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Why leaders must earn the right to use the f-word while reworking work

The pandemic has been difficult for business leaders in many respects, but the hard and fast rules have also made life easier in other ways. There have been lots of black and white situations with clear guidelines to follow. 

But now that attention has switched to economic recovery, leaders can no longer rely on the largest social experiment of our lifetime to tell them what they should do. We need to embrace the grey and start doing some experimenting of our own. 

Flexibility is the best place to start. Lots of employers are currently throwing this f-word around, but many of those same companies have policies in place that impose limits. Flexibility is only available once you reach a level of seniority, or it’s ‘at your manager’s discretion’. Such qualifiers are likely to leave people muttering another f-word and looking for another job. 

As leaders, we should be able to make the following series of statements with confidence: 

  • I know who my best people are, and we have plans in place to keep them engaged while ensuring their continued growth 
  • I’m delighted with our talent brand and our ability to attract the best people 
  • I’m proud of how we attract, hire and I onboard people into our business and our ways enables them to do the best work of their lives 
  • We live our values and have a strong, adaptive culture 

Winning the ‘great resignation’ 

With separate studies in different markets predicting about 40 per cent of workers plan to leave their current employer during the next 12 months, leaders have choices to make. We can keep reading gloomy LinkedIn articles that warn of the ‘great resignation’, or we can work out how to turn this situation into an opportunity. 

It’s important to note that planning isn’t the same as doing. There are plenty of people who buy running shoes or a gym membership in January without ever following through on their resolution to get fit for the new year. 

But IF an unusually high number of people switch jobs in the next year, we can feel safe in assuming that the best employers will attract more than their fair share of the top talent on offer. As leaders, our immediate priority should be figuring out how to attract the best talent on the move. How do we hire for values in a distributed world when we can no longer eyeball potential recruits across a table? 

Reworking work 

The first easy step is to acknowledge that professional life has changed during the pandemic, and distributed work is here to stay. The challenge lies in working out what workers want and providing it in a way that works for individuals, our teams and our businesses. Our Reworking Work study– conducted in partnership with strategic design consultancy Paper Giant – offers some clues. 

We surveyed more than 6,000 workers from a range of industries in six markets around the world to find out how they’re feeling and what they expect from the future of work. Having done the same research 12 months earlier, the new data offers valuable insight into how attitudes have changed and what’s driving the shift. 

Three in four (74%) told us they want flexible working arrangements to be retained, yet 60% said their employer is responsible for deciding where work gets done. Flexibility with approval? Thanks, but no thanks. 

Our research also shows that employees are sensitive at the moment, which isn’t surprising given events during the past two years. Those reporting a sense of belonging fell nine points to 54%, with those feeling team unity and cohesion down seven points to 59% as employers struggled to retain a sense of company culture away from the office. 

Seizing the opportunity 

And yet, despite the obvious difficulties of distributed working, most people value flexibility so greatly that they’re committed to working through the challenges. We need to evolve how we work to ensure an engaged workforce and an adaptable, sustainable business. 

Enabling distributed teams is about embracing mass personalisation and letting people step up to take control of their working week. What does flexibility mean for each individual? It’s also about keeping our promises because talking about flexibility but then putting policies in place to restrict it does more harm than good. The 60% of employers still choosing where work gets done have no right to use the f-word. 

It’s time to shift mindsets away from managing tasks in favour of mentoring people. It’s time to understand that our actions are being watched more closely. Whether you want to or not, you are a role model to those around you, making it more important than ever to ‘walk the talk’. And it’s time to be deliberate and open about our flexible working challenges and the decisions we make. 

Sharing our experience 

It’s incredible to think that half of Atlassian’s global employees joined the business during the pandemic. Many of them have never been into one of our corporate offices or met their teams face to face. We handled this by quickly adapting our hiring and onboarding processes with distributed teams in mind. We didn’t get everything right, but we committed to a cycle of ‘trial, learn and adapt’ in developing experiences that unleash the potential of our people. 

We’re happy to share what we’ve learned – including our values interview and virtual onboarding tips – with other leaders interested in improving these processes within their organisation. We want to hire people who embody our values and feel excited to work alongside others who do the same. This helps us hire the very best talent and build effective teams regardless of background, location or personalities. 

This is why a values interview is one of the most important elements of our hiring process. This involves a set of structured behavioural questions designed to assess how a candidate’s mindset aligns with our five core values. 

Read more: Atlassian co-creates Deed of Equity Gift for SME owners

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Dom Price

Dom Price

Born to Joy in the harsh Manchester Winter of 77, Dominic has a career that has reached far and wide through Europe, US and Asia PAC. An accomplished TED speaker, Dom is proud to work at Atlassian, the home of the most intelligent t-shirt wearers in business. As our resident Work Futurist. Dom is Atlassians in house “Team Doctor” helping Atlassian scale by being ruthlessly efficient and effective, and spends over half his time helping our customers navigate transformation, agility, leadership, and the future of work. Dom helped pioneer our Team Playbook and has a deep passion for understanding of teamwork and the changes we need to make today to build thriving businesses.

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