Dom Price, head of R&D, Atlassian on productivity
Dom Price, head of R&D, Atlassian. Image: Atlassian

Has productivity become an outdated practice?

27 Mar 2018

Is the notion of maximum productivity dead? Is it time to move towards something better in our working life?

We’re at a turning point in the world of work right now. Out with mindless productivity, in with employee wellbeing.

But it’s easier said than done and, while we should all agree to kill the buzzword that is productivity, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be productive – and yes, there is a difference.

Not long ago, you couldn’t swing a virtual cat around the internet without coming across tips on maximising your productivity at work.

The problem was, a lot of these tips revolved around working harder and longer with fewer breaks – all things that lead to stress, overwork and burnout.

Now, thought leaders and companies are condemning maximum productivity in favour of a healthy work-life balance, workloads that are measured by results rather than just a list of completed tasks, and genuine career progression.

One such advocate is Dom Price, head of R&D at Atlassian, an Australian enterprise software company.

Price’s role within the company involves how the team can scale the business properly. This includes understanding the importance of Atlassian’s team and how it will grow.

Lessons learned

“If we stand still, we’ll go backwards,” he said. “So, we have to constantly keep our minds open to understanding the dynamic of how teams work, and how individuals feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.”

Price also brings what he and his team have learned to other companies. He speaks a lot about the importance of a good company culture and team dynamics.

‘I signed up for a comfort blanket, which made me a worse person and a worse leader’

However, his lessons around this area came long before he arrived at Atlassian. “Years ago, when I moved to London from Manchester, I was pushed to pursue a stable career path: crunching numbers and wearing a suit as an accountant.”

Price said this is where he learned two very important things, the first of which was discipline. “It’s also where I learned the rule that I would spend the rest of my career breaking the notion that great minds think alike,” he said.

“I used to hire people who were just like me. I signed up for a comfort blanket, which made me a worse person and a worse leader.”

Once Price realised that accountancy wasn’t for him, he decided to travel for a year. Upon his return, he realised that he wanted to be motivated by meaningful work and that’s when he ended up at Atlassian.

Preparing for the future

As a self-professed futurist, Price believes there are a number of trends current employees need to be aware of and prepared for. “There are two I think will have the highest impact,” he said.

“The first one is the desire for people to have work-life integration, over the old theory of work-life balance. Integration enables you to do your work and contribute whenever works best for you, wherever you are. This is challenging our norms around office space (as more people work remotely) and our construct of office hours (as more people work flexible time).”

‘Give people problems to solve, not tasks to complete’

He said the second trend that both employers and employees need to think about is mental wellbeing.

“We’re no longer using our hands for manual labour,” he said. “We’re asking people to spend more time on complex tasks and increased cognitive load. We need to find ways to recharge the brain and prevent burnout.”

Being busy no longer means accomplishing more. Instead of obsessing over output, Price advised focusing on outcomes. “Give people problems to solve, not tasks to complete,” he said.

Productivity is outdated

“For me, productivity was baked in the industrial revolution when humans were the machines in the factory, and the goal of the economy was to optimise those people to go faster and be more efficient,” said Price.

For him, we’re now in a world where we care about human impact, and our interests have grown beyond merely financial benefit. “There has to be more to life, right?”

Price’s sentiments about the productivity addiction are easy to agree with and even though he admits that he still cares about productivity, it’s not his end goal.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the last few years is about focus. I’ve talked about it for years, but I haven’t really practised it properly,” he said. “Now, I pick one or two areas where I want to have the most impact, and I laser-focus in on them. It’s not that idea three, four or five are bad. I’d just rather do two things really well than five things averagely.”

For those looking to regain focus rather than worry about maximum productivity, Price shared his top five tips that help him:

  1. Articulate your goals as outcomes, not as tasks
  2. Periodically pause to reflect on what’s working and what’s not
  3. Opt out of commitments (recurring meetings etc) that aren’t serving you
  4. Be clear on what you’re not doing, and communicate that to people around you
  5. Invest in your most meaningful relationships

Remote culture

Price also spoke about the growing trend of remote working and how that will affect company culture.

He said that remote and distributed teams will become part of that evolving culture and that teams don’t need to be physically together to feel connected.

“Culture doesn’t require colocation,” he said. “We want creativity, not thousands of clones. If you hire for ‘culture fit’, you tend to lose that cognitive diversity.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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