A Guide to Distributed Leadership

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For any leader searching for strategies to unite, motivate, and develop talent in the new virtual workplace, Dean shared invaluable lessons from the Atlassian playbook to build an award-winning culture across global teams, avoid pitfalls other companies faced in the shift to remote work, and execute a distributed model that boosted productivity, engagement, and competitiveness.

Reasons for anywhere work

I noted that research indicates potential challenges with mentoring and on-the-job training in fully remote settings because it’s harder for younger workers to build trusting developmental relationships purely online. Dean acknowledged this is an area Atlassian is still working on. But solutions may include facilitated onboarding programs with managers, targeted in-person gatherings, and repeatable learning processes leveraging tools. The sheer amount of information transparency available today also creates countless learning opportunities.

The distributed future of work

The most critical factors will be training leaders to effectively guide distributed teams, intentionally designing opportunities for relationship development and mentorship, and providing the tools to coordinate work and access information seamlessly from anywhere. Companies that invest in these areas will benefit from the diverse perspectives, deeper talent pools, and improved employee satisfaction that distributed policies unlock. That’s what I tell my clients when helping them figure out their flexible work models, and Dean provided some excellent insights on how to make remote work successful.

Conclusion

However, a one-size-fits-all approach to distributed work is unlikely to succeed. Companies must thoughtfully examine how their culture, leadership preferences, workforce demographics, and business model intersect with the possibilities of flexible policies. They must then develop a distributed strategy aligned to their unique needs and strengths while being willing to iterate as they learn.

The future is undoubtedly distributed. While leadership mindsets, corporate culture, and availability of technologies influence how distributed models evolve, the overarching opportunity is immense for companies to unlock productivity, talent acquisition, and competitive advantage through flexible policies. Atlassian provides a compelling model of how strategic implementation of distributed policies can positively influence employee engagement, retention, and overall performance.

Although the transition may be challenging, forward-looking organizations recognize that distributed is the new reality of work. Companies that embrace flexible models thoughtfully, like Atlassian, will reap the rewards in talent acquisition, innovation, productivity, and employee fulfillment. With the right strategies and culture, businesses can thrive by embracing the distributed future.

She sees three forces shaping the distributed work future. First, a generational shift as younger leaders who grew up comfortable with remote work and digital collaboration take over leadership roles from older generations less accustomed to leading virtual teams. Second is the talent migration underway due to the Great Resignation, with employees gravitating toward flexible, remote-friendly companies and forcing more rigid companies to adapt. And third is the rise of technologies like AI, collaboration tools, and virtual reality that will enable seamless remote interactions at scale.

With careful planning, clear communication, and compassion for worker needs, distributed models can empower people to do their best work, maximize work-life harmony, and come together when necessary to build bonds that support outstanding collaboration. Companies that leverage technology and evolve their talent practices to facilitate hybrid models where employees move fluidly between in-person and virtual interactions will win in the future.

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A one-size-fits-all approach to distributed work is unlikely to succeed. Companies must thoughtfully examine how their culture, leadership preferences, workforce demographics, and business model intersect with the possibilities of flexible policies.

Atlassian adopted its “Team Anywhere” distributed model for three key reasons, Dean explains: to access the best talent globally; increase employee engagement through flexibility and empowerment; and refine collaboration tools by testing them internally first before releasing to customers. Elements of the program include: allowing employees to choose where they work daily rather than mandating office attendance; enabling staff to work remotely for up to 90 days per year from locations outside of their home base; and bringing teams together for regular “team gatherings” to bond and develop strategy.

Atlassian has 11 offices and a thriving office culture. It measures whether team gatherings help build connections more effectively than sporadic office days. The emphasis is on equipping managers to lead distributed teams, not emulating co-located work. As Dean explains, assumptions that mandatory office attendance drives positive outcomes might be overstated. Atlassian’s research found that team gatherings increased connection by 30% for four to five months, while sporadic office attendance showed no impact.

Productivity in remote work

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