If the IT organization hadn’t already earned its seat at the table as an important strategic business partner, it definitely has now, in the era of work from home. All eyes, and hopes, for the success of a business, seem to hinge on IT teams to keep team effectiveness high and work flowing. To better understand this, I sat down with Ross Chippendale, Head of Workplace Technology at Atlassian. Ross shared three best practices that have allowed our teams to remain successful working as a remote enterprise. While recognizing that we benefit from being a company that makes collaboration tools, Ross is adamant that the strategies and practices we put in place are what have enabled us to succeed in a difficult environment. Read on to learn some of the top practices Ross has helped implement at Atlassian, and that he recommends for remote success.
Stay open to feedback and embrace change
While the concept of distributed work wasn’t completely foreign to us (part of our workforce was already remote), doing it on an enterprise-wide scale was a first. According to Ross, the only way to be successful is “to be open to and accepting of input from all corners of the business.” As you might imagine, this can lead to a significant volume of feedback, but this is what enables a 360-degree understanding of your organization, which in turn enables you to build and execute a plan.
But the devil is in the details, and it’s not just about building one plan. Ross explains, “it was critical to always have a plan A, plan B, and plan C, along with a willingness to enact all three if need be.” During such an unprecedented time, Ross emphasizes the importance of expecting the unexpected, and embracing the mindset that things will likely have to change. He describes the importance of receiving that 360-degree feedback: “The more input you hear, the greater the likelihood that you will recognize your original plan is not working, and that’s totally okay. What is crucial, however, is that you are open to receiving this feedback and acting on it.”
Case in point: bringing the office home
Ross is clear about the fact that our organization underestimated the importance of setting up a good home office. To be productive in the long run, employees needed and wanted to mimic their office setup – chairs, lights, monitors, desks. To address this, Atlassian provided a monetary stipend for home office setup. And as our work-from-home status evolved from temporary to long-term, we realized that this was not enough. Using Jira Service Management to create a ticketing and tracking system, we pivoted our plans once more and allowed employees to identify additional office items that they needed to (safely) retrieve from our physical offices for a more productive at-home workspace.
Ross is adamant about the importance of maintaining organizational norms, rituals, and behaviors that were standard pre-WFH, and at the same cadence. He explains that during times like these, “people crave and find comfort in normalcy… it helps maintain productivity. For example, if you had weekly town halls, keep them and make them virtual. This is not the time to start removing these practices.” At Atlassian, we’re fortunate to have leaders that champion this practice (setting this standard at the executive level is critical). Our co-CEOs, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, added additional check-ins with the entire organization via recorded videos, which set a good example for the rest of the organization. “If the CEOs can afford the time,” Ross says, “you can too.”
From a purely IT lens, the support experience has shifted dramatically in a now remote world. Where previously Atlassians might have walked over to the IT team for help, this is of course no longer possible. Ross’s team recognized this was a point of concern for a significant portion of our workforce, so to help maintain a semblance of normalcy, Workplace Technology created a comprehensive library of best practices, how-tos, and “gotchas” to simulate the experience people were used to. The library includes instructions on everything from laptop troubleshooting work-from-home recommendations. This content is supported by slack channels and video conferencing to provide “in-person” assistance.
Communicate and focus on the people
It’s easy to underestimate the power and value of communication that happens within the walls of an office. Watercooler talk and sidebar conversations often reinforce messages that might be shared via internal communications. “Keep an open and constant line of communication. Even if there’s nothing to share, share that – radio silence is a killer,” explains Ross.
And the line of communication needs to run both ways; paying attention to your people is paramount. It’s not just about the organization disseminating the need-to-know information – it’s also about receiving the messages coming from your employees. Ross says that listening to their people helps leaders “identify opportunities for improvement and stay ahead of the demand curve, improving and optimizing your future.” One of the ways Atlassian ensures two-way communication is through regular surveys and feedback loops that gauge everything from mental health to burnout to productivity.
Lay the groundwork for remote success
Scaling up a remote experience doesn’t happen overnight, and while implementing practices are key to long-term success, developing a strong IT foundation and partnership to lay them on is highly recommended. Fostering a partnership and investing in IT enables you to stay ahead of the curve, instead of operating in a responsive state, while practices help you thrive in the long run. For example, there are numerous obstacles in the way of remote success – VPN and VoIP capacity, virtual desktop infrastructure, remote security, and client support, among others. According to Ross, what has allowed us to respond appropriately and focus on implementing strong practices is that “we’ve previously invested in IT as a strategic business partner within the organization, which gave us the capabilities and confidence to respond fast and appropriately.” If this were not the case, we wouldn’t have been able to be nearly as flexible, and would have been stuck having to react and respond, instead of charting our own path.
Don’t leave yet! Check out more tips from Ross on how to effectively scale IT and get ahead of the growth curve.