Using an unprecedented opportunity to discover the effects of an entire company working from home
Zone product designer Virginia Gill reports on ‘Looking Inward’ — a SofaConf 2020 talk by Atlassian’s Leisa Reichelt…
At 3.30pm on 12 March, the employees of Atlassian in Sydney received a memo that someone in the building had contracted Covid-19. Within an hour the business instructed all staff to pack up their essentials, head home and wait for further instruction.
Once it became clear that this wasn’t going to be just a short-term change, an idea began to form in Leisa Reichelt’s mind. A situation like this was unprecedented, and actually provided a once in a lifetime opportunity for research to be carried out into what the effects of a pandemic and a nationwide stay-at-home order would have on a workplace.
“It began with curiosity. And less so organisational opportunities”
Reichelt, the head of research and insights at Atlassian, looked inward and approached all the relevant teams in Atlassian for assistance. HR (the ‘People Team’) and the legal department were big players in setting up the ‘Longitudinal Covid Study’. Everyone at Atlassian was involved, including the C suite. It wasn’t usual for any teams outside of the researchers to be exposed to the data they usually collected. But this was about Atlassian, and for Atlassian.
They sent the survey to the entire company, and the information they got back was phenomenal. It provided unparalleled insight into everyone’s remote- working experience and how they were feeling about the possibility of the office reopening.
It also provided enough data to build personas for the different factions of people at work, in the form of ‘Latent Class Analysis’: those who were embracing the experience, those with families, those without, those who missed the office and those who never wanted to return. The context in which everyone was ‘working from home’ differed dramatically, and it meant the company knew it couldn’t treat the employees as one homogeneous group.
Presenting the findings and recommendations back to the leadership led to some rapid and confident decision-making, all within 24 hours.
There was a high correlation between employees who felt well connected to their team and the amount of loneliness they felt. Feeling less connected led to higher loneliness across the board. This prompted the People Team to organise an array of weekly physical, mental health and creative activities for employees to take part in.
Many studies have shown that being lonely can lead to long-term health impacts and make it really hard to be productive from home. Atlassian began educating managers and team leaders to enable them to support their teams thoroughly.
“Comfort is relative”
When asked to assess their home set-up for comfort, 45% of employees said their kit was having a negative impact on productivity. Atlassian responded with a $300 allowance for equipment, however this did not yield strong enough results, so the company quickly upped this to $500. When faced with a couple of months of lockdown, this seemed to make employees happier. However, when Atlassian announced working from home may continue until the end of the year, comfort levels dropped again. What is good for right now clearly can be different for longer-term scenarios. It’s all relative.
MEN AT HOME:
One of Reichelt’s most curious discoveries was learning how men on the whole felt working from home was a productivity barrier for them, even though the data suggests women generally take on more responsibility around the home, and with childcare. One to ponder…
And finally, when the number of employees who want to continue working from home increases by 72%, it begs the question, what is the office for? Overall, people in lockdown have had a more equal work-life balance recently, using the two hours they used to spend commuting for family time and doing the little jobs around the house they’ve been putting off for years. Is this the new normal? Can it work long term? Only time will tell.
From blog post to press, the Atlassian study got the public recognition it deserved, and the exposure for the company was great. It was a special opportunity for a company going from mostly co-located to entirely remote, and as the world’s foremost research company they didn’t let the opportunity pass them by.
“Lots more people now know what we do, how we add value, and that we do good work.”
At the three-month mark the study is still in progress, and as it evolves I think it is one we can all hope to learn from.