Transformation

Atlassian, Grab and Slack leaders on why it’s time for a leadership revolution

A discussion on leadership and the role of workplace technology for today’s connected, complex world

Author: Nina Hendy29th April 2021

The old 9-to-5 system—cobbled together over centuries—doesn’t work anymore. The pandemic has highlighted the ongoing collective need for change in the corporate world. 

During our recent Slack Sessions, Dom Price, a futurist at Atlassian, Luis Enriquez, head of Grabber Technology Solutions and Enterprise Cyber Security at Grab, and Brian Elliott, VP and executive leader at Slack, shared their thoughts on the chance to revolutionise what leadership looks like, especially when it comes to the unique opportunity companies have when choosing technology to create a better way to work. 

“The pandemic has caused such a dramatic change in what work looks like for so many people,” Elliott says. “But for many companies, all that happened was a lift and shift. Really, they simply took their knowledge workers out of offices and put them into home offices, that’s it.

Now, people’s expectations changed around their willingness and desire to go into offices.”

In fact, Slack’s Future Forum reveals that just 17% of the 9,000 people around the world we polled would be willing to go back to working five days a week in an office. It’s a fundamental and very permanent shift.

“It’s crystal clear that workers now require flexibility,” Elliott says.

Workers want access to shared space for team belonging, for social gatherings and for getting back together. But they also want the ability to work from home more often, to get productivity and the work-life balance they’ve seen, in particularly, cutting the commute.

Brian Elliott Executive Leader, Slack

Slack’s Future Forum highlights the fact that while this remote-work experiment has shown advantages in improving personal well-being for some, most companies have done little more than “lift and shift” office-centric practices onto videoconferences, revealing the challenges associated with the perceived difficulty of building and maintaining social ties.

Why the future of work is flexible, inclusive and connected

This paradigm shift in what workers want presents a massive opportunity to rethink and reimagine what work actually means. It’s no longer a place. It’s a thing we do.

But implementing a hybrid model that offers give and take doesn’t come easy for many. It’s a shame—we all know that work-life balance is better for our work and home lives and allows us to spend more time with our families.

Flexibility also provides an opportunity to tap into broader and more diverse talent pools around the world. “If you compete for talent, especially on a global basis, part of the competition is going to be around the experience that you provide employees,” Elliott says. “Those that actually step up here will win the war for the best talent, no doubt.” 

The solution? Technology. With technology, we can create a better, more inclusive way to work. Being inclusive can also make your team more resilient in the face of the next big challenge.

Software company Atlassian is a relatively young organisation, having launched in 2002. Now a tech unicorn with more than 5,700 employees, it still feels young and open to change beside older and more change-resistant corporate peers. 

“It’s quite easy for us to adapt and evolve because it’s in our DNA,” says Price.

A lot of our customers are 180-year-old banks. For them, they’re still struggling to unlearn what they did 100 years ago. So we’re taking them on this journey to try new ways of working. Because if we experiment with it, there’s a chance we’ll get it right. But if we hold back and look for proof, there’s a chance we’ll never try.

Dom PriceFuturist, Atlassian

How leading companies are rethinking the role of offices and digital tools

Since this radical work-from-home experiment began more than a year ago, our collective corporate productivity has grown, and we’re all far more human in our interactions.

But right now, the conditions for workplace change are ripe. It’s time to rethink how and where we bring people together to work. 

Workers want flexibility, not just in their day but also in the hours they choose to work. They want a life that fits around their work.

Leaders are realising that the future is about managing and leading employees you can’t always see. In this hybrid world, leaders must offer genuine flexibility. Not just in where employees can work. It has to go deeper than that. Flexibility in schedule is also paramount.   

Truly inclusive leaders are announcing flexible work to teams distributed around the globe. They’re using the best digital tools on the market to stitch teams together while still keeping the office for in-person social and team bonding.

The companies of the future will seek to create a hybrid work policy and allow workers to occasionally gather in one building and take over conference rooms for group think tanks. 

Now that Atlassian’s employees are working from home, the company essentially has close to 6,000 offices dotted across the globe—each one is the ideal office for one worker. 

“Work isn’t done in an office anymore,” Price says. “In fact, offices are an artifact of the industrial age. Work is at home, so we have to extend the office.” 

There are obvious cost advantages—companies no longer need to spend on real estate and amenities, and employees save on the commute and have broader geographic options for living space.

Nearly 30% of Atlassian’s workers have been remotely onboarded in the past year, with laptops shipped to their homes and virtual meet-and-greets the new way of working.

What we’re doing now is experimenting with the idea of synchronous versus asynchronous work. We believe the average knowledge worker requires about four hours of overlap with their team; the other four hours is asynchronous, which is how you get flexibility. It’s how you challenge the concept of 9-to-5.

Dom PriceFuturist, Atlassian

“There’s some time we need to be online together, but the rest of the time, fit it in around your schedule,” Price says. “Work when it works for you because you’re not relying on someone else. That’s what future leadership looks like.” 

How to make a leadership revolution part of your DNA

As we enter our second year of widespread remote work, there’s an opportunity for leaders to invest in new technology and processes. 

Companies that adopt flexible work locations and schedules will attract employees who have the ability to choose where they work. Studies already show that flexible schedules and work-from-home benefits dramatically outweigh yoga classes, free snacks and the on-site gym, creating a far more attractive way to lure employees in competitive job markets.

The sudden move to remote work provides the opportunity to reimagine culture and norms, and leverage technology to create a better way to work.

“It’s also about being truly present when we’re together,” says Luis Enriquez. “I remember coming into meetings and asking people to leave mobile phones outside. Because they’re in a meeting, but half of them are staring at their phones during the meetings. It’s one thing to multitask and another thing to engage.” 

The future is about investing in tech to manage distributed teams. This means workers, especially those outside the traditional centres of power, have greater opportunity and the potential for a more level playing field.

The solution to making lives better is digital tools. Most people know that Slack is a messaging tool. But many will be surprised to learn how Slack can help businesses get the most out of all their tools.

Slack allows executives to share updates, people to ask questions and designers to share mock-ups, and teams find the #watercooler channel to share pics of the new puppy or their homemade pizzas with their family from last night.

Enriquez was moved when his 13-year-old daughter told him recently: “Dad, be like water. Be like water.”

“She and Bruce Lee are right,” Enriquez says. “This is the best time that you really need to be like water. Water experiments; it goes through all sorts of different things. It changes. It evolves. So be like water.”

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