This story was originally seen in ForbesWomen
In Airbnb's early days, scams on sites like Craigslist and VRBO were prolific. So, to build trust, co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia put their art school skills to work taking verified photos of Airbnb listings. This scrappy "do things that don't scale" approach worked. But how do you take something that doesn't scale and make it, well, scale? They looked to operator Talia Page who built a team of remote photographers that stretched around the world. And, by scaling verified photography, Page brought trust— and value—to Airbnb. We sat down with Page to learn how she built Airbnb's verified photography program by tapping into remote talent before that was a thing—and how remote work can help companies build inclusive teams.
Emily Joffrion: How did the verified photography program impact Airbnb's bottom line?
Talia Page: Professional, verified photography showcases the product in it’s best light (literally). But for Airbnb, offering verified photography was so much more than product shots. It showed travelers that the photos were of a real space that they could book without fear of the old bait-and-switch of the early Internet. In a community where strangers share spaces, verified photography builds trust—which in turn grows the business. During my tenure, listings with Airbnb verified photos received on average 2-3 times more bookings than those without them.
Joffrion: What impact did the remote photographers have on the operation’s success, and what role did they play in the company culture?
Page: In the two years that I built and ran the program, we produced around 150,000 shoots. On the production side, I hired an in-house team who recruited, managed and supported our global network of photographers. The vast majority of our photos came from the remote photographers, most of whom my in-house staff never met in person. At Airbnb, there’s an expectation that hosts and guests are trustworthy, reliable and accountable, and that culture extended to the in-house and remote workforce. Everyone on the photo team, regardless of location, was an integral part of the community. They built trust, they produced good work and they were reliable.
Joffrion: What advice do you have for other leaders who aim to rapidly scale operations and profits?
Page: In my experience, access to data, well-engineered tools and a large talent base are the core components to a successful operation. I also contributed to Airbnb’s website translations in multiple languages and I’ve found that those basic operational building blocks are similar across multiple business sectors. Reviewing data on a regular basis is crucial because small things quickly become big things when the goal is rapid scale. You don’t want to wait until you’ve published a million photos to find out if your ideas are working. Well-engineered tools and reporting structures are also a necessary foundation to support a scaling team and the assets they produce.
Joffrion: How do you manage a global workforce?
Page: It depends on the company structure. I’ve lead a global team of full-time employees at a large corporation, remote freelancers at various start-ups and volunteers across 50+ nations for a program that supported a United Nations initiative. There are many ways to leverage remote teams. I believe the most important thing for someone leading a global operation is to hire competent people and understand what motivates them. Maybe it’s the paycheck or the recognition, maybe its how your mission speaks to them or some constellation of several factors. Ultimately, the people you hire need to have the skills to do the job and the desire to see the initiative succeed.
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Joffrion: How does remote work include diverse groups, like working mothers or people of color?
Page: Broadening the pool of candidates allows for more diverse teams, which is an asset. Earlier this year, Forbes published an article showing significant financial returns for companies with gender, racial and ethnic diversity—and a great way to do that is to increase the candidate pool by offering remote work opportunities where possible.
People go remote for a number of different reasons including rising housing costs in major cities, needing to work flexible schedules and the call to adventure. I don't see these as detractors for talent, but rather indicators that I'm building a diverse team that can reach consumers exactly where they are.
Joffrion: How should employers think about working with a remote team? What lessons have you learned about the dos and don’ts?
Page: Do offer remote opportunities if possible. On the employer side, being open to hiring remote staff members comes with quite a few perks: It broadens the talent pool, reduces costs on employee turnover (people who work from home tend to stick around), saves money on office space and encourages a metrics-driven operation. There’s no shortage of data that supports these claims—Stanford Economics professor Nicholas Bloom’sexperiment with Ctrip being one of many.
On the don’t side: don’t forget about team building. Relationships are important and establishing rapport takes different forms with geographical distance. Being physically close in a cubicle setting for eight-plus hours a day is not the only way—or the best way—for teams to bond or collaborate. My advice: put the work metrics first—not the office space.