In April 2020, Airbnb launched Online Experiences, a new way for people to connect virtually. While many people are taking advantage of these experiences as an opportunity to learn new skills, find a way to connect with friends, or relax and unwind, TiVo’s President and CEO, Dave Shull, saw it as an even bigger opportunity for his employees; an opportunity to give them some much-needed adventure, fun, or calming respite while staying safe at home. With that in mind, he reached out to Airbnb, asking how he could provide Online Experiences for his 1500-person global workforce. Whether employees choose to do the experiences together or with their friends and family, Dave views this as a way for his team to connect with others across the globe. In our Q&A with Dave, he describes how TiVo is embracing virtual technology beyond its core business to help the company and its employees thrive in a virtual work environment.
Airbnb: How would you describe TiVo’s culture?
Dave Shull: TiVo today is a company that has been created by a series of large transformational mergers and some strategic smaller acquisitions. When I came to the company about a year ago, it was important to me to ensure these combined teams felt, and truly became, unified. Fast forward a year and now we all have a strong, focused and cohesive vision for what the company’s all about and where we know we can win. At the very core of TiVo’s culture there’s a powerful heartbeat of innovation and resilience. At the end of the day, we play to win, and we have each other’s backs while doing it. I also encourage everyone to ‘fail fast’. That’s something I’ve shared with many teams during my career – that failure is something that will happen, but let’s quickly absorb key learnings and move on – look ahead and press on. Regardless of what company you might have come from, once you join TiVo, you’re on a single team. I’m very proud of how welcoming and supportive our employees are to everyone who joins. It’s very different than almost any other company I’ve worked with.
Airbnb: What does employee engagement look like at TiVo?
Dave Shull: We have about 1,500 employees in 13 different offices around the world, and like most global companies, there are always challenges when it comes to creating a feeling of employee unification. Before COVID-19, I spent a lot of time traveling around the world to our regional offices and made a habit of joining colleagues for dinner and drinks. Having lived in Europe and Asia in the past, I understand the importance of spending quality time with employees and building strong relationships with our global workforce. I believe it’s important that our senior leadership of the company do the same, connecting directly with their teams. Given the global crisis we’re in, none of that travel is possible, which makes virtual connection and experiences more important than ever. We’ve had to rethink how we work, engage, and keep spirits lifted, so we can continue to feel like one team.
Airbnb: What are some of the challenges you’re experiencing as you’re trying to support your employees during COVID-19?
Dave Shull: Like many companies, one of our biggest challenges is how to effectively communicate, engage, and inform our teams. We’ve taken the route of overcommunication with an online informational hub, a dedicated social channel and more, to make it very easy for employees to find important and timely information about our COVID-19 response, plus access to things like charitable match forms, charity lists, family fun guides, and the Airbnb Online Experiences offer we’ve extended, to name just a few. Another important challenge is simply taking the time to acknowledge our humanity and recognizing that given this crazy environment, where we’re all working remotely and social distancing, everyone now has unique situations at home. When teleconferencing, we’re seeing inside each other’s homes, which have also become our offices, schools and gyms. My daughter, who’s six, keeps running into my conference calls, but you just have to embrace it. Things happen. Kids are going to scream, dogs are going to bark, people will be wearing baseball caps – the list goes on – and everyone needs to just roll with it – and keep it fun.
Airbnb: Have you implemented any new activities, like virtual happy hours?
Dave Shull: Many of our teams have initiated after-hours virtual gatherings. During the workday, I’m encouraging managers to inject more levity and fun into meetings; like suggesting people add interesting backdrops to their video conferences, wear crazy or sentimental hats, play a short word game, and the like. I want everyone to know that it’s ok to take some time to connect as human beings before jumping into business. Additionally, we started a Slack channel designed for socializing with coworkers and sharing tips, tricks, and more general information about how they’re coping with the pandemic and working from home. And, of course, we’re now offering every employee a chance to enjoy an Online Experience with Airbnb.
We’re also encouraging our employees to embrace and help their neighbors and local communities. We’re fortunate that our business is doing well, but so many others in our communities are struggling. It’s important that our employees feel like they can help others. From India, to San Jose, to New York, the challenges are very, very different. We’ve more than doubled the number of paid volunteer days for employees and provided lists of charities where virtual volunteering is possible, and we also have doubled the charitable match dollar amount that the company will cover. It’s a top priority to make sure we’re all helping our communities, because thus far, we have been fortunate.
Airbnb: That leads me to my next question. Why did you decide to give your employees credit to spend on Airbnb Online Experiences?
Dave Shull: A friend sent me a great baking set so my kids could make gingerbread cookies. It got me thinking…maybe we could do something similar for our employees, especially ones with kids. I was looking around for gift cards but that wasn’t going to achieve quite what I was hoping for. Then I saw a LinkedIn post about how Airbnb was offering virtual experiences. What an ingenious idea and an amazing way to enable families to share new experiences and make lifelong memories. We immediately reached out to Airbnb and that was the beginning of this fantastic effort. We shared the information about Online Experiences in an all-hands call and publicized it online, and within hours we had dozens of people reach out and ask how to get started. I’ve received a great deal of unsolicited positive feedback saying things like, “My husband and I did a meditation in Japan with a Buddhist monk and it was incredible.” There are so many interesting experiences to choose from and everyone’s incredibly excited about it.
Airbnb: What are some of the trends you’re seeing in the online content space?
Dave Shull: During this difficult time where many Americans are sheltering at home, we saw close to a 60% increase in terms of usage across all of the TiVo platforms. During the first few weeks of the stay at home orders, we saw 600% increases on titles like “Pandemic” and “Contagion.” What you’re seeing is people discovering more and more different sources of entertainment content. I think there’s going to be even more of a proliferation of different types of content, and people have the time now to explore, so they’re going to need the right tools to make sure that can quickly and easily find what they want. We did some consumer research during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) timeframe, which showed that on average, people use more than seven video streaming apps per household, which is pretty astonishing. But when you look at your phone and add Facebook Live, Instagram, Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Peacock and Disney+, it’s like, wow, it adds up pretty quickly. So how do you pull all of that together and provide a unified way to find, watch, and enjoy the shows and movies you want regardless of which service hosts them? That’s exactly what our newest product, TiVo Stream 4K, delivers. It’s unlike any other streaming solution in market today. With Stream 4K, streaming content feels a lot more like watching television. Less scrolling, more watching.
Airbnb: What’s a piece of advice would you give other leaders on how to manage during this time?
Dave Shull: I think the biggest thing is communication. It’s doing Zoom calls with 700 people at a time and making them fun and interactive. It’s simple things like sharing stories about your own work-from-home challenges and just being human and recognizing we’re all in this together. The virus doesn’t care about title, the virus doesn’t care about country or politics. Being so open and transparent about that is really encouraging to employees; we’re all in this together and the company’s here to help pull all of us through to make sure that we win together.
Airbnb: Do you have any leadership advice you’ve received that you feel like you’re plugging into even more now?
Dave Shull: My favorite boss was a gentleman who was pretty old school; he’d wear a suit and tie. When I first saw him, I thought, this is going to be a terrible relationship because I only wear a suit and tie if I’m at a wedding or a funeral. But he was amazing. He could make the really tough business decisions, but then he’d go out to the call centers of the company and he would sing, he would dance, he would cry with the employees. He had this amazing humanity tied to strong strategic decisions. It’s like, all right, how do I plug into that and learn from that so that it’s really service-based leadership; that’s inspiring to me.
Airbnb: Anything else you’d like to share?
Dave Shull: I’d like to reemphasize the global nature of what Airbnb is offering; it’s pretty rare. To find a global offering like this where people can connect with others around the world and immerse themselves in a shared experience – I think it’s pretty cool, and we’re all really looking forward to engaging with the platform.
About Airbnb Online Experiences for companies:
Airbnb Online Experiences offer an array of options for work colleagues who want to reconnect and bond through team activities like making coffee with a professional coffee taster or meditating with a Buddhist monk. Online Experiences provides features for groups looking to celebrate birthdays or get-togethers with the option for private booking and specific date requests. To learn how your organization can participate with Online Experiences visit airbnb.com/online-experiences to contact us.