‘Create disruptions’: Why Atlassian’s Dom Price has no work routine
Atlassian work futurist Dom Price doesn’t have a daily routine.
In fact, he doesn’t even have a weekly routine.
Instead, he has a ritual he performs every Friday: he designs what the upcoming work week will look like.
“I reckon I do 40, 45 hours a week – but I’m not doing nine to five, Monday to Friday,” he told Yahoo Finance.
“I think for a lot of knowledge workers … the work that you do is quite uncertain and volatile, that you always need to be on 24-7, but also you can’t physically work 24-7.
“But I’m not a production line,” he said.
“So I vary my week – I design it on purpose and make sure I turn up in person, or virtually, to things where I’m working with teammates.”
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It’s been one of the few major lessons he’s learnt since the coronavirus pandemic forced everyone into a remote work model.
Atlassian’s entire workforce was able to transition within the span of 48 hours, benefiting from a culture of flexible working already ingrained at the tech giant.
Yet lessons had to be learnt even for the work futurist, who attempted at first to copy and paste his office-based working week to his new home-based routine. But with Price’s high energy levels and huge appetite for socialising, he quickly realised spending hours alone in his lounge wasn’t going to work.
“The idea of every single day, waking up and coming into the same desk, same chair, same everything – that routine starts to chip away [at you],” he said.
“I have to create my own disruptions to have that variety.”
A day in the life of Dom
Now, Price challenges every single one of his meetings (“I’m not against it,” he said. He simply asks: “What’s my purpose? What role am I playing here?”).
Of the meetings that do remain, he converts at least one of them a day into phone calls, which frees him up to take walks around his local neighbourhood in Neutral Bay.
“It took Covid for me to use my phone as a phone. I don’t think I’ve actually rung anyone on my phone for years,” he said.
“I put my earbuds in, and I just do a lap around the block, and I walk and talk. It gives my eyes a rest, gives my brain a rest – it’s just a different medium.”
A typical day for him might involve meetings during a long morning stroll, or catching up with colleagues for a coffee in person.
Once the afternoon is done and dusted, Price has a ‘commute’ to mark the end of the business day. He closes his laptop, makes a cup of tea, puts on some music and sits on his balcony to enjoy the sunset. When he steps back in, his lounge room is no longer the ‘office’ it was just moments ago.
Thinking about ‘now’
Aside from his routine, the pandemic has also changed the nature of his job. The problems Price is trying to solve for clients that were once hypotheticals – trying to predict what ‘work’ might look like, five years from now – have been fast-tracked to the present.
“No one wants to hear about three years’ time. I can’t sit anyone down and go, ‘let’s have a chat about 2025’,” he said.
Once upon a time, Price’s job was to help businesses go from strength to strength. Then the pandemic hit, and the core focus became about just surviving. “The world changed around you. We just need to get by.”
“Instead of talking three or five years out, we’re talking three or six months out.
“But it’s the same things that are changing: your people, your practices, your technology, and your physical work environment. Same four things, just a way shorter time horizon.”
More than ever, Atlassian has become the guinea pig for testing out and perfecting work solutions internally, before they're brought to clients.
And is there some secret or magic trick the US $51 billion Australian tech unicorn has up its sleeve?
“The reality is there aren’t any best practices for what we’re going through right now, because it’s never happened before,” he said.
“And that's the danger. A lot of people are going looking for the answer. I think the best thing to do is just even agree that we've got the same question. And then we need to work out that we need to find the answer together – we need to go and discover it.”
One-size-fits-all doesn’t exist
The other part of Price’s job is to work with clients from various industries to help them make the same transition, from corporate heavyweights to small businesses.
At major Australian companies that have tens of thousands of employees, the problems are a little different to the once-upon-a-time software start-up of just two.
For one thing, many of the employees at these organisations simply can’t work from home.
“When I look at Telstra or Australia Post, they’ve got a very different workforce than we've got. It's the opposite,” he said.
“How does it work for people whose jobs can’t be done from home?”
“For us to be successful, we need to build even more empathy and understanding of how different companies in different industries are experiencing this.”
When ‘essential workers’ were named at the height of the pandemic, they were care workers, shop workers, delivery drivers. Senior corporate leaders were not among the list, Price noted.
“[They’re] sometimes roles that we don’t pay enough homage to,” he said.
“We've all got a new appreciation for these important roles. And important roles [aren’t] about salary or seniority. It's about impact.”
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