Fostering Connection in a Distributed World: Atlassian's Approach to High-Performing Teams

Fostering Connection in a Distributed World: Atlassian's Approach to High-Performing Teams

Molly Sands, PhD, Head of Team Anywhere Lab at Atlassian shared valuable insights during her keynote. She discussed a variety of strategies for building connections and improving engagement and cohesion.

Meet Dr. Molly Sands

Molly is passionate about using technology to help people do meaningful work together. Before Atlassian, she held leadership positions at Humu, Chadwick Martin Bailey, and more. Her research has been published in top academic journals and featured in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and a Ted Talk with over 6 million views.

At Team Anywhere Lab, Molly and her team aim to help every team develop work practices that enable them to work effectively and achieve things they couldn’t do alone. Team Anywhere focuses on enabling employees to work anywhere in the world - operating 12 globally distributed offices. They study how teams have changed their work methods and develop new practices by experimenting with their employee base of nearly 12,000 people.

What it means to be distributed

In our dynamic work landscape, everyone is distributed, especially those in knowledge work. A survey of Fortune 500 executives revealed that 100% of employees work across time zones. Although distributed work is becoming the norm, teams still need to spend time together. Being intentional with how and when teams come together is an important step in creating a great employee experience in a distributed environment.

Making meaningful connections in a distributed environment

Building relationships in remote and hybrid work environments is an ongoing challenge for many Employee Experience (EX) professionals. Despite the convenience of smartphones and computers, employees often feel disconnected in the workplace. All of this prompts us to rethink how employees spend time together. Atlassian tackles this challenge in a number of ways.

Solutions: Intentional togetherness

Periodic office events

Atlassian organizes periodic office events at various locations to help employees build relationships. These events allow employees to get to know each other better.

Regional gatherings

For those who aren’t near an office, Atlassian enables employees to host regional events to connect in person with other employees in the same area. These gatherings are particularly valuable for remote workers, helping them feel more integrated into the company culture.

Team gatherings

A few times a year, team gatherings are hosted, and any employee can organize one. With support from the workplace experience team, these gatherings are designed to ensure employees spend time together and build meaningful relationships. Atlassian has had over 10,000 attendees with a 96% satisfaction rate. Additionally, Atlassian found that team gatherings led to an average 27% increase in feelings of connectedness. 

Redesigning the office

To support hosting employees on-site, Atlassian redesigned their office spaces. They added more collaboration areas, couches, whiteboards, and spots for coffee chats. This redesign has been effective in driving connections within the company and also between different teams.

Better meetings and asynchronous rituals

Atlassian is revolutionizing meeting practices and asynchronous rituals. Every week, they appoint a Chief Vibe Officer (CVO) to set the theme and vibe of the call. This fosters non-work-related conversations in Slack channels where employees can get to know each other outside of work.

Managers also create brief, two-minute video updates using Loom to share goals, weekly priorities, achievements and recognitions. These updates build a personal connection between managers and employees, enhancing the overall sense of belonging and connectedness within the team.

Key takeaways

  1. Organize events and gatherings to help employees build relationships, integrating remote and in-office staff and enhancing their sense of belonging.
  2. Adapt office spaces for collaboration with comfortable seating, whiteboards, and informal meeting spots to encourage spontaneous conversations and teamwork.
  3. Use creative meeting approaches, like appointing a weekly Chief Vibe Officer and brief video updates from managers, to build connections and improve engagement and cohesion.

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