From Parental Leave To Lockdown: How Atlassian’s Jennifer Marfell Has Thrived As A Return-To-Work Parent In A Distributed World

From Parental Leave To Lockdown: How Atlassian’s Jennifer Marfell Has Thrived As A Return-To-Work Parent In A Distributed World
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The COVID-19 pandemic came as a huge shock when it hit Australia and the world last year, upending just about everyone’s way of working.

Now, as we continue to emerge from a period of snap lockdowns and isolation, companies have realised the importance of employee flexibility, with remote working options no longer just a novelty, but a crucial element of their operational success.

However, in designing and implementing a model for flexible working, companies must ensure that no employee is at a disadvantage – particularly women returning from parental leave.

A recent survey by theSkimm found that while two-thirds of Millennial women regard remote work options as a priority, two-thirds also believe they are missing opportunities by not being in the office.

One organisation that has levelled the playing field for parents returning to work in a distributed team is Atlassian.

The software giant has taken a top-down approach to its flexible working arrangements, parental support and distributed working policy, introducing activities and guidelines to ensure remote employees have an equitable and inclusive experience and opportunities.

And one employee who has benefited greatly from this approach is engineering manager Jennifer Marfell.

After taking parental leave in July 2019 and being supported “every step of the way”, Marfell – who was based in Sydney at the time – chose to return to work at Atlassian in January 2020, joining another team within the organisation.

“It was my choice to come back as I am the breadwinner of the family. I need to work for us to be able to survive,” she told B&T.

But, in March 2020, Atlassian instructed all staff to safely work from home as COVID-19 swept across the globe.

This was a big adjustment for Marfell, who had just returned from parental leave, and recently transitioned into a new team.

“I hadn’t developed enough rapport with my team at that time and being distributed put another level of complexity on that, as it was something I wasn’t accustomed to” she explained.

“Lockdowns didn’t help either, as I had my very young child at home, which impacted my productivity as I was frequently being distracted.”

Going remote, getting flexible

As the months wore on with the pandemic still very much wreaking havoc on the world, Atlassian introduced a ‘distributed working’ policy; offering employees the flexibility to decide on working arrangements suitable to them.

So, Marfell decided to take advantage of the company’s distributed-first approach and relocated with her husband and kids to Western Australia in December 2020 to be close to family.

It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the engineering manager and her family since arriving though, experiencing snap lockdowns and a bushfire scare.

“Atlassian was very accommodating and introduced an additional three weeks of Special Leave – on top of the standard annual and sick leave, to support mental health or caregiving of kids during lockdowns,” Marfell said.

“That helped a lot, especially for parents who needed to help their kids with studies or just to provide them emotional support.”

And, with her team based in NSW, Marfell is able to easily navigate the time difference in WA thanks to Atlassian’s flexibility around her work hours.

“Although I choose to start work early (6am), I can take breaks throughout the day, including being there for school drop-offs,” she told B&T.

“I also finish my day early, allowing the afternoon to drive my kids around to their various activities.

“Atlassian also encourages me to work asynchronously so I don’t have to spend hours in meetings, and can catch up on the video recordings. They also make sure that meetings are not too early for me.

“It means I am able to maintain a better work-life balance. I have control of my working hours and it’s up to me to balance family life with the needs of our team.”

Staying on a growth trajectory

One of the common challenges women face when returning to work post-parental leave is getting back into the groove and continuing their career progression.

For Marfell, she has picked up where she left off at Atlassian – and then some.

“Atlassian has given me an opportunity to develop and grow my team,” she said. “I started with only five reports and now I’ve built a team of 10.

“Not only that, I was given the opportunity to be more involved in contributing to organisation-wide projects whilst managing my brilliant team.

Atlassian’s ability to continue building its corporate culture, even while staff are working remotely, has also played a vital role in Marfell’s success returning from parental leave.

“The Work Experience team is second-to-none. They’ve done a great job pivoting from in-person events to virtual. I’ve taken part in online exercise classes like Rorygraphy, Pilates and yoga, as well as our company-wide gamified experience day – the Big Bash,” she said.

“The Friends and Family event that we used to have in-person is also now virtual. This year, we selected a fun-kit to celebrate with our families. I chose an ice-cream-themed kit that included an ice cream maker and all the ingredients. The kids loved it!

“Atlassian’s team-focused and celebratory culture is still thriving, which I am glad to see.”

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