Updated Mar 14, 2019 — 2.42pm, first published at 12.01am
Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has revealed his company receives 25 per cent more applications for remote working positions than for those based in an office, saying the software giant will decentralise in response to constraints on talent and infrastructure at its Sydney headquarters.
The NASDAQ-listed company, which grew revenue 39 per cent year-on-year last quarter to $US299 million ($423.6 million), converted one Sydney team from in-office to remote two months ago and would continue to refine and broaden the practice, although not set hard targets on it, he said.
“There’s twice as much talent in the rest of Australia as there is in Sydney, and not all of it wants to come to Sydney,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said.
Tree change: Atlassian co-chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes will convert many of its teams to remote-working, to attract talent outside its Sydney base. Louie Douvis
“We’re a fast-growing company and we need to find as much talent as we can. A remote working program is hopefully going to help us do that much faster.”
The remote working push – which could see Atlassian coders and support staff based almost anywhere in Australia – chimes with government attempts to force some migrants to live outside major cities to ease voter concerns about congestion and overdevelopment. Mr Cannon-Brookes said he did not know enough about that policy to comment.
He admitted Sydney’s high living costs and perceptions of worse congestion, set to be major issues in this month’s state election campaign, were mentioned in “some of the feedback” Atlassian sought from its 1000-plus Sydney staff, and by job candidates ahead of the remote working push.
“But access to talent is the big driver,” he said. “We’ve already found [the opportunity for remote working] useful in retaining people who have wanted to move back to Melbourne or wherever, and a very helpful carrot in importing talent. It’s not about reducing growth in Sydney, it’s about increasing growth in Australia.”
Under what Mr Cannon-Brookes described as Atlassian’s “prototype” remote team, four Sydney-based staff from the customer service team for Jira software were invited to work remotely and four remote recruits hired to create a new team.
The program will create a spectrum of teams from partially remote to fully remote, and a training program had begun to optimise how those teams worked together.
“It’s simple things, like if you’re an in-office team meeting with a remote team, you’ll write down more of the agenda first for the people who aren’t physically there,” said Bek Chee, Atlassian’s head of talent who is based in San Francisco.
Copying the playbook of Trello, the competitor in collaboration software Atlassian acquired in 2017 and which has more than half its staff working remotely, Mr Cannon-Brookes said remote recruits ideally would be no more than a two-hour flight from Sydney.
“We want them to live in Australia – we have a big commitment to being here – and be close enough to still fly in regularly for face-to-face meetings. All the research shows it’s best if teams spend some time physically together,” he said.
“There’s talent all over the place in Australia, a lot of great technical universities in Melbourne and Brisbane for example, and we need to draw on it better.”
More remote working might replace or delay the need for bricks-and-mortar offices in Australia outside Sydney. However, Mr Cannon-Brookes said Atlassian had budgeted a slight increase in capital expenditure thanks to higher travel budgets and training associated with the roll-out.
“But there are big productivity gains. If you’re in a state of flow, you’ll be less interrupted, provided we’ve set up the right environment for you,” he said.
Many lessons from Trello’s remote-oriented culture would be introduced to Atlassian, Ms Chee said. For instance, Trello had a “laptop rule” that whenever remote workers patched in to a meeting, office-based workers at that meeting also had to patch in via laptops.
“You don’t want people sitting around a table getting carried away. Ideally everyone gets an equal share of microphone and equal input,” Ms Chee said.
Australia’s existing telecommunications infrastructure was mostly good enough to support remote working, Mr Cannon-Brookes said.
“When I work from my farm in the Southern Highlands, I’m on [national broadband network] satellite and it’s okay. Probably wouldn’t want to do it every day, but the full NBN is coming within the year, so hopefully that changes.”
Effective video-conferencing and screen-sharing did not require crystal-clear, high-definition connections anyway, he said. “As long as the audio works without too much of a lag, and you can see some facial expressions, that’s enough, and 4G can generally deliver it. Of course, more bandwidth is never going to hurt.”
Michael Bailey writes on entrepreneurship and the arts. He is also responsible for the Financial Review’s Rich Lists. He is based in Sydney. Connect with Michael on Twitter. Email Michael at email@example.com