Take ‘leave from meetings’: How this tech leader thrives with flexibility

Take ‘leave from meetings’, block time for thinking: How this Microsoft leader thrives with flexibility 


Elena Wise doesn’t follow the traditional nine-to-five schedule, despite being in a senior leadership position.

Rather, she thinks about her days as having 24 hours that she can balance between her personal and work lives, and her weeks as seven days that can also be carved up. 

Working across different timezones for Microsoft, she still works more than a 40-hour week but will take time out during the day for a few hours to do something else and catch up on the weekend.

Once a quarter, she blocks out a week where she puts herself on “leave from meetings” to focus on the big picture. She uses the time to focus on strategy, as well as team development and getting across the latest trends in the industry. 

As Director, Specialty Technology Unit at Microsoft, this approach to work is one Wise shares with her team, encouraging them to find what works best for them and being honest about how it’s working out for her.  

“I’m transparent about my challenges and success, and this gives them permission to do the same,” Wise tells Women’s Agenda.  

Microsoft’s approach to hybrid work and flexibility is bucking the trend of the push to get employees back to the office Monday to Friday. Team members can choose between working remotely for less than 50 per cent of their normal work week, or they can work remotely 100 per cent of the time if they have manager approval. 

The flex work policy is centred around recognising individual needs and promoting work-life balance. It also aims to support employees to work during the hours that are best for them in delivering according to expectations. It supports wellbeing and adaptability, but also productivity in recognising that people have individual approaches to getting their best work done. 

A blog post published more than four years ago by Kathleen Hogan, Executive Vic President and Chief People Officer, outlining the approach to flexibility still stands – again bucking the trend of some other tech firms to increasingly get people back to working in more traditional ways. “Moving forward,” she wrote in October 2021, “it is our goal to offer as much flexibility as possible to support individual workstyles while balancing business needs and ensuring we live our culture,” 

Increasingly, we’re seeing how workers want the best of both worlds when it comes to remote working and time spent in the office. Microsoft describes this as the “hybrid paradox”, noting figures from its 2021 Work Trends Index, a study of more than 31,000 workers in 31 countries, finding that 70 per cent of workers wanted flexible work to stay, but more than 65 per cent craved having more face to face time with their teams. 

For Elena Wise, staying flexible on how and when she works enables her to get the most out of her time, and to be constantly thinking about the future. She’ll dedicate headspace for planning, thinking and learning, and try to block out Mondays as meeting-free days – unless she needs to travel or there’s an urgent issue. “I use this time to get on top of key actions for the week ahead, and to upskill on some of our latest AI training, which really helps given how quickly the technology is moving.” 

With a career spanning some of the world’s largest organisations and biggest markets, including AMEX, PayPal and Google and ten years spent in Japan, Wise has developed her work style to be able to respond to needs across international borders. 

Asked how she establishes herself in new cities and markets, she recalls making her first international move and being given the advice always to give such a move at least six months because wherever you go, you’ll need time to adjust culturally and there will be times when you just want to pull the pin. “Patience is key,” she says. “Building relationships and trust is crucial and learning from different perspectives enriches your experience.” 

Wise says she spends time meeting people one-on-one both in work and social contexts, joining local business chambers, clubs and expat groups, and notes the importance of staying connected with current past colleagues and contacts. 

Wise is a pioneering woman in tech, now one of Microsoft’s most senior leaders in Australia and having spent years in senior leadership positions, including as country manager and GM Japan of PayPal and Country Manager of Google Technical Services in Japan and Korea. 

Looking broadly across the tech industry, she wants to see more companies pushing the focus beyond diversity and hiring to focus on inclusion, and understand women’s needs and perspectives. 

“There is a need to provide flexibility and tools for women to work in ways that suit their personal and professional goals, and not expect them to fit into rigid or traditional, often male-dominated or male-created, models,” she says. 

Wise wants to see more male allies getting involved in women’s networks and agendas to understand the experiences women have. She highlights one particularly positive experience of this at Microsoft, where she is seeing strong interest from male employees seeking guidance or support for partners experiencing menopause, which is one of the areas their Families Employee Resource Group is currently focusing on. 

“Companies in all sectors need to support women throughout their life cycle better, not just when they are having children, but also when they are caring for elderly parents, managing illness, or experiencing menopause, for example,” she says. 

Just as there is no one working style that will work for everyone, there is no set communication style for leading a successful team. 

“As leaders, we need to adapt our language and approach for different audiences/team members to help get the best outcomes – be those different genders, cultural backgrounds, or generational adjustments.”

Women’s Agenda spoke to Elena Wise to learn more about flexible work, thanks to our partnership with Family Friendly Workplaces.

This year Microsoft will be measuring their policies against the National Work + Family Standards as part of the Family Friendly Workplace Certification, having been certified for the previous two years already. Microsoft says it’s important employers pursue family-friendly workplace accreditation to demonstrate a commitment to work-life balance, gender equality, and employee well-being, and also for attracting and retaining the best talent and enhancing a company’s reputation. 


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