Figuring out how ‘work from anywhere’ will work: a conversation with Ross Chippendale, Head of Workplace Technology at Atlassian

A few weeks ago Atlassian announced it would only be asking employees to go into the office four times a year. It’s their latest step in pushing the philosophy of flexible working forward and seems like a good point to share my recent conversation with Ross Chippendale, who is Head of Workplace Technology at Atlassian.

Ross talks about the changes he’s seen in the last 12 months, as well as some of the practical questions that are emerging for the companies leading the charge with flexible working.

What’s the last year been like for you as Head of Workplace Technology at Atlassian?

Obviously everyone’s world has changed, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in it’s probably been turned on its head. For me, working from home has been a big change in my life. Even though I’m a bit of an introvert, when it comes to work, the office is all I’ve known. Work has always been work and home has been home, I’ve kept the two largely separate.

Prior to working at Atlassian I worked for Macquarie Bank and I always enjoyed the corridor conversations. I used to joke that the busiest meeting rooms were the stairways. That’s all gone away and I definitely feel like my loose network affiliations have broken down slightly in this remote world. Those first, second and third level contacts that I used to be able to recall straightaway, I have to reach a little bit harder for their names and what they do these days.

But working within a very dynamic and tech driven company is obviously an advantage. Before Covid-19, we already had a 20% remote workforce which meant we had a lot of infrastructure in place and it was really a matter of, in the simplest terms, turning it up so 100% of staff can be remote. We’re 99% cloud-based tech so it was fairly simple from a technology perspective, but it had never been tested before.

Then you’ve got other things like hiring. Since Covid-19 began we’ve hired over 1,000 people in all kinds of far-flung places across the world and they need to get laptops just like the next person, get up to speed with their managers and get set up as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The importance of employee wellbeing has grown more significant. Atlassian have always been renowned for that, but I think we’re even more aware of the value you can get back from taking the time to find out how your employees are, what they need and then providing it.

All of these challenges have been fascinating. They’ve created new opportunities, partnerships and many new technologies are emerging.

Atlassian have made headlines with the ‘work from anywhere’ policy. Can you tell us how it’s changing the organisation?

The work from anywhere approach is just starting to be realised. Now we’re looking at how we do it, we’re discovering some new questions and thinking about the practicalities.

For example, in a world where video conferencing has replaced face-to-face meetings, the need for new ways of doing things has become clear. If one person is working in Melbourne and the rest are in Sydney, to ensure everyone is on equal footing the work from anywhere mandate requires that if one person dials in all must dial in. This means if you’re in the office you take a meeting at your desk or you find a meeting room and dial into it. Most of our offices, and most of the offices of other companies I talk to, aren’t set up for this. We’ve been used to a very different style of working and now we have to pivot fairly quickly so that spaces are set up appropriately.

We also went through a phase of looking at where people can work legally. There are a whole bunch of considerations from a taxation and salary point of view. If you’re employed in one country and working in another, that has major tax implications. And what do you pay someone who works out of one place versus another person working out of another? If I was to hire someone in Adelaide I would probably pay them less than I’d be paying them in Sydney. That’s driven by things like cost of living, but at the same time the upside of that is I can now hire someone in Adelaide and fly them over a few times a year to meet people. Whereas before that wasn’t an option, so it’s opened up a massive pool of talent globally that we probably didn’t have access to before.

It’s bold during a time of forced experimentation to say this is how we’re going to do it forever. I’m very interested in what’s next.

What trends do you see continuing as more companies take on working from anywhere?

Security and collaboration are already big trends, but they’ll be more accelerated.

There’s also a question of identity for office spaces – we’re seeing a clear delineation between people who want to go back to the office and those who’ve never been happier working from home. Somewhere in the middle is the happy place that the office needs to cater for.

But there’s no offical workplace anymore, there are just places you happen to work. With this in mind, a lot of tech will focus on video conferencing and improving the ability to collaborate. People will want to feel a lot more involved without actually being in an office.

From a security point of view, it’s about tackling the challenges of being remote. I can’t control someone’s Wi-Fi network, but I can control their endpoint. So I have to be able to manage the content and access that people have to work with, then I don’t have to worry about the fact they’re at a café and the café could hacked – because that endpoint is protected.

Lastly, working remotely means there can be a temptation to stay permanently logged on. So it’s important to shift the focus from productivity to effectiveness. It starts with asking how we can do things that actually matter. It’s one thing to be busy, but what’s important is to be effective with our time.

We are witnessing many different variations of ‘working from anywhere’ as companies try out new ways of working and creating new and innovative workplace solutions. Employers that want to attract and retain the highest quality employees need to demonstrate flexibility like never before.

If you would like a confidential discussion about which solutions are working well for employers, as well as which are not, contact Phil Davis, Managing Director, Q Consulting Group on 0404 803 609 or at phil.davis@qconsultinggroup.com.au