On a typical workday last fall, you could find Bay Area resident Bergen Kay at a café in Buenos Aires. As part of Airbnb’s Work from Anywhere program, she and her manager agreed she could do her job leading the tech company’s internal communications from Argentina on West Coast time.
The flexibility allowed her to traverse the mountains, sample the local coffee, and frequent the playgrounds of South America with her husband and their one-year-old son for five months, all while showing up to work.
It sounds like any worker’s dream—especially now, as bosses demand millions of workers show up to the office this fall while employees long for (if not insist upon) flexibility all the same. That’s unlikely to change soon and is worth taking seriously; companies offering flexible schedules and locations grow about twice as quickly as full-time in-person companies, a recent study found.
While some tech companies like Meta and Tesla have pushed for an office return, others like Atlassian, Yelp, and Spotify, have adopted a remote-first model while keeping a handful of headquarter offices open across the globe. Airbnb counts itself among them, permitting employees to work from anywhere—really, anywhere—with no change to their job title or compensation.
“The world is becoming more flexible about where people can work. We see this in our own business. We wouldn’t have recovered so quickly from the pandemic had it not been for millions of people working from Airbnbs,” CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a memo to employees. “If we limited our talent pool to a commuting radius around our offices, we would be at a significant disadvantage.”
Airbnb—naturally—always supported workers’ travels, Kay tells Fortune, but once the plan was implemented, “it opened up this whole world of possibilities.” That was all it took for them to hit the road in South America for five months. “My dream in life was to take my family to live abroad at some point,” Kay says. “I speak Spanish, and I really wanted to take my son to a culture where he could immerse himself in the language.”
And, so, they were Argentina bound.
Flexible work allows for a ‘whole world of possibilities’
Kay and her family started their journey in Brazil, where they’d already been invited to a wedding, before moving to Buenos Aires from mid-October to January. It was their home base from which they investigated South America’s deepest corners, exploring Argentina’s glaciers and Mendoza wine country, swimming along Uruguay’s beaches, and even squeezing in a hiking trip in Patagonia—all while Kay worked.
She was initially nervous about balancing family time with her new work hours. But it helped that her husband took a break in between jobs, giving him flexibility to take on some childcare duties. Her new 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. work hours also helped, allowing her to start her day with an “intentional focus” on her family and end around the time most Argentinians are sitting down for dinner.
She also prioritized staying in areas with childcare, strong Wi-Fi, and a sense of community that would make her family feel comfortable staying for weeks at a time. Save for some eco-dome accommodations in Patagonia, they exclusively lodged in Airbnbs. “It can feel overwhelming; we were traveling with tons of bags, car seats, travel cribs—there’s a lot of stress that goes into that,” she recalls.
Yet, despite the juggling act, she feels the adventure has made her even better at her job. She says some of her proudest accomplishments of the year happened when she was in Buenos Aires and that “it was easy to keep up,” especially considering her team was already dispersed across the U.S. long before Airbnb made its Work from Anywhere model permanent.
It also helped inform her work running Airbnb’s Ground Control, a team that focuses on employee engagement and creating moments for in-person connection where they make sense. Drawing on her experience, she and her team strategize ways of deepening connections across long distances and also plan optional social gatherings people can go to in core cities. A healthy balance of both—with no hard requirements—is key, she says.
“It was very clear to me what the rules were,” she says of working remotely abroad. “I always understood what was expected of me, and my manager and I communicated very candidly. I never had to question what was needed for me to perform well and contribute back to my team.” That kind of clarity helped Kay be sure she could undertake such ambitious travel plans without jeopardizing her career.
The power of choice
Kay’s experience exemplifies what remote workers have been saying for the past three years—that they feel more productive working from outside the office—or at least when they have the choice (and their managers’ trust) to do so.
Eliminating a commute brings countless lifestyle benefits: No need to buy business clothes, ride the sweaty subway, or live in an extremely pricey city. Additionally, women, on whom much of housework and caregiving responsibilities disproportionately fall, vastly prefer remote work to men. As Annie Dean, VP of Team Anywhere at Atlassian—a software firm with a remote work model nearly identical to Airbnb’s—told Fortune, full flexibility “just appears to be a healthier, happier way to live.” That’s to say nothing of the thousands of airline miles and hotel points you can accrue working abroad, and—if you time it right—all the cultural immersion and sightseeing you can squeeze in without having to take vacation days.
Notably, full flexibility doesn’t mean your coworkers are doomed to remain Zoom avatars forever. Airbnb still encourages its leaders and managers to bring their teams together when they can. “There’s a balance of the flexibility of remote work and also providing the space for people who can connect to do so,” Kays says, adding that her team intentionally comes together a few times throughout the year. “Being able to do that in person is really special, helps us stay really aligned, and brings more energy into our work.”
Right now, Kay and her family are “enjoying being home for a little” in the Bay Area, where she goes into the office every few weeks for in-person connection. But her time in Argentina taught her that she can make strides in any time zone, and she’s already planning her family’s next trip away for next summer—ideally to Maine, because “there’s nothing like Maine in the summer.”
She can’t imagine going back to a company that requires in-office days. “It would be a hard sell,” she says.
“Going into the office is something I still value, because it’s my choice. Seeing people in person is incredible for bonding and collaboration,” she adds. “But having that option to go on an adventure, take my family to explore the world—to be able to do both those things is really something magical, and it gave me a lot of energy that I can put back into my work.”