For knowledge workers, location flexibility significantly improves outcomes related to innovation, wellbeing, burnout, and perceptions of organizational culture, according to the 2022 State of Teams report from work management company Atlassian.
The research consisted of responses from 1710 knowledge workers across Australia and the U.S., between 21 and 65 years old, operating in teams. The sample comprised 43% women and 57% men.
The main findings outlined that teams have an equal shot at success regardless of where they work, with the improved outcomes regarding wellbeing and innovation creating a ripple effect that yields even more favorable outcomes.
The report further stated that flexibility is linked to positive perceptions of an organization’s culture, which in turn is strongly associated with higher employee retention rates. Plus, people from hybrid and distributed companies are more likely to identify their teams as innovative.
However, providing employees with the ability to work in a distributed way is not without its challenges. Atlassian’s research also found that when people have different schedules, it can be harder for teams to stay aligned on the specific tasks under way.
The research also found that people with greater location flexibility are more susceptible to imposter syndrome, perhaps because they’re less likely to get incidental positive feedback and cues from colleagues when they’re physically separated.
Annie Dean, head of Team Anywhere at Atlassian, said that while the responses were collected in the U.S. and Australia, Atlassian suspects most global teams can relate to the trends identified in the report.
Dean added that since Atlassian announced its own distributed work policy over two years ago, the company has reaped many of the benefits that come from giving employees more flexibility. However, Dean said that this doesn’t mean Atlassian hasn’t also faced many of the same challenges that surfaced in the research.
“As the makers of collaboration software, we make it our job to understand the challenges of distributed work, share what we learn along the way, and then bake those learnings into our product innovation,” Dean said. As a result, Dean added that it was “no coincidence” that many of the new products and features Atlassian has recently introduced directly address the pain points identified by this research.
Despite benefits, distributed workforces still face challenges
While location flexibility is linked to improved company culture, which in turn is often associated with higher employee retention rates, the report found that there are still a number of challenges facing distributed workforces.
Among the positive workplace trends that were highlighted by the research, 78% of people surveyed said they’re enthusiastic about their work, up 9% from last year’s survey, with 75% of respondents stating that respect for different views and perspectives is the norm on their team. In Atlassian’s 2021 survey, that figure was 66%.
Another statistic that has also improved from last year was the percentage of respondents reporting that they have visibility into how decisions are being made—63% in this year’s survey, compared to 51% in 2021. Furthermore, this trend appears to track in line with increased trust in leadership, which rose by 11% year over year.
However, there continues to be a number of challenges facing distributed teams, and Atlassian found that more people are now pointing to factors in their personal lives that make it harder to do their work—33% this year compared to 26% last year. The report suggests that this indicates that mental health and financial challenges caused by the pandemic persist.
Additionally, the research found that among teams that were self-described as being “innovative,” 42% of respondents acknowledge they exhibit at least one sign of impostor syndrome. Since Atlassian’s data also shows strong links between impostor syndrome and reduced engagement, the company noted that it’s “vital for leaders to make sure the merits and limitations of an idea get equal airtime.”
Atlassian also reported a challenge related to virtual meetings. While office-only workers have around five hours of meetings in an average week, for people on distributed and hybrid teams that figure is closer to eight hours. As a result, the research found that spending more time in meetings is linked with a significantly higher risk of burnout, with 31% of respondents who had over 20 hours of meetings scheduled per week expressed that they were experiencing one or more signs of burnout, compared to 23% of those who had 15 hours of meetings or less.
Dean said that after collating the research, many of the trends did hold true, based on conversations Atlassian has had with customers, alongside the company’s own experiences as a distributed team.
“One of the data points that did raise my eyebrows was related to imposter syndrome,” Dean said, highlighting the surprisingly high percentage of respondents reporting this feeling.
Dean said that where this is caused, at least in part, by a culture that emphasizes brainstorming, critique, and providing instant feedback, its important leaders use tools and practices that allow all ideas to be shared in both synchronous and asynchronous manners.
“It’s also important to find opportunities for spontaneous high-fives and other incidental positive feedback when we work distributed,” Dean said.