Unpacking Dropbox's move to virtual first work


Max Shepherd-Cross


July 14, 2021

It seems every week brings news of another large company completely changing the way they work.

Dropbox is the latest such company. Before the pandemic they unmistakably an 'office first' company. They offered famously excellent food and a karaoke bar, no less, all in an attempt to craft the perfect office experience. But the San Francisco based company has pulled a complete 180 and are now going 'Virtual First' announcing that the office is no longer the 'centre of gravity' for the company. Let's unpack that.

The underlying principle is that individual work should happen remotely, whereas team work should happen together.

"Individual work should happen remotely, whereas team work should happen together"

As such they've ripped out their desks and replaced them with collaboration areas and 'touch downs' to encourage serendipity. If an employee wants to work from an office 5-days-a-week, they simply won't be allowed to. 

For Dropbox this a huge change and a jump into blue. As such they've identified four foundations to help make it a success:

1. Employees should be judged on their performance, not attendance

We've all known that the traditional management technique of 'bums on seats' is outdated and damaging to both employee and business. However, it's taken the shock of a global pandemic to do something about it. The Dropbox alternative is to find a metric for every team and role to judge them on, rather than office attendance. The example they use is that of a web designer, judge them on the % increase adoption of a particular feature that they own, instead of hours worked or meetings attended. 

2. Design serendipitous interactions into your office

One of the key arguments against hybrid or remote work is the loss of serendipity that leads to so many innovations and breakthroughs. Dropbox's answer is to build 'touch downs' between meeting rooms that encourage employees to stay a while and thus increase the chance they'll bump into someone new. 

3. 4-hour collaboration windows 

One of the overriding frustrations with working from home over the last year is Zoom fatigue. if you're a Dropbox employee, you now cannot have zoom meetings outside of your 4-hour collaboration window. Leaving plenty of time for deep, focused work. 

4. Measure adoption

All of this is meaningless if you can't measure if your employees are actually adopting these techniques. Measure everything and iterate. 

Dropbox have clearly thought deeply about how hybrid work will work for them. 'Virtual First' is a novel and unique approach, it will be fascinating to see how it works.

Max Shepherd-Cross

Max is one of the cofounders and CEO of Officely.

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