Q&A: Dropbox exec outlines company’s journey into a remote-work world

    As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to surge in October 2020, most workplace employees discovered themselves coming into the seventh month of residence working. With vaccines on the horizon and (pre-emptive) rumors that workplaces would begin to reopen within the new yr, some organizations determined to by no means return to an office-based surroundings — not less than not one recognizable to the pre-pandemic method of working.Dropbox was one of many first to make that call, saying on Oct. 13 that “starting today, Dropbox is becoming a Virtual First company.” In a press release, the corporate mentioned, “remote work (outside an office) will be the primary experience for all employees and the day-to-day default for individual work.”Existing workplaces shut for good and of their place, Dropbox Studios opened for collaboration and community-building. Using the studios for solo work was strictly forbidden.Almost two years later, Andy Wison, director of product at Dropbox, spoke in regards to the expertise of turning into a “virtual first” firm and what classes Dropbox has realized alongside the best way. This interview has been edited for size and readability.Why did Dropbox resolve to change into a totally distant firm and the way did you go about growing your ‘virtual first’ technique? “We are a company that builds products that enable people to work remotely, so very early on in the pandemic, we decided we needed to live our product truth, by working remotely and learning what works with our own teams before releasing our products into the world.”‘Virtual first’ [the name Dropbox gave its remote work strategy] was a really considerate course of. We did not simply sit down and say: ‘We’re all distant now, let’s maintain it that method.’ We spoke to a lot of different companies that had been working remotely pre-pandemic, asking what had been profitable for them, what was difficult, what processes they’d put in place, and from these conversations we began to construct our new firm technique. “For Dropbox, virtual first means that our primary place of work is remote, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t ever come together. We replaced our offices with studios so colleagues can come together to collaborate with their teams; however, it was important that people didn’t swap coming into the office with coming into a studio five days a week. We don’t want our employees to say: ‘I’m going to be in studio, Monday and Tuesday every week,’ because that creates a proximity bias, and we didn’t want to go down that route. We wanted to truly live that approach of working remotely and to understand what that would mean to have people working wherever they wanted to in the world.”When growing your new technique, why did you resolve on the distant working route fairly than adopting a hybrid mannequin? “Through the development process, lots of different models were weighed up. At the time we were making these decisions, people were thinking that maybe we’ll get back into the office early 2021, so we actually evaluated lots of different working models before settling on virtual first. “We ended up ruling out taking a hybrid strategy as a result of we did not suppose it will in the end be equitable to all our workers within the aftermath of the pandemic. We’d already began increasing our hiring pool geographically and didn’t wish to be restricted by location shifting ahead.”And as the world started to emerge from the pandemic, how did the strategy evolve? “Underneath digital first is various tenets that outline how we take into consideration the way forward for work. One of these is ‘asynchronous by default,’ the idea being that if we’re going to have people working remotely, that shouldn’t mean they spend eight hours a day on video calls. Instead, at Dropbox, you’re measured on your output and the impact that you make, rather than how many meetings you can sit in.”That then led us to think about how much time we should be spending in meetings, and as a result, we rolled out something called ‘core collaboration hours’ the place workers reserve 4 hours every day to be out there for conferences. That means there’s instances whenever you’re open to satisfy together with your crew or anybody else within the firm, but additionally that you have these different 4 hours within the day to concentrate on the work that it is advisable do.”Does that imply you would not flex that to satisfy with any individual who’s in a distinct time zone or one thing else? Absolutely not. It’s your time to handle as a person, as a result of we’re measuring you on the influence and output that you simply’re making. “Something like a-synch by default also means that you’re thinking differently about how you use your time. It’s a precious resource and we want our employees to learn to value it more. It’s also really important that as a company we try to keep work human. We want to get this strategy right, but it’s an iterative thing. We know that on the way we’re going to have to nudge it a little bit to get things on course and we’re still learning as we go. But I think that what’s important is that if at the heart of it, we tried to keep everything human and build a collaborative work environment that’s very flexible, then ultimately, that’s all right.”How was the choice to go absolutely distant obtained on the firm? “Before we made the announcement, we ran some surveys at the company and we found that around 74% of our workforce wanted to work remotely, for either some or most of their time.”Then, after about six months of working remotely, we surveyed our workers once more, and what we discovered was that folks appreciated the flexibleness. We repeated the survey once more on the finish of 2021 and located that by This fall of 2021, round 63% of respondents had adopted the async by default strategy and over 80% had adopted core collaboration hours.”What was really interesting is that 72% said that they felt more productive as a result of the changes, which is amazing, and that same number, 72%, felt that they had a better work life balance, which is one of those things that helps to make work more human. We want our employees to have a real life, we want people to have the flexibility and to take ownership of their deliverables and how they balance their work. “Throughout this complete journey, we now have completely listened to the corporate and been certain to repeatedly ask them if that is how they wish to work.”What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced since adopting your virtual first working model? “When we first rolled out digital first in October 2020, we had been all nonetheless on this fairly weird pandemic-induced surroundings, so at that time, it wasn’t that a lot of an enormous shift as a result of most individuals had been nonetheless in lockdown and dealing from residence. As a outcome, the rapid implementation of the technique was in all probability a lot easier than it in any other case may need been.”I wouldn’t say there’s been any particular challenges, but we have had to change how we think about a lot of things we used to take for granted. For example, when hiring, you have to start thinking differently because all of a sudden, you’re hiring from anywhere.”I’ve employed 5 individuals within the final six months, all from very completely different places all over the world. At the beginning, it did take just a little little bit of a thoughts shift, however it additionally means we’ve now bought a a lot greater expertise pool to recruit from.”We put training in place to help managers hire remote talent, form remote teams and ultimately get all these new virtual employees to work together and build bonds, as that’s a very different experience when you’re used to doing all those things in-person. We also ran workshops with employees about how to brainstorm virtually, how to manage their time, how to manage project deliverables, to how to implement core collaboration hours in a way that would work for them.”Opening up the studios has additionally supplied an actual alternative for Dropbox; it’s the subsequent chapter in how we work collectively. Where and after we can, we’re aiming to convey groups collectively not less than as soon as 1 / 4 in both our everlasting or on-demand studio areas.”However, getting together in person is purely so we can focus on generating ideas and connecting with each other, it’s not about using the space for holding in-person meetings. That’s really important to us and, as a result, our studios don’t have desks because that’s not the purpose of them. They’re for getting people together, creating ideas, moving things forward.”What have been the largest advantages of of “virtual-first”? “It allows us to come back to our mission as a company, which is building a more enlightened way of working. It also allows us to live our product truths, as not only are we building tools for remote workers, but we can prove they work because they’re underpinning our own work strategy.”In phrases of advantages to our workers, individuals working at Dropbox routinely say they really feel extra productive and have a greater work life steadiness as a result of they will take management of their working hours and flex time in a method that works for them, which is so necessary to us.”The different actually necessary factor we have executed is get higher about defending individuals’s time away from work by introducing one thing known as ‘unplugged paid time off.’ Because we’re all so used to getting communications through a lot of completely different software, together with your cell, whenever you take break day, it could actually typically be tough to separate your self from work when your emails are within the palm of your hand.”So, we launched one thing known as unplugged PTO, which signifies that whenever you signal as much as take your vacation, you simply tick a field saying: ‘I’d wish to get unplugged,’ after which when your vacation begins, we flip off notifications and disconnect all your accounts till you come back.”We’re really trying to think about that well-being aspect, because one of the biggest challenges with having a remote workforce is making sure your employees properly disconnect. We’re trying to think through ideas like that to make sure all our workers have a better employee experience and as a result, we’ve seen 1.7 times increase in the number of people applying for jobs at Dropbox.”What have the largest classes Dropbox has realized all through this expertise? “The first is that great talent really does come from anywhere — but that means you’ve got to put the effort in to find it and to build an environment that’s inclusive for remote workers. If the rest of the team is going to be in the office nine-to-five, five days a week, and you’re hiring someone from a different country, what controls are you going to put in place to make them feel like a valued, equal member of the team?”The second one is to consider private rapport in addition to work rapport. If a crew had been to be sat round a financial institution of desks, they’d in all probability all be chatting about what the weekend was like or what was occurring in individuals’s lives. In a distant surroundings, you mustn’t lose sight of that normal camaraderie that builds up in a piece surroundings. Think about how one can recreate that in a digital surroundings. For instance, we now have common espresso chats and at my weekly crew conferences, everyone seems to be requested a few huge occasion that’s occurring of their life exterior of labor. When issues are robust, I feel it’s actually necessary that, as a crew, we are able to all rally round and assist the place we are able to. That actually helps to construct a closer-knit crew.”The third one is to ditch the unnecessary and unwanted meetings. As we were implementing virtual first, we actually had this moment where we all looked at our calendars and thought, ‘What are the meetings that are in there that really don’t need to be meetings?’ From that moment on, we had to be a little bit ruthless with ourselves and really start to question if something truly justified putting in a meeting or could it instead be an async update.”Those are the teachings I’ve realized, and I feel digital working supplies an enormous alternative for anyone who desires to rent nice expertise, have a significantly better work life steadiness, and have workers are feeling extra productive. Those are the true advantages that groups can get.”

    Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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