization. I think just relying on external candidates only or thinking they could fill it all the time is a lot. From my perspective I don't think that's a healthy organization.

Sophie Smallwood: And that was Q Hamirani, the Head of People Ops at Airbnb? I found his approach to looking at agility skills when searching for talent quite refreshing. I was also intrigued to hear they consider role sharing as a way to give exposure to individuals in different parts of the business. Thanks for listening and join us for the next episode of Talk with Roleshare.

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