Dropbox goes 100% virtual

Published on the 22/10/2020 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

Dropbox work from home

File sharing giant says ‘go home, stay home’ to staff…

As companies around the world dip toes (then feet, then knees) into remote working concepts, file hosting giant Dropbox has decided to cannonball into the deep end, announcing that its 3,000 employees will now be a virtual workforce, more or less, permanently.

The company made the announcement last week, saying that ‘remote work will be the primary experience for all employees and the day-to-day default for individual work’.

Dropbox says its internal research found that 90 percent of its employees said that they were more productive working at home, and did not want to return to a ‘rigid five-day in-office workweek’.

Half measures have their downsides.

So, with staff and management attitudes aligned, the company has announced it is extending its mandatory work-from-home policies out until June 2021.

Until further notice, Dropbox is ‘virtual first’ and to make sure it all works, the company is setting up virtual work facilitation teams to help employees adapt to the challenges of officeless employment.

“We’re designing the whole employee experience around virtual first, from IT to HR,” says DropBox.

“We’ll invest in a holistic ecosystem of resources, including a dedicated team, to support employees and track our progress by measuring impacts on productivity, engagement, and culture so we can continue to adapt.”

It’s a big move, but the company seems to have looked before it has leapt. The company commissioned research from The Economist’s research and analysis Intelligence Unit, which found that knowledge workers are ‘more focused’ when working from home and “just as engaged as before.”

The research, In Search of Lost Focus: The engine of distributed work, shows remote workers can face unique, interruptive challenges in their new office environments.

“Things aren’t perfect,” admits Dropbox. “Back-to-back video conferences, constant notifications and isolation from peers can be overwhelming.

“In our study with the EIU, workers also say company culture suffers with no in-person interaction, risk of miscommunication is higher and it’s harder to start new projects with multiple collaborators. There are many things people miss about the office.”

But even with the drawbacks, Dropbox says the benefits of remote work outweigh the negatives. “All these insights are informing our product roadmap, and our thinking about the workplace. It’s clear that distributed work is here to stay.”

The company says it intends to adopt ‘non-linear workdays’ while setting core collaboration hours (which overlap between time zones), and will encourage employees to design their own schedules beyond that.

But while many of us experiment with in office/home hybrid arrangements, Dropbox says that half measures have their downsides.

“Hybrid approaches,” warns the company, “may… perpetuate two different employee experiences that could result in barriers to inclusion and inequities with respect to performance or career trajectory.

“These big-picture problems are non-starters for us.”

Nevertheless, Dropbox says it will facilitate in-person collaboration and team gathering either through their existing real estate or other flexible spaces. In fact, not all workers are even at liberty to relocate outside of locations where offices currently are – that’s dependent on role.

“We expect Dropbox to become more geographically distributed over time, and hope this offers our teams more choices in where they live, work, and hire from.

“Utilisation of Dropbox Studios will vary by team needs, so we may set up new ones as our geographic distribution and employee concentration changes.”

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