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Future of work

What I learned about remote work from Slack’s Stewart Butterfield and Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes

- September 15, 2020 3 MIN READ
The Slack and Atlassian founders chat about the future of remote work, remotely.
I recently sat down for a Slack Sessions virtual panel with Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, and Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of Atlassian, to discuss what they’ve learnt this year.

Their organisations, along with many others around the world, have dealt with the lightning speed transition to remote work.

Stewart and Mike have unique perspectives on this topic.

Both at the helm of tech companies at the forefront of digital transformation, they have played an instrumental role in helping organisations adapt to this disruption of work, while navigating their own companies through that same disruption.

The shift to remote work’s impact

Right now we’re all participating in the world’s largest telecommunication experiment.

Earlier this year, organisations had to adapt to having a distributed workforce in a matter of weeks, even days. Organisations that were already flexible in their approach were able, on the whole, to take this transition in their stride, while more traditional organisations struggled to adapt.

Julie Walker Head of Marketing, APAC, Slack. Photo: Supplied

Stewart mentioned that one of the greatest obstacles organisations have faced during the past few months has been how to effectively communicate and collaborate. With the sudden shift, pre-existing inefficiencies have been exposed.

Mike asked us to consider what the future of work might look like, if organisations placed less emphasis on traditional office spaces, and more on spaces where people can come together to brainstorm or work collaboratively, combined with working remotely.

Employees should be supported to work where and how they want. For employees who want to go into the office, there is a space that suits their needs. For those wanting to work remotely, they should be given the trust and flexibility to do so.

Staying aligned and agile

A fundamental challenge for organisations – made in some cases more difficult by COVID-19 – is one of alignment, which can be more challenging with a distributed workforce.

Both Mike and Stewart agree that organisations with a clear mission and well-established values have found it easier to keep their teams aligned and on track.

Agility has proven to be a key differentiator. Truly agile companies are able to respond to the external environment and reshape their offerings, services and products accordingly.

According to Mike, businesses need to constantly be asking themselves: “Am I heading in the right direction?” Then reflect on their learnings, reset their compass and move forward.

Open leadership

Throughout the pandemic, increased pressure has been placed on leaders to ensure that employees feel supported. Mike and Stewart agree that for leaders to truly connect with their people and improve engagement, they should open the conversation up.

One of the most effective things a leader can do is empower and entrust their employees, while ensuring expectations are clear and transparent. This engenders loyalty, a sense of common purpose and keeps teams aligned to business objectives.

As companies, Slack and Atlassian were quick to act in communicating and executing on plans to go remote back in March.

Following initial announcements, the teams at Slack and Atlassian had transitioned to a distributed global workforce in less than 48 hours.

During the transition, both leaders kept the lines of communication open with employees about the transition and how this would be supported by the organisation.

Never waste a crisis

I will give the final words to Stewart, who spoke about embracing the opportunity, at this unprecedented time, to make changes that will ensure we emerge better and stronger in the long term.

“Never waste a crisis. There’s never going to be a time, I hope, in our lifetimes, where change is as cheap as it is now,” Stewart said.

“When I look back at things that I regret most, or the worst decisions that we’ve made over the last many years, it’s been not reorganising in this way that makes more sense because people don’t like reorgs.

“This is the time to look at anything that you were doing in the old world that was ineffective or inefficient, or that didn’t work for employees, or that didn’t work for customers, and change it.

“A crisis does create opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist. I would say, take advantage of that, move quickly to make the changes that you always wanted to, or that you’re newly aware are desirable, because this moment won’t last.”

  • Julie Walker is Head of Marketing, APAC, for Slack