Businesses should do like Atlassian and tell employees if they can ‘work from home forever’


Atlassian founders Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes.

Atlassian only recently unveiled some impressive, $1 billion-plus plans for its new Sydney-based headquarters, so its recent announcement that staff will be free to work from home forever came as a surprise to some.

But the tech giant will go ahead with the development. It will retain its offices around the world too, while allowing staff the ability to choose where they want to work.

The ‘work from home forever’ aspect of Atlassian’s recent memo to staff is what got a lot of media’s attention.

However, a much more significant component could actually be the tech company’s commitment to flexible work. It has promised to better measure output to determine clear approaches to how people will work (although the details are still being mapped out).

Also of interest — and something more companies should follow the lead on — is Atlassian’s commitment to giving staff certainty now over how and where they can work in the future.

This is especially important for staff who may be thinking about moving out of metropolitan areas, as well as those who want to put some long-term planning into their at-home workspaces.

“Our policy has been very clear about communicating to employees and giving as much notice as possible that where you work is going to be up to you — within some constraints of your team and time zones and other things. But how we work has to be standardised,” Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon Brooke said during an online session with the CEO of Slack on Wednesday.

More employers could follow this lead.

Businesses could make the commitment now to telling staff whether or not they will have the option to ‘work from home forever’.

This would give staff the opportunity to put long-term planning into where they live — and also allow job-seekers to expand the list of employers they may want to work for in the future.

Cannon-Brookes said the startup is pressing on with its office plans because it suspects a good portion of people will still want to go to an office, and at least have the option to attend an office for meetings or on certain days of the week.

He noted how work-from-home options give staff greater opportunities to consider living in areas two to three hours out of metropolitan areas, while still being able to come in to attend particular meetings or catch up in-person with teams.

Workplaces that could have staff working from home moved quickly to enable their staff to do so during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

There were teething issues at first, and there’s certainly some fatigue and a push to still enable in-person collaboration opportunities, but some of the most conservative employers — like law firms and government departments — have successfully made the transition.

Now, these employees need certainty over whether they’ll be able to continue to access real work-from-home options in the future — options that will come at no cost to their careers.

It’s the kind of certainty employers can give, at a time when we have little certainty over so many other aspects of our lives.

Employers should communicate now what staff can expect.

Being able to work from anywhere is the first step.

Can they commit now to enabling staff to have more options over when they complete that work?

And commit now to seeing the benefits of measuring productivity via output, rather than time spent sitting at a desk?

For too long, we’ve seen women, in particular, suffer silent career consequences because they have needed to work at home or ‘part-time’.

We’ve long needed flexible work to be mainstreamed, and this year’s adversity has created the opportunity to make that happen.

What we now need is the certainty that flexible work and working from home can continue forever.

We need the certainty that employers won’t retreat to their traditional setup and requirements that have hampered the careers of some, and significantly reduced their ability to attain and retain the best staff possible.

Atlassian’s new Sydney HQ

This is an edited version of an article first published by Women’s Agenda.

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