Atlassian and Slack CEOs on thriving during the disruption of work

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-CEO of Atlassian, joined Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, to paint a picture of the future of work

Author: Nina Hendy 13th September 2020

Below you’ll find insights from one of our Slack Sessions webinars, a series of panel discussions with global business leaders. Watch the full webinar on demand.

 By now it’s no secret that the way we work will likely never return to pre-pandemic norms. But even though many of us are months into remote-work life, the future of work can still appear hazy. 

In a recent Slack Sessions virtual panel, Julie Walker, Slack’s head of marketing for Asia Pacific, asked Mike Cannon-Brookes, the co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian, and our own co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield, what the “next normal” of work will look like. Below you’ll find three key takeaways from the discussion. 

1. Offices are no longer the nucleus of work

Once celebrated as the cultural touchstone for companies and a projection of status, the big, flashy office is quickly losing ground to vast virtual networks of remote workers. To stay on top of the remote-work trend, companies have to re-imagine routine processes, including the way they onboard employees. 

Slack onboarded 20% of our 2,000-strong workforce post-pandemic. We introduced a new remote onboarding process with measures to ensure that newcomers instantly feel part of a team, despite the social isolation. “The same thing is happening in companies across the world,” Butterfield says. “And the longer this goes on, the more likely this will be the case for everyone.” 

Atlassian sent its 5,000 employees home in 48 hours. No small feat considering the company has 12 offices around the globe. To support employees during the transition, the tech giant introduced “Team Anywhere.” This new work-from-anywhere policy allows employees to choose where they work, whether that’s at home, in the office or a hybrid of the two. The policy is about enabling people to create the routines that work best for their career and personal life. It’s more about measuring outcomes than clocking hours, according to Cannon-Brookes. 

“This is not about insisting that everyone works from home all the time,” Cannon-Brookes says. “It’s about flexibility of employee choices to what suits your environment, and how we set up the norms, rituals and culture to handle both cases on any given day.” 

As part of its transition to a more fluid work environment, Atlassian’s new $1 billion headquarters in Sydney, Australia, will offer a flexible, state-of-the-art space for employees to come together and collaborate on their own terms.

“The simple genesis is that we need to change how we work, and where we work. If you go to an office, how do you have a meeting? You walk into the same room together? That’s got to change. We need to change how we work in order to enable people to work where they want,” Cannon-Brookes says. 

Butterfield agrees. “We’re setting new norms of how we work so that people can work wherever they want,” he says. “Part of the challenge is giving people the flexibility they need. The more flexibility you have, the more attractive you are as an employer too. It’s about trusting employees to get the work they need to get done and to manage their time.” 

2. Agility isn’t just necessary for tech giants, but for everyone

In the workplace of the future, companies—not just technology ones—will need to be lean, resilient and agile. But Cannon-Brookes is quick to point out that true agility isn’t about continuous movement and momentum.

The notion of true agility is that it’s a sprint, or a small chunk of work, he says, then you pause, rethink and maybe do another small chunk, or redo the one you did in a different way. “It’s about constantly assessing if you’re heading in the right direction, resetting the compass, then moving forward,” Cannon-Brookes says. “Agile companies have a North Star. They know which direction they’re heading in, and they’re always learning.”

This often means the path to progress might change, Cannon-Brookes says. “Conceptually, I might walk along, find a stream and look for a way around it. Do we build a bridge? What do we do? We don’t know the exact journey. We have to build a learning organisation and be able to flex and move as we push forward.”

We’ve sent hundreds of millions of people home around the world, and we’re all trying to learn as we go. It takes adaptability and resilience to get it right.”

Mike Cannon-BrookesCo-CEO and Co-founder, Atlassian

Butterfield adds that autonomy is critical for agility. “The idea of decoupling different parts of a very complex system so they can operate more autonomously would be an enormous improvement in many corporate settings,” he says. 

The autonomy extends to workers’ tool choices. Good leaders can empower individuals by giving them access to best-of-breed technologies and integrations, according to Cannon-Brookes. Of course, to be successful, the adoption of new tools shouldn’t be a free-for-all; rather, leaders should take a methodical and strategic approach. 

“It’s about making sure that there’s a natural partnership and symbiosis between different digital tools to ensure they work well together,” Cannon-Brookes says. “There are a lot of obvious product pairings that work well, like Atlassian and Slack.”

Choosing tools that complement one another can have a multiplier effect across the company. “If you can make little changes, it can add up to something really transformative,” Cannon-Brooks says. 

3. Don’t waste a crisis

Despite the unfortunate circumstances that brought us here, leaders have also been presented with a unique forcing function to evolve themselves and their organisations. 

“Never waste a crisis,” Butterfield says. “There’s never going to be a time, I hope, in our lifetimes, where change is as cheap as it is now. When I look back at things that I regret most or the worst decisions that we’ve made over the past many years, it’s been not reorganising the structure of how we work, even if it made more sense, purely because people don’t like reorganising. Take advantage of this time, move quickly to make the changes that you always wanted to, because this moment won’t last.”

“Never waste a crisis. There’s never going to be a time in our lifetimes, where change is as cheap as it is now ... Take advantage of it, move quickly to make the changes that you always wanted to, because this moment won’t last.”

Stewart ButterfieldCEO and Co-founder, Slack

Corporate solidarity is critical, especially during uncertain times. And leaders who support their teams and leverage internal talent stand to weather the crisis better than those who don’t. “I don’t think businesses do anywhere near enough to unlock the power of the people they already have,” Cannon-Brookes says. “The biggest thing I’ve seen is that you’ve probably got the answers inside your business.”  

Read our guide to learn more about navigating the disruption of work. 

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