November 28, 2020

How Atlassian Sets Remote Teams Up for Success: MURAL Imagine Recap

Nicole Smith

Senior Marketing Programs Manager @ MURAL. Previously @ Salesforce. Passionate about strategic integrated marketing programs, advocacy marketing, community building, and rescue dogs.

Supporting remote teams at Atlassian

This season on MURAL Imagine, we're bringing you live sessions and workshops to shine a spotlight on companies that have embraced change in 2020. One of these changemakers is Eugene Chung, R&D team coach at Atlassian, a leading provider of collaboration, development, and issue tracking software for teams.

Eugene and his team are invested in helping the 2,500 people in the research and development organization succeed. From process improvements to one-on-one coaching, Eugene delivers advice and approaches to being an effective software team. Some of these approaches are templatized in the Atlassian Team Playbook, a collection of free workshop resources for addressing common team challenges and starting important conversations.

Eugene joined MURAL’s Hailey Temple for a live MURAL Imagine session to talk about one play in particular that helps leaders at Atlassian build empathy within their teams and identify the right support for everyone through changing and challenging work experiences.

Watch the recording below, or read on to learn how Eugene executed Atlassian’s Work Life Impact Play with his team. Then, borrow Atlassian’s template to replicate their success at your organization.

Why remote work is (still) so challenging

At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us assumed we’d be working from home for a few weeks or months, and then life would go back to normal.

“We tried to just keep going as usual, as if things hadn't changed,” Eugene said in his MURAL Imagine session. “A lot of it was also just trying to avoid thinking about everything that was happening around us.”

But as 2020 draws to a close, it’s become abundantly clear that the future of work is forever changed. Being able to communicate, collaborate, and innovate from anywhere is a competitive advantage — but it can’t come at the expense of your team’s well-being.

Being able to communicate, collaborate, and innovate from anywhere is a competitive advantage — but it can’t come at the expense of your team's well-being.

Eugene joined Atlassian as an R&D team coach in mid-March, the same week the company went fully remote work due to COVID-19. (Talk about being thrown into the deep end!) Eugene quickly got to work supporting his new team in light of the unusual circumstances.

“Atlassian commissioned this really large, longitudinal global study at the onset of COVID-19 to understand what the impacts were of this dramatic shift to remote working,” Eugene shared. “How is it affecting not just work — that’s important too — but how is it affecting us as humans, and how does it affect how we relate to each other? And what do we need to be able to actually cope with this dramatic change and the shift that's happening all around us?”

He went on to explain one of the biggest challenges folks are facing right now. “Pre-COVID, there was this harder line and separation between your work life and your home life,” he said. “We can't necessarily draw those boundaries as hard as we were able to before.”

So, the big question is: how can leaders and managers help their teams be more resilient, adaptive, and successful?

Prototyping the Work Life Impact Play

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge. It requires team leaders to:

  • Understand each individual’s circumstances and challenges
  • Give them the tools they need to do their best work
  • Provide them training and support to overcome these challenges

The Work Life Impact Play is a method for facilitating a team workshop that will build empathy among your team and help you uncover the best ways to support them.

Eugene and his team recognize that because of all the changes going on in the world, people are in a vulnerable state. They needed to strike a balance between creating an open forum and making sure no one felt pressured to share more than they wanted to. That’s where prototyping came in.

During the session, Eugene walked us through five iterations of the play to break down what worked, what didn’t, and what the Atlassian team learned from the process.

Prototype 1: Team Anywhere Personas

First, they wanted to help teams be more transparent and communicative. Prototype 1 aims to solve this by, as Euguene puts it, serving as “a user manual for the remote ages.” Individuals could fill out their personas for Confluence or Slack to give visibility into their work environment. 

Key takeaways: The information turned out to be very powerful, but it also led to some privacy concerns. The Atlassian team realized that employees needed more control over where their personal information was shared.

Prototype 2: Team Anywhere Workshop

To solve the challenges with the first prototype, they put together a workshop in MURAL that would foster communication among teams instead of asking people to share with everyone. They looked at three key experience factors.

🏡 Work life at home:
Your living conditions and household influence your remote work needs.

🛠️ Role and workflows:
Your role and types of workflow influence your ability to complete tasks when working remotely.

🤝 Work community
: Your sense of connection to others has a huge impact on how effective you are in your role.

Key takeaways: This approach fostered some excellent conversations, but facilitators noticed a lot of groupthink going on as well. They observed people shying away from sharing their perspectives in favor of agreeing with the majority, which limited their ability to support everyone.

Prototype 3: My Team Anywhere Profile

The third prototype combines solo work and real-time collaboration. Before the workshop, everyone spent 15 minutes filling out their profiles on their own time. Then, they came together to share out their profiles and reflect on commonalities and individual challenges.

Key takeaways: This prototype allowed for both individual self-reflection and team communication. Giving people the opportunity to reflect on their own time made real-time conversations much richer.

Prototype 4: Team Anywhere Workshop

The next prototype served an important purpose. Eugene and his team had scheduled a Work Life testing session with Atlassian’s executive ops team — and they only had 20 minutes to complete it.

Eugene explained, “We essentially had that forcing function, identified some of those learnings, and wanted to test out a new format that brought some of these aspects together.”

First, they gave everyone on the executive ops team their own space on the canvas to work — but instead of filling out the mural live, they could return and add to it later, over time. To make the most of their time, the group spent the majority of the session discussing their initial thoughts.

Key takeaways: The feedback was overwhelmingly positive — and in fact, the participants wished they’d had more time for the workshop. “If some of our [busiest leaders] wanted to do this for longer,” Eugene shared, “it’s a pretty good signal ... that we're not effectively creating enough time and space for us to share with one another.”

The finished product

Based on all their learnings from the first four prototypes, Eugene and his team created the Work Life Impact Play, which you can run with your own team using this template.

5 ways to create psychological safety

This workshop requires everyone to be vulnerable, which can be challenging in any situation — let alone in a remote work environment. Eugene shared how team leaders can create psychological safety during this workshop.

1. Run a safety check.

Before you schedule the workshop, present the idea to your team and make sure they feel comfortable with it. “Do an honest poll and say, ‘How comfortable do you feel running this play?’ You know, are you a one — very low comfort — or a five — high comfort and high desire. And you're asking your team to essentially choose to run this play or not.”

2. Make the workshop optional.

If someone feels uncomfortable or is unwilling to participate, they won’t get what they need out of the session. Even if the majority of the team wants to participate, don’t force anyone to take part if they don’t want to.

3. Set ground rules up front.

Here are the rules Eugene laid out.

💯 Everyone’s experience is unique.

📣 They should share only as much or as little as they want.

💬 There are no “right” or “wrong” answers.

💚 The team will always assume positive intent.

In short, make sure you create guidelines that reduce pressure and give everyone confidence that what they share won’t be used against them.

4. Select a neutral facilitator.

“There are some certain biases that managers and leaders [can] exhibit when facilitating that may not lead to healthy outcomes,” Eugene explained. Not only that, but managers should have the opportunity to participate and be vulnerable as well. “That helps build trust and safety over time,” Eugene emphasized.

To avoid conflicts and unbalanced power dynamics, have someone from another team within the organization facilitate the workshop (and you can facilitate theirs), or hire a professional facilitator.

5. Create an open forum for discussion.

At Atlassian, anyone can join an open Slack channel called #work-life-impact. Folks use it to discuss challenges, share success stories, and grow their facilitation skills. This creates a sense of community and solidarity (we’re all in this together!) before and after the workshop.

When you get it right, you’ll find that this play triggers important conversations and helps you solve problems you didn’t even know existed.

Get Atlassian’s template

Want to run Atlassian's Work Life Impact Play with your own team? Use this MURAL template they created to facilitate the workshop. In it, you’ll find a guide to running the session and the tools you need to make it a success.