Dropbox has announced a new Virtual First working policy, where remote work is the primary experience for Dropboxers globally. This policy goes a step further than what other companies are doing which is more of a ‘hybrid-remote’ approach, one where employees choose whether or not to work out of the office.
The Virtual First policy provides clear guidance and enables one consistent experience for all employees, thereby minimising issues of inclusion and inequities that can result from ‘hybrid-remote’ models. The company says it provides the increased flexibility of working in distributed teams while maintaining meaningful access to in-person engagement.
Being Virtual First means that remote work (outside an office) will be the primary experience for all Dropbox employees. Our physical spaces, called Dropbox Studios, will be hubs to spark creativity, build community, and maintain company culture. These spaces, however, explicitly will no longer be for daily individual work.
“This year’s sudden shift to distributed work due to the COVID-19 pandemic was abrupt and unprecedented,” said Drew Houston, CEO and co-founder of Dropbox. “Even though our product was built for this and our transition was relatively seamless, many of the things we’ve been trying to solve for as a company have intensified during this time — always-on hours, constant notifications, fragmented tools. We’re laser focused on designing products to transform how remote work happens and by living the reality of Virtual First day to day, we think we’ll better understand our customers’ needs and be well positioned to evolve our product accordingly.”
By balancing the flexibility and freedom of remote work with retaining human, in-person engagement, Dropbox hopes it will gain the best of both worlds and see clear long-term benefits. The company knows that this is a new way of working and is committed to taking an iterative approach and learning along the way.
Key elements of Virtual First include:
• Remote work will be the primary experience for all Dropboxers globally - including the leadership team
• Dropbox will repurpose existing office space or invest in new space to create Dropbox Studios - collaborative spaces designed for team meetings, special offsites, and large group events. Dropbox Studios aren’t intended for everyday use or solo work
• Promote a shift from “quick syncs” to “asynchronous by default” and empowering employees to decline unnecessary meetings
• Introduce non-linear workdays by setting core collaboration hours (9am - 1pm). Outside of these hours, employees will have the flexibility to design their work schedules around what works best for their situation
• Roll out a new Perks Allowance giving employees the support and flexibility they need to make the new policy work for them
• Launch a Virtual First Toolkit to open source learnings to other businesses looking to build a similar working model for their teams. This toolkit can be found here, and will continue to be developed as Dropbox learns more about this new model
To support this change, Dropbox commissioned a research study conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (“The EIU”). The research analysed the macroeconomic cost of lost focus, the level at which knowledge workers feel they can focus, and what helps and hinders them. In response to the abrupt shift to remote work among knowledge workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EIU also conducted an accompanying survey on the impacts the transition has had on knowledge workers.
Focused attention is one of the key components of a knowledge-driven economy, essential for creativity, problem-solving, and productivity. For many knowledge workers, however, the reality of their work days is a series of interruptions that prevent them from finding time for deep focus.
“Focus is the engine of knowledge work,” says Michael Gold, EIU managing editor. “But increasingly people’s work lives are fragmented by distractions that increase stress, cause errors, and prevent people from doing their best work. So we set out to identify and quantify the leading causes of distractions and the implications for US knowledge workers and the data showed that the leading causes of distraction are associated with being in-the-office. While the costs to US companies in lost productivity are substantial, there is also huge upside to helping knowledge workers find their focus.”
The EIU found that 28% of working hours in knowledge work are lost to distractions in the US, an average of 581 hours per knowledge worker annually. Among the most taxing sources of distraction were face-to-face interruptions from colleagues about work-related tasks (cited by 34%), followed by checking, reading and responding to work-related email (29%) — with almost one-fifth of respondents checking email every few minutes and 70% checking it at least once an hour. Other sources of distraction included peripheral office distractions like phones ringing and background chatter (cited by 23%), mind wandering (23%), and work-related meetings (21%).
These disruptions translate to US companies losing $391 billion annually in lost productivity in the sectors analysed, or roughly $34,448 in salary costs per knowledge worker, according to the EIU.
The majority of workers believe the benefits of remote work outweigh the drawbacks, with only 17% disagreeing with that sentiment. Similarly, 60% of workers found the transition to remote work “easy” (compared with only 25% who struggled). Specifically:
• Nearly half of workers said they can focus more when working from home, compared with less than a third who report either no change or diminished focus.
• 42% reported spending more time on deeply focused work.
• Engagement levels have also held steady or improved, with a third of respondents reporting they are more engaged with their work than before and roughly the same number experiencing no change in engagement.
• Eliminating office-based distractions is the second-highest reason for greater engagement with work, after relief from commuting.
But this survey also surfaced various challenges associated with the sudden shift to remote work, particularly around work/life boundaries, connection, and collaboration which have led to increased stress:
• Overall, workers responded that working hours and volume of work have both increased, as have the number of scheduled meetings (55% say more, 18% less) and volume of email (70% say more, 5% less).
• More than half of workers report that their work schedules have become less structured (52% vs 24% say it’s more structured).
• Risk of miscommunication is higher in distributed work (52% say it happens more, 13% less), and it’s considerably harder to start new projects with multiple collaborators while remote (59% agree, 17% disagree).
The majority of workers (56%) agreed that company culture suffers during remote work, with only 20% disagreeing.