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How Atlassian is Managing Distributed Teams 

Find out about Atlassian's secret sauce on managing distributed teams across 13 countries.
distributed teams
In this article

Atlassian is a global company, with over 10,000 employees on five continents, headquartered in Sidney, Australia. Atlassian is behind famous tools such as Jira, Trello, or Confluence. 

Today, the Atlassian team is spread across 13 countries. Since 2020, Atlassians have been able to choose where they work, every single day. 

Atlassian has been nominated in the Best Places to Work 2023 by Glassdoor as well as Fortune. 

Their approach to work is called “Team Anywhere”, and it empowers employees to work flexibly and collaborate effectively across borders, while also attracting top talent from around the world. They believe this approach benefits their employees and customers by fostering an innovative and efficient way of working. 

So, we wanted to dig more into the “Team Anywhere” approach and bring you some inspiration on how to effectively manage distributed teams. 

92% of Atlassians say our distributed work policy allows them to do their best work. 91% say it’s an important reason why they stay at Atlassian” 

The Team Playbook  

The Atlassian team spent two years developing Plays, a collection of exercises to address common teamwork challenges. These challenges include meeting high service standards, keeping project goals aligned, and more. They end up saving time by reducing extra meetings and confusion. 

Plays come from two sources: some are original ideas from their team, while others started as concepts from teamwork experts that they’ve customized for Atlassian. They combined elements from agile, lean, and design thinking. This makes them effective for various teams with different goals, skills, and personalities. 

This is why these Plays are useful for any team, and they are a free resource that Atlassian is sharing with all of us! This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Please follow the terms included in the link. 

In short, Plays act as a central resource, reducing the usual teamwork struggles.  

And, since Atlassian is working with distributed hybrid teams, and was nominated as one of the best employers of 2023…the Team Playbook might be their secret sauce. 

distributed teams

Source 

Distributed Teams Work Guiding Principles at Atlassian 

The biggest blockers to productivity, connection, and innovation are not location-based. They center around how work gets done: back-to-back meetings, vague priorities, confusing email threads, and streams of distracting notifications. All knowledge workers face these challenges, regardless of where they work. “

Atlassian 

Atlassian distinguishes itself by employing a “distributed work” model. This approach goes beyond traditional remote work, which often excludes those who prefer an office environment. It also avoids the limitations of hybrid models that mandate specific office hours. 

Instead, Atlassian prioritizes flexibility and empowers its employees, referred to as “Atlassians,” to choose their work location – an office, home, or a combination. The company focuses on how work gets done, not where. 

Now, here are the guiding principles for the Atlassian way of working inside their distributed teams: 

  • The Where 

Atlassians enjoy work-life balance with flexible work arrangements. The company offers remote work, office work, or a hybrid of both, allowing employees to choose what works best for their needs. This flexibility empowers them to manage personal priorities, like family and hobbies, while still excelling at their job. 

Atlassians can live in any of their 13 global locations and even work temporarily outside their home base.  

  • The How 

Since the Atlassian teams have different work schedules, they primarily rely on written communication and asynchronous methods to avoid interrupting focus time. This includes things like emails, project management tools, and document sharing. This is similar to the way of working at Remote.com. We wrote about their story here. 

However, real-time communication isn’t off the table! They still use meetings for important milestones like project launches, brainstorming sessions, and making key decisions. This balance ensures they have dedicated time for focused work while also fostering collaboration. 

  • The When 

Though Atlassian excels at online collaboration, the company recognizes the importance of fostering personal connections in real life. To this end, a dedicated team is available to facilitate in-person gatherings, ranging from large team offsites to smaller social events for local employees. Their goal is to ensure these gatherings are accessible, inclusive, and truly memorable. 

1000 Days of Distributed Work at Atlassian – Lessons Learned 

Being distributed is not controversial. It’s just a word that describes how almost all work gets done today: on the internet.

Annie Dean
 Global Head of Team Anywhere, Atlassian 

1000 days after launching Team Anywhere, Atlassian wrote a case study with their reflections and conclusions on this new way of working. 

Here are some of the benefits they are listing: 

  • Atlassians save ~10 days per year in time they would have previously spent commuting. 
  • 92% of Atlassians say our distributed work policy allows them to do their best work. 
  • 91% of employees say it’s an important reason why they stay at Atlassian. 
  • The number of candidates per role is more than 2x higher. 
  • Candidate offer accept rate has increased 20%. 
  • There was no productivity slowing down. 
  • Important real estate annual savings: Atlassian believes that without Team Anywhere, they would have needed twice the office space they have. 
  • Atlassian went from spot 47 to spot 7 (jumping up 40 spots!) on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list. 
  • Representation of women at Atlassian in India is more than 2x higher. 
  • Employees spend 13% less time in meetings and report a 32% improvement in focus. 
  • Team Gatherings lead to a 27% increase in feelings of connection, and this boost lasts 4-5 months. Based on this finding, the aim is to bring the Atlassian teams together in person about 3 times a year. 

Was everything milk and honey when Atlassian implemented distributed work? 

Not quite. Let’s look at the other side of the story. 

The Challenges of Distributed Work and Distributed Teams 

facing challenges in managing distributed teams

Source 

Atlassian listed 4 main challenges the company faced while implemented Team Anywhere, but also presented the solutions they came up with to overcome them. 

Let’s go through them. 

  1. Productivity 

The biggest barriers to productivity (e.g. vague goals and processes) don’t magically disappear the moment an employee walks into an office. 

Atlassian 

Atlassian admits the fact that some elements of productivity do get harder within a distributed workforce. 

Here’s what they did to handle productivity: 

  • Atlassian focused on measuring productivity with outcomes, not tasks. They set clear, ambitious goals and made sure they’re visible across all of Atlassian. They worked with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Each OKR had a single dedicated leader. The OKRs were immutable – once created they are never edited, only retired and re-created. 
  • Atlassian empowers teams to take control of their success through a quarterly process called Rolling 4. This initiative focuses on three key areas:  

Teams collaboratively plan and prioritize their most important work for the next quarter, ensuring everyone will align on goals.

By reflecting on previous quarter learnings, teams can adjust and course-correct their work as needed, fostering agility and adaptation. 

Regular Quarterly Business Reviews offer a valuable opportunity to assess the health of different business areas, allowing for data-driven decision-making. 

  • Weekly OKR tracking and monthly progress scoring. 
Weekly OKR tracking template for distributed teams
Monthly scoring template

Now, here are some of the learnings when it comes to handling productivity: 

  • Meetings should take up no more than 30% of the week. 
  • Open collaboration should account for 10 – 20% of the week. 
  • Focus time should be about 30-40% of the week. These blocks should be at least 90-minutes and spent on work that requires deep thinking. 
  • Limit responding to messages to no more than 20% of the week. Ideally, an employee would book time slots for this task. 
  • Sync time should be used for creativity, navigating complexity, driving momentum, and bonding. 
  • A quick 5-minute call can be perfect for clarifying a small task question, while brainstorming sessions might benefit from a dedicated 2+ hour block. 
  • Employees should share async work early on in their tool Atlas. 
  • Employees should consider a 2-3 min Loom to provide more background. 
  • When important decisions or changes happen, employees are encouraged to post in a group Slack channel, often more than once, and possibly also via direct message for more individual actions. At the same time, they need to link to a Confluence page with more information and the ability to comment 
  1. Connection 

Atlassian discovered that while in-person interaction is valuable, forcing daily office presence isn’t the answer. They feel that strategically planned in-person gatherings, around 3 times a year, foster stronger connections compared to scattered office days. This allows geographically dispersed teams to focus on deep work while still prioritizing meaningful face-to-face interaction. 

Here are some of the Atlassian learning on the connection topic: 

  • Since the International Team Gathering (ITG) program was launched in August 2022, more than 10,000 Atlassians have taken part in at least one gathering, and team gatherings have achieved a 96% satisfaction rating. 
  • New hires and new graduates especially benefit from meeting in person. These groups experience bigger boosts in team connection following in-person gatherings. 
  • Groups of 3-6 are more intimate, have high levels of sharing, and discussion through storytelling.  
  • Groups of 12 to 15 are small enough to build trust and intimacy but large enough to offer a diversity of opinion and allow for constructive unfamiliarity.  
  • Groups of 30 start to feel like a party, even when that is not the purpose of the gathering. At this size a company may want to break people out into smaller groups throughout the event. 
  1. Offices 

The pandemic showed Atlassian that exceptional work can be achieved beyond the traditional office setting. Yet, physical workspaces can still offer significant value. So, the question became: how can Atlassian optimize the physical locations to maximize their impact in a distributed work environment? 

At Atlassian, the offices serve 3 purposes: connection (via team gathering), company belonging, and a place to get shit done (GSD) 😊. By transforming offices into hubs for collaboration and innovation, employees will be naturally drawn to use them for specific, impactful purposes. For example, 67% of people who attended a team gathering connected with at least 5 Atlassians outside of their team during the event. 

To ensure their offices align with Atlassian’s evolving needs, they assembled a cross-functional team. Real estate, finance, and workplace transformation experts collaborated to develop three key performance indicators (KPIs) specifically tailored to the Atlassian workspaces. 

This is how Atlassian ended up:  

  • Observing employees visiting a given office and to what extent each office is achieving its purpose. 
  • Calculating how much it costs each time an employee visits an office. Cost per visit allows Atlassian to plan its spend and decide whether it needs to improve, reduce, or close a space. 
  1. Culture 

Atlassian believes that its values extend beyond the office, shaping how work gets done. 

Cultures change. Values shouldn’t. “

Atlassian

Speaking of values, here are Atlassian’s 5 core values: 

  • Open company. Sharing information freely is the norm, and they encourage everyone to speak up. But of course, being open also means being smart about what employees say, picking the right moment, and delivering it with kindness. 
  • Build with heart and balance. Atlassians bring passion and careful planning to everything they do. 
  • Don’t fuck the customer. Customers are Atlassian’s lifeblood. 
  • Play as a team. At Atlassian work doesn’t have to feel like a drag, this is why they want to balance a serious focus with a fun and supportive team spirit.  
  • Be the change you seek.  

Continuous improvement is a shared responsibility. Action is an independent one. “

Atlassian

Conclusions 

Here are the Atlassian’s conclusion after analyzing their first 1000 days of distributed work: 

  1. Instead of focusing on where people work, focus on advancing how they work. 
  1. Instead of asking employees back to their office, focus on making in-office experiences meaningful. 
  1. Instead of relying only on physical spaces to communicate culture, focus on setting up concrete values and include them into how work gets done. 
  1. Instead of rewarding facetime, focus on setting clear goals and tracking progress against them. 
  1. Instead of defaulting to 30-minute meetings, focus on gathering key stakeholders for longer, creative brainstorms or facilitating. 

Yes, Atlassian is truly an inspiration. And they really practice what they preach. 

If you want to get more inspiration from Atlassian’s way of working, you can follow Annie Dean (Atlassian’s VP Team Anywhere), on LinkedIn

Now, if you want to find out more about how to manage hybrid workplaces, we’ve created a very thorough guide for you. So, make sure to check  Mastering Hybrid Work out!   

Alina Belascu
Alina Belascu
Alina is a digital marketer with a passion for web design. When she’s not strategizing she’s doing photography, listening to podcasts on history and psychology, and playing with her 2 dogs and cat.