Scott Farquhar is the co-CEO of Atlassian. Before the pandemic, only around 5% of Atlassian employees were remote workers. Today, most are, with 42% of the Australian software giant’s employees living more than two hours from an office.
The overall decision was easy enough; the hard part was working out the details. Farquhar walks through how he and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes made this decision during that fateful spring and summer of 2020.
Farquhar’s story, as told to Protocol, has been edited for clarity and brevity.
We predicted the worst. Very early on, Mike and I chatted about it and came to the same conclusion: This pandemic is not going back in six weeks. I think we originally said we think this is going to go for two years.
If we’re not going to go back for two years, what are the implications of that? We looked around and said, we’ve always tapped into a global talent base because we’re a global company. If we don’t have to go back to offices, we can tap into an even bigger global talent base.
We think we should plan to never go back into the office. I think our leadership team was a bit shocked when Mike and I announced this. We’re usually pretty collaborative. But on this particular one, we were pretty convicted, both on our assumption about two years, and also about the implications that came out of that.
We talked to folks at Twitter about their choice to close offices. Twitter was the first company to come out and say, “We’re closing our offices.” Around that same time, there was a Slack channel of peers, CEOs, in other countries, who I would normally catch up with when I was in San Francisco. What I found is that we had way more clarity around what we were doing than other companies. I think there was an angst internally about, like, why aren’t we making our decision as fast as they have? We still made the decision to do it, but there were a lot of details. Can our employees move states? Do they need permission? If people move to other locations, do we guarantee that their salary will be the same, or could it change in the future? We went and talked to people at Twitter, like, “How did you solve all these questions so fast, and what were your solutions to them?” They were like, “Oh, we haven’t solved any of those questions.”
It turned out that moving fast and communicating fast with false certainty ends up not being the right thing. It’s that hard trade-off. There were two big rounds of communications. We came out with certainty with the things that we want — the principles — and then we have the open questions, which we will answer, and I think we’d answer them within, like, six weeks.