Atlassian says its transformative workplace policies are part of the company’s wider push to accelerate the growth of Australia’s tech sector, amid a skills shortage experts say is hurting the country’s growth potential.
Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s co-founder, told the Australian Financial Review on November 29 that despite the skills shortage brought on by pandemic-era closed borders, the company had hired 3,500 people in the past few years.
Atlassian’s workplace policy, which the company announced in April — and which mandates its global staff of 5,700 will be expected to come into the office only four times a year — has enabled many of its employees to move away from major cities since the start of the pandemic.
But further to that, the company said the policy has meant it could continue recruiting top talent and weather the worst impacts of the sector’s current struggle to fill positions.
In recent months, closed international borders and a pause on skilled worker visas have led to a talent crunch that has most actutely hurt the Australian tech industry.
As early as June, members of the sector told Business Insider Australia the crunch was leading some in the field, including developers and engineers, to negotiate as much as six-figure raises.
Since then, companies ranging from legacy organisations to startups have similarly reported difficulties filling specialist tech roles.
According to the findings of recent research from Deloitte Access Economics, Australia will need to upskill an extra 200,000 tech workers over the next few years to meet demand.
In response, private companies, along with tech giants including Amazon, Adobe and Google, have jumped in to bridge the gap with training programs and short courses, some of which have also received funding from the federal government.
This year, Atlassian has been on the front foot in evangelising its obsession with workplace culture not only to startups and the tech world, but also the wider Australian business community.
It comes amid a new push for collaboration between industry and state and federal government to accelerate growth in the sector.
Atlassian is a founding member of the Tech Council of Australia (TCA), the peak body founded in August to influence tech policy and grow the sector to a value of $250 billion by 2030.
On December 1, the TCA along with the federally funded Digital Skills Organisation (DSO) announced they had signed a new partnership with the aim of solving Australia’s tech talent shortage through a series of initiatives driven by government, private companies and education to improve the visibility of tech jobs, opportunities and pathways, and help reskill interested Australians to move into the industry.
Atlassian increased its workforce by 50% this past year
On December 2, Atlassian released its ‘Reworking Work’ research report, which surveyed more than 6,000 knowledge workers from a range of industries, including over 1,000 Australians.
The report is another part of the wider push by the company to use its workplace policies as a lever to propel the Australian tech sector forward, Dom Price, Atlassian’s Work Futurist, told Business Insider Australia.
The goal was to understand the perspectives of employees ranging in age from 21 to 55 about the future of work, with hindsight from the past 12 months of remote work.
Key to the findings was that internal trust within organisations and towards leaders had plummeted this year, down from 87% in 2020 to 68% in 2021, as workers experienced a disconnect between the autonomy experienced during the pandemic and what they were experiencing moving into flexible working arrangements.
A recent study of Finnish workers by Erasmus University in the Netherlands found that over the course of the first seven months of the pandemic, employees’ degree of confidence in one another dropped significantly.
Another survey by the Centre for Transformative Work Design in Australia found bosses also experienced trust issues as a result of remote work. It showed that 60% of supervisors doubted or were unsure that remote workers performed as well or were as motivated as those in the office.
Over the past two years, Atlassian increased its workforce by 50%, Price said.
“We’re about to become a 20-year-old company, [where] for 19 years we had a good amount of growth, and in just over a year, we’ve doubled in size,” he said.
Price said that for organisations seeking to access a new pool of upskilled tech talent, embracing a remote workforce — and successfully managing it — would be key to their success.
Even for a company as laser focused on designing workplace experience as Atlassian, Price said they were forced to confront the ways that previous processes weren’t built for remote work.
“We’ve [had] to really experiment quite a lot,” he said, adding that the company also had to ask, “How do we hire people in that new environment?”
‘Hopeful that more organisations choose the same approach’
Price said the company’s workplace policy evolution over the past year is something it believes offers lessons for others.
First, he thinks companies need to embrace hiring remotely as a strategy to not only access talent but bring a new, diverse group of people into the tech sector. It’s also something he said most employees want from work.
“Employees have gone, ‘This feels like a good experiment, we should find a way of keeping this when we build a new normal,’” Price said.
“And what we’ve seen in the stats, sadly, is that’s not being met by the leaders in the organisation.”
Second, Atlassian wants to share its own evolution around rules that make ‘distributed work’ feasible.
Price said this is about “understanding the compromises you make to build an inclusive environment”.
“And I think where organisations are really struggling right now is, like, what’s the rule for this?” he added.
He gave the example of a rule the company acquired from workplace management firm Trello, which it acquired in 2017.
The rule requires everyone — not just those working remotely — to log in to team meetings from separate spaces, with the idea being that gathering a group in a meeting room inevitably shifts the energy there, disadvantaging those working outside the office.
“That level playing field means that… when we structure that meeting, everyone has the same shared experience,” Price said.
“Otherwise, those remote people feel like second class citizens.
“The four times a year in the office will never feel like enough. And so you’ve lost the essence of being able to work from anywhere.”
Price said Atlassian wants its workplace policies to become a blueprint for Australian businesses across the board.
“It’s not just about changing a job advert and crossing out Sydney and changing it to anywhere in Australia; you actually have to have systems, processes, ways of working that can actually successfully hire the right people, and onboard them, which is where we’ve invested our time.”
Something that has held Australia back in the past was a working culture that waited to see success elsewhere rather than innovating, Price said.
“Sometimes I think we feel like we’re passengers,” he said.
“I am hopeful that more organisations choose the same approach.”