Are Return-to-Office Mandates Dead?

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Companies Mandating Return-to-Office Will “Regret It”, Says Atlassian Exec.

(Photo credit: Atlassian)

Australian software giant Atlassian, which recently marked “1000 days of a fully distributed workforce”, believes companies enforcing return-to-office policies are making a mistake that executives will “regret”.

Annie Dean, Atlassian’s head of “Team Anywhere”, criticised mandates as “rash moves based on misconceptions around productivity and company culture”. She said such policies lead to “significant erosion of trust” and are often not complied with anyway.

Dean called hybrid arrangements an “illusion of choice”, forcing employees to live near expensive office locations. “[Leaders] are not being made with real awareness of what advantages a more distributed structure can bring.”

Common arguments for office returns overlook remote productivity and connectedness. Some cite an inability to replicate culture remotely or realise returns on real estate.

But Dean countered “these decisions tend to be made on a gut basis or on feelings”, arguing data shows the benefits of distributed work.

99% of Fortune 500 executives agree “the future of work is geographically distributed”. As Dean stated, “It isn’t controversial, it is just the way that it is.”

Atlassian’s co-CEOs have long promoted remote work, letting staff “work from wherever they want” under their “Team Anywhere” policy. With 40% of Atlassians two hours from an office, candidate numbers have “more than doubled” with “no dips in productivity”.

As Dean concluded, Atlassian should be seen as “the world’s leading distributed company”. Their culture comes “from the top”, with the co-CEOs taking “big swings” to “design for the future instead of the past”. Their data-driven approach means “Team Anywhere is here to stay”.

Watch this video from Atlassian for more information about their “Team Anywhere” initiative:

What are the benefits of distributed work according to Atlassian?

Atlassian cites several key benefits of distributed work:

    1. Increased productivity and happiness among employees. Atlassian states that “92% of Atlassians say flexibility to work from anywhere allows them to do their best work.”
    2. Access to a wider talent pool beyond major urban hubs. Distributed work allows Atlassian to “tap into pools of talent beyond the urban hubs where our offices are located.”
    3. Ability to support employees’ personal lives and priorities. Giving employees flexibility in where they work allows them “more control over supporting their family, personal goals, and other priorities.”
    4. Constant innovation and preparation for the future of work. Atlassian sees distributed work as the future, and is “constantly reimagining teamwork for scenarios and challenges we haven’t even experienced yet.”
    5. Reinforced company culture through peer recognition programs. Atlassian’s “Kudos” program builds “connection and camaraderie” within its distributed workforce.

In summary, Atlassian sees distributed work as more productive, attracting better talent, supporting work-life balance, encouraging innovation, and sustaining its culture. The search results emphasize these key benefits that Atlassian cites from its own experience with distributed work over the past several years.

How has Atlassian’s distributed work policy impacted employee retention?

Atlassian’s distributed work policy has had a positive impact on employee retention:

    1. The first article states that “We know from our annual State of Teams report that employees who have the flexibility to work in the locations they choose see benefits in well-being, burnout, and perceptions of organisational culture – all of which are strongly associated with higher employee retention rates.”
    2. It also states that “When workers have the option to work from wherever they are happiest and do their best work, they are less likely to leave.”
    3. While not directly about retention, the second article notes that “Despite Atlassian having no mandates, the company consistently saw 80% of the Atlassians visit an office each quarter.” This suggests employees are choosing to stay at Atlassian despite having the flexibility to work remotely full-time.
    4. There are no direct quotes about retention in the other articles, but none suggest any negative retention impacts from Atlassian’s distributed work policy.

In summary, Atlassian credits its flexible “work from anywhere” policy with improving employee well-being, burnout, culture perceptions, and ultimately higher retention rates. By giving employees location flexibility, Atlassian has seen retention benefits.

How does Atlassian make distributed workforce work well?  Atlassian has now published a guide on what it has learned over the last three years of commitment to this model.  Here are some highlights:

How about you in your business?  If your work is mainly “office-based” do you find it better to have all the team in the office, or are you exploring “distributed” models?  Leave a comment and let us know, below.

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Chris Dobbie

Chris Dobbie is the Principal of KeyPoint Accounting & Advisors, based on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Chris is a leading Certified Practicing Accountant (CPA) holding a Bachelor of Commerce (B. Com.), Accounting from Griffith University. Chris has over 22 years of professional accounting and taxation experience. Having stepped his way through this family business to now be Managing Partner, Chris, along with his expert team, look after a diverse client base ranging from medium sized businesses to national/multinational businesses. Chris is truly passionate about improving and growing his company's clients businesses, their lives and lifestyle, with a focus on innovative strategic approaches, and strong communication with clients. View Chris's LinkedIn profile.

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