From Airbnb to Peloton, these pandemic-era strategy pivots may stick

September 24, 2020, 8:30 PM UTC

“Pivot” is a word well understood in corporate-speak as a change of course for a business, but the idea has taken on a whole new meaning in 2020.

That’s certainly what leaders who spoke at Fortune’s MPW Summit conference on Thursday have found in their own endeavors. Be it pivoting overnight to build online “Experiences” at Airbnb or shifting an entire election conference to go virtual, leaders have had to turn on a dime to meet the new challenges of this environment. But for some, those pivots have actually sparked ideas for how to change things moving forward—even when we’re allowed to congregate in larger numbers again.

More flexibility

For Catherine Powell, the global head of hosting for travel and rental site Airbnb, COVID-19’s impact on travel meant she had to scrap plans during her first two months on the job and quickly switch to offering so-called Experiences, which include things like cooking classes and hiking tours, online instead of in person. While some in-person events are coming back, she believes the company’s new online Experiences “have shown you can actually connect incredibly personally and emotionally” in a virtual setting, while also acknowledging “we’re going to come back to a hybrid world where people are going to need to connect and want that social interaction,” she said at a virtual conference session Thursday. That’s key for Airbnb’s hosts, who are “all about human connection,” says Powell.

But she’s also noticed an uptick in people doing long-term stays in Airbnb homes as they work from home. In the future, “I think people will feel less tethered,” she said. “I think certainly from our point of view, with homes, those who can continue working from home in different places and travel the world will do so.”  

The virtues of virtual

Meanwhile, Stephanie Cutter, the founding partner of Precision Strategies and program executive and producer of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, had a big task ahead of her when the convention had to go remote. “It was ripe for some reinventing, let’s just say that,” Cutter said. Apart from the fact the convention had to switch to a virtual format, Cutter says she used the opportunity as a chance to get more “creative” and make some strategic changes, including shorter segments, more diversity of content (not just candidates speaking into the camera), elements of entertainment, and various formats.

But even in the future when convention halls may well be packed once more, she says there are few things that might work for next time: The virtual format allowed, in some cases, a more “intimate” connection with viewers, Cutter says—something she says they may want to implement next time around. And the idea of incorporating send-in stories from “average Americans” like Brayden Harrington, who shared his journey dealing with a stutter, and Kristin Urquiza, who lost her father to the coronavirus, is something that might stick, says Cutter. In the future, she says, she “would look to find more ways to include real stories of where the country is at that moment.”  

Fewer office hours

As many leaders are finding out, working from home has not meant a slump in productivity. In fact, Dara Treseder, the senior vice president and head of global marketing and communications at workout behemoth Peloton, has found her team has thrived working remotely, even in light of the massive spike in demand Peloton is seeing for homebound workout products. “This time has really shown us the power of flexibility,” Treseder said. So much so that she says she’s asked employees, “When COVID is over, what would you like to see?…Do we actually need anyone to come in five days a week? And our answer has been ‘no.'”

Moving forward, Treseder’s team will come in a few days a week (“We think there’s still benefit in having a few days that everybody comes in for those hallway conversations, for that culture,” she said), but allow for a new world of flexibility without sacrificing productivity.

The benefit of this new approach, Treseder says, is also that it “allows us to tap great talent anywhere, because you don’t have to be in New York City to work at Peloton in marketing anymore,” she said. “It allows us to also open up to more diverse candidates.”

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