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WFH mandates bad for staff morale and stunt innovation

Opportunistic Atlassian highlights problems in wake of move by Meta, Dell, Google and others

DevOps darling Atlassian reckons that far from upping productivity, mandating a return to the office will dent worker morale, increase staff churn, and potentially damage innovation.

Never one to miss a good marketing opportunity, the Aussie business was speaking out after several weeks of Meta, Dell, Google and others talking up in-person work.

Atlassian's 10,000-plus workforce is allowed to choose where they work, and co-CEO and co-founder Scott Farquhar thinks that around 40 percent live more than two hours from their nearest office.

"Companies tying butts in seats to performance, or guilting their employees into charitable behavior, is not only disingenuous but harmful," he said. "By making these decisions, companies are stunting innovation, limiting opportunities to the hands of the few, and degrading the one thing they care about – connection."

Around 78 percent of Atlassian's software engineers meet in an office once a quarter, and about half visit the office at least once a month. Some 75 to 90 percent that live within two hours of the office come in once a month or more.

Farquhar says 91 percent of his staff cite flexibility to work remotely or from an office as "important reasons" for sticking with the organization; 92 percent say it lets them do their best work; and spending just a few days together boosts team feelings of connection for four to five months.

Amazon asked its 300,000 corporate workers in February to get back into the office for "at least" three days a week. CEO Andy Jassy said at the time it is "easier to learn, model, practice, and strengthen our culture when we're in the office together most of the time and surrounded by our colleagues. It's especially true for new people."

Mark Zuckerberg told his Meta underlings this month that he also wants bums on seats in the office as "engineers perform better in person." Dell has similarly asked workers to return for three days a week, despite previously saying during the pandemic that it anticipated the majority of employees working remotely.

Google is tightening up WFH home policies and will monitor more closely who is coming into the office and how many times a week they do, with this contributing toward annual pay reviews. And Salesforce is donating $10 to charity for each day a worker goes into the office for a fortnight from today.

Atlassian believes, unlike some of its larger and older tech siblings, that internal product data indicates "no evidence of decreasing productivity" of employees that work remotely.

"We're not taking attendance and it's working for us," said Farquhar. "Employee productivity, retention, and happiness are up. From our perspective, strict mandates miss what work should be about: good work."

Is he right? Tell us in the comments. ®

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