Fostering A Culture Of Belonging In A Hybrid World With Atlassian’s Lisa Cutmore

Fostering A Culture Of Belonging In A Hybrid World With Atlassian’s Lisa Cutmore

Atlassian’s key driver to reaching and retaining top talent across Australia is giving their people the option to work from home, the office or somewhere in between. Dubbed Team Anywhere, Atlassian has embraced a new way of working whilst offering Atlassians flexibility and freedom over how they work.

Atlassian launched its work-from-anywhere policy in April 2020 during the initial Covid-19 lockdowns and is now fully distributed, meaning employees can work from anywhere. So long as there is sufficient timezone overlap with their manager and the individual has full working rights for their location.

Statistic after statistic extols the virtues of remote work – it’s a boon to productivity, it boosts morale and lowers stress for the majority of workers, and it reduces operating costs. As the practice grows in popularity, many have called it the future of work, and the new normal.

But how do you set the foundations for a prosperous and culturally inclusive hybrid workplace? That’s what Lisa Cutmore, engineering manager at Atlassian, is here to tell us.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your experience, role and your team?

LC: I have been in the tech industry for over 25 years now (showing my age here!), the first 15 as a developer. I loved the problem-solving and often likened it to getting paid to play sudoku all day. 

I then developed an interest in project management and the business side of things and switched to being a business analyst slash technical project manager for a few years before trying my hand at people management. I have stayed in that role since and love it! I still get to solve problems, but differently. Now it is more focused on people, processes and products. 

I have been an engineering manager at Atlassian since April 2022 and manage a group of talented network engineers. We are a small team, but we support a crucial part of the infrastructure needed by all Atlassian engineering teams.

I’m based in Brisbane, and in true Team Anywhere style,  I have team members in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney.

More than 90 per cent of our team interactions  are online. It is the first time I have managed a team where we are so distributed, and I am one of the remote employees. I love it as I can weave work into my life a little easier.

Q: How do you support your team being completely distributed? 

LC:  We all got a sample of remote work during lockdown, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but there are different tools, tricks and muscles that you need to use when the bulk of your interactions are online. 

You no longer have the accidental water cooler or coffee machine chats you would normally have in an office environment. And you also miss some of the non-verbal body language signals and messages that you experience in person. Below are a few tricks  I use to try to help both myself and the team:

1. Encouraging collaboration hashtag “play as a team” as much as possible; getting folks to work in pairs on a project, and encouraging “rubber ducking” as much as possible. This is a phrase commonly used in software engineering. Rather than debugging a complex issue on your own, rubber ducking is when you talk through the issue with someone else.

2. Because it is a little more difficult to gauge what a person is feeling due to the inability to read body language, I like them to open up more in online meetings. Not everyone will feel confident doing so, so I really try to build trust and psychological safety in the team by encouraging Atlassian’s blameless culture. All mistakes made or incidents are seen as opportunities to learn or share knowledge.

3. I make an effort to get to know each other on a personal level. I do this through intentional togetherness meetings in Sydney, monthly afternoon virtual gaming sessions, spending the first 5 minutes in each weekly ritual on idle chit-chat, asking some fun getting-to-know-you questions, and taking time out of one-to-ones to get to know one another.

I want to bring my whole authentic self to work, and I hope they feel comfortable doing this too.

4. Encouraging radical candor within the team by being open to receiving constructive feedback as well as providing real-time positive and constructive feedback. 

Q: How does your team stay connected without the confines of an office wall?

LC: We are very active and collaborative on Slack. We call adhoc huddles when folks want to “rubber duck”. We also host a couple of weekly rituals to keep across what one another is doing and stay on top of the health of our backlog and systems. We have great banter in the team and one of my favorite things is when they produce custom made memes. We have been lucky to have met face-to-face a couple of times, which also helps build a connection via shared moments together.

Q: What successes and challenges have you seen managing a distributed team?

LC: The biggest benefit is we can tap into a broader talent pool across many countries in the world. Given that more than half my team is located outside of Sydney (including myself), we would not be as large or successful without this. It also allows us to tap into more diversity in backgrounds, experiences and thoughts.

It doesn’t come without its challenges. Sometimes it is hard to separate work and home life. I no longer have the commute to separate myself from my work, so I have to make a conscious effort to shut down my laptop and manage my notifications on my phone to enable downtime. 

Q: How do you utilise tools and technology to ensure productivity and motivation across your team?

LC: I am a little biased, but Atlassian’s tools are great for collaboration. We use Jira to manage all our work (both on a roadmap and daily task management level). Trello is a great tool for brainstorming and virtual workshops. We also use Confluence a lot to collaboratively work on documents across the whole company and make announcements in the form of blogs. 

Q: Culturally, how do you ensure Atlassian’s way of working is the right fit for new joiners?

LC: I actually think Atlassian’s values are a really good way to see if you are the right fit, since this is such a strong part of Atlassian’s DNA. Some of them are especially important, given you will be in a distributed team. 

For example, play as a team is a must since proactive communication and strong collaboration becomes even more important when you no longer have incidental face-to-face interactions. Open company, no BS is another one which is important when you are physically disconnected from your team. An example of this is the open calendar we all have at Atlassian, it provides transparency of whether I am in a meeting, similar to when someone isn’t at their desk in the office. Working remotely also provides flexibility in how and where you work. Hence you have to be happy to have lots of autonomy.

Q: How does Atlassian ensure a culture of innovation in a distributed environment?

LC: Atlassian is very much a company that encourages autonomy, mastery and purpose in their teams, which they say are the three ingredients for intrinsic motivation. In particular, Atlassian encourages folks to work on innovative projects. We have department-wide innovation weeks every quarter, as well as regular company-wide ‘ShipIt’ events, where we are encouraged to work on anything we want for 24 hours. Winners have received everything from T-shirt, to trophies, to Atlassian Foundation credit. Global winners may even have these presented by our founders, Scott and Mike.

We are also encouraged to use 20 per cent of our time to work on non-roadmap items. For example, my team have Friday afternoons blocked off to work on whatever they want.

Q: How does Atlassian support you to work flexibly in a way that suits you best?

LC: Atlassian’s team anywhere policy allows people to work in an environment where they can tailor it to their liking. For example, I can wear my comfy slippers with music playing and my dogs sitting by my side. 

I love that I can easily attend a medical, dental or personal appointment, put a load of washing on in between meetings or even hop on my cross-trainer during a meeting on the odd occasion. I haven’t yet adventured on a road trip to work from a remote location, like Byron Bay, Exmouth or even Hawaii, but that will come in 2023.

Having said this, Atlassian does cater for folks that are a little hesitant to work 100 per cent from home. In Sydney there are two stunning offices that provide free meals, beverages, entertainment like karaoke, table-tennis, pool tables, and even massage chairs for those that want  to go in. 

There are also many regional cohorts that have regular optional connection and collaboration opportunities. For example, we have a Brisbane cohort of over 100 Atlassians that are invited to work from an office space in Fortitude Valley every month and attend funded Intentional Togetherness events. These are all great opportunities for Atlassians to feel part of a community and to connect and collaborate in person.

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