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Game-changer: Australia’s most successful tech company has launched a huge remote work plan

Breakfast and lunch are supplied. Image: Supplied

Australian software juggernaut Atlassian has announced a massive plan to encourage remote working, following studies confirming the productivity dividends of flexible work.

The decision comes after an internal survey finding nearly all (95 per cent) of Atlassian employees would be willing to change their work practices if they could work remotely.

And when Atlassian recruited for a fully remote team for the first time earlier this year, it found a 25 per cent increase in interest compared to Sydney-based roles.

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“We consider ourselves to be very much in the learning phase but definitely our goal is to make this a global remote program for the company,” global head of talent Bek Chee told Yahoo Finance.

While the sheer magnitude of the plan is notable, the move to meet workers’ needs is one straight out of the classic Atlassian playbook.

It’s the company that provides breakfast and lunch but no coffee because it wants workers to get outside and go for a chat.

The average Atlassian worker already works in several different workspaces around the office. The open-plan office has exposed ceilings and live plants to encourage creativity, and walking meetings are encouraged to get people moving.

But all of these elements which contribute to make Atlassian one of the best places to work in Australia have come about due to massive amounts of research.

How did they decide to do this?

As Chee explained, Atlassian isn’t interested in running before it can walk.

“Individual productivity, as you can imagine, is a really positive thing.”

“We did a bunch of research [when looking at remote work], both externally and internally and one of the most important things that we found – that’s no surprise to anyone who’s been trying to do remote – is there’s a ton of benefits,” Chee said.

“In particular, individual productivity, as you can imagine, is a really positive thing.”

The average remote worker gains as much as a day’s extra productivity in a week.

But at a team level, productivity can slump by as much as 30 per cent.

“How do you make sense of that? How do you decide when and how to implement it?”

Atlassian’s approach has been to watch other companies’ attempts to launch similar programs and learn from their success and their mistakes.

And, critically, Atlassian’s program will not see all staff go remote.

Rather, teams and individuals will be assessed to see who is best-suited to remote work, whether that’s part-time remote work, flexible remote work or full-time remote work.

“The good news is that we have a lot of internal interest on this topic so we’re certainly not having to force anyone’s hand at wanting to go through the assessment,” Chee said.

“The goal is that we do establish some activity and movement in Sydney first and see how much activity we’re getting.

“We know the demand is there and it’s just a matter of, truthfully, just being really thoughtful about it. There have been some other examples of companies who, we would say implemented a little hastily, and had to pull back on remote. We don’t want to be in that situation.”

Hasty implementation is one of the biggest barrier to remote programs’ success, Chee noted.

Communication and loneliness

But the other major hurdle is communication, and by extension, loneliness.

“At the end of the day, even if you figure out all of the practical things that need to be true for us to go remote, if any individual on the team is feeling not part of the team or is feeling frustrated in the collaboration side of things, then it doesn’t work,” Chee acknowledged.

Remote isn’t for everybody: “Some people have different social needs.”

But there are ways around this. Workers obviously don’t need to go completely remote or remote at all if it doesn’t work for them.

And even small process tweaks can make a difference.

“At the end of the day, even if you figure out all of the practical things that need to be true for us to go remote, if any individual on the team is feeling not part of the team or is feeling frustrated in the collaboration side of things, then it doesn’t work.”

For example, during meetings between remote and non-remote workers, all workers will use the cameras and screens on their individual laptop, rather than a meeting room camera.

“It democratises the space and it makes sure that everyone is having that same laptop experience,” Chee said.

“So, that’s something we’ve seen work really well because then there’s not one person on a laptop with four people who are having an office chat. Instead, everybody’s experiencing remote.”

People know the benefits and are increasingly demanding more flexibility in the workplace.

But just because workers want it doesn’t mean the process is easy or even right all the time.

“We’re really trying to take a very realistic look at this and, a metaphor someone on my team used that I’ll borrow is, that we sort of think of like a family.

“So, if someone in your family decided to move to another country, you have to make sure that it works for that person but, ultimately, if your mum moves away, that affects the whole family, right? It affects dad, it affects the kids.”

This is the driving message of the move, Chee emphasised.

“If you’re gonna move someone to a remote situation or have them be working remote, it doesn’t just affect that person. You really has to make sure the whole team is able to adapt to that.

“We’re all about teams and we’re certainly not going to compromise the quality and health of the team.”

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