What Every CEO Gets Wrong About Return-to-Office – Insights from Annie Dean, VP, Team Anywhere at Atlassian

In this article

Annie Dean, the VP of Team Anywhere at Atlassian, presented a compelling argument against the return-to-office (RTO) mandates many CEOs are enforcing. With over a decade of experience in remote work, Annie shared data-driven insights on why distributed work is not only effective but essential for the future of work. Her session shed light on the misconceptions about RTO and provided a roadmap for thriving in a distributed work environment.

The Evolution of Remote Work

Annie began by sharing her personal journey into remote work, highlighting how her experiences as a young mother in big law drove her to envision a different way of working. “I realized that it just wasn’t feasible for me to do all the things I needed to do and still grow in the career the way that I wanted to,” she said. This realization led her to become an advocate for remote work, culminating in her role at Atlassian.

At Atlassian, Annie leads the Team Anywhere initiative, which focuses on designing distributed work systems intentionally. This approach means organizing teams by time zone rather than location and allowing employees to choose their work environment daily. “We design our teams by time zone, not by zip code, and that gives employees a lot of choice in where they choose to live,” Annie explained.

Positive Impact of Distributed Work

Annie shared impressive statistics to support the success of Atlassian’s distributed work model:

  • Hiring and Retention: Since implementing Team Anywhere, Atlassian has doubled the number of job candidates for every open role and improved its offer acceptance rate by 20%. Additionally, the number of women in technical roles has significantly increased, and regrettable attrition for women has decreased by 53%.
  • Office Utilization: Despite having 12 offices worldwide, Atlassian operates efficiently with a reduced real estate footprint. Annie noted, “If we were operating in the old way, we would need about double the square footage that we have today.”

“The way that we operate our offices is also now much more efficient. If we were operating in the old way, we would need about double the square footage that we have today.” — Annie Dean

Misconceptions About RTO

Annie addressed the common misconceptions about the return-to-office mandates:

  • Flexibility vs. Productivity: Many CEOs believe that RTO is necessary to solve productivity issues. However, Annie argued that flexibility and productivity are not mutually exclusive. “CEOs think that the remote work debate is a forced choice between preference and productivity. Really, it’s a chance to win at both,” she stated.
  • Effective Work Practices: Atlassian’s research shows that distributed teams develop new working practices faster than co-located ones, leading to increased productivity. Annie emphasized that companies need to evolve how work happens rather than mandate where it happens.

Practical Strategies for Distributed Work

Annie provided practical strategies for making distributed work successful:

  • Intentional Togetherness: Atlassian hosts on-site gatherings for teams three to four times a year, boosting team connection by 27%. “We found that after hosting an on-site, team connection goes up by 27%, and that connection doesn’t decay until four to five months later,” Annie shared.
  • Async Communication: To reduce the reliance on meetings, Atlassian promotes asynchronous communication, emphasizing the importance of quality writing and clear documentation. This approach helps teams access information without unnecessary meetings, fostering more efficient workflows.

A Clear Roadmap for the Future

Annie gave insight to the critical misunderstandings CEOs have about RTO mandates. By focusing on evolving work practices rather than mandating office attendance, companies can achieve greater flexibility and productivity. “When we work differently, we realize that we don’t need the office to get work done,” Annie concluded. Her insights provide a clear roadmap for embracing the future of distributed work, where flexibility and efficiency go hand in hand.

Let us know your takeaways from this session in the comments section below!

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One Response

  1. The rush to create a return-to-office mandate merely demonstrates a CEO’s lack of imagination. The mainstreaming of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity to rethink “normal” business processes. Bold leaders used the disruption to imagine a better way, beyond the status quo norms. In contrast, fearful leaders craved a return to the old familiar way of doing things — even when they knew it was dysfunctional. My takeaway from this session was an appreciation for leaders who are capable of brave and imaginative critical thinking in times of disruption and change.

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