Dropbox is making its workforce ‘virtual first.’ Here’s what that means

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The company’s nearly 3,000 employees will continue to work remotely most of the time, but will occasionally go into the office for more collaborative and team-building work. To help facilitate this, the company will revamp its offices, turning them into what it calls “Dropbox Studios.”

The company will remove individual desks and create more space for collaboration.

“Folks doing individual daily work, that happens from home or from co-working spaces,” said Melanie Collins, vice president of people. “[Dropbox Studios] are really explicitly for things like strategy setting, team building, community events, leadership development training,”

The company decided against a hybrid approach that would allow workers to choose if and when they want to be in the office because it feared it could potentially create an unequal playing field among workers, Collins explained.

Read CNN Business’ full interview with Collins about this switch below.

(Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity)

What will the future of work look like for Dropbox employees?

In short, Dropbox is becoming a virtual first company. It means that remote work is the primary experience for all of our employees globally. Because we know human connection is still critical in terms of building high-performing teams, we will invest in collaborative spaces designed for team-gathering and community-building, instead of a collection of desks you go to every day. These will be called Dropbox Studios

Why is this a better approach to the hybrid approach?

Where do you want to work?

We believe that virtual first is just a more opinionated point of view on remote work. It is different from what other companies are doing which is hybrid remote, which is really popular: This is where employees choose whether or not to work out of the office.

We had reservations on this model because it perpetuates two very different employee experiences that could result in issues with things like inclusion or inequity with respect to performance or career trajectory and this really was a non-starter for us. We really wanted to preserve this level playing field that we’ve all experienced since working remotely in our future of work model.

Will there be a set schedule of when people come into the office?

Folks doing individual daily work that happens from home or from co-working spaces. Dropbox Studios are not for individual work, it’s not for drop-in or desk hoteling. It really is explicitly for things like strategy setting, team building, community events, leadership development training.

Will you allow employees to relocate?

Yes, absolutely. Because of this model, with remote work being the primary experience that actually gives folks more freedom in how they work in terms of scheduling but also where they work. We will be encouraging relocation for folks with this new model. We want them to work where it makes sense for them.

What will these new studios look like compared to the current office arrangement?

Currently, our office spaces are a mix of individual desks and meeting rooms and collaboration spaces. We have rooms that are entirely floor-to-ceiling white boards, large conference rooms and small conference rooms and sort of a mix. And so, if you can picture the future, no more individual desks at all. Think of it is an entire space with multiple collaboration spaces in it.

How often will workers be called into the office?

It’s really for you to work out a rhythm with your team. For my team, for example, I want to get my leadership team together once a quarter to do things like strategic planning and team building. We will agree on what day we will meet at one of our studio hubs for that event.

Are you going to downsize your real estate?

We are working on finalizing our long-term real estate strategy now. We also plan for our team to work from home until at least June of next year so we have a little bit of time to sort through this. But our goal is to support studios in all cities that we currently have large concentrations of employees, so this could be repurposing our current offices or investing in new or on-demand spaces that we leverage as we become more distributed.

Has collaboration been a pain point for remote workers?

I think the biggest problem with this is we assume collaboration has to take place live or synchronously, so we just get on another Zoom call. This notion of Zoom fatigue is real — we are on calls back-to-back for eight or nine hours a day and that just results in burnout, which is a hindrance to getting work done. So as we think about this pivot to an orientation around remote work, we really want to rebuild our rhythms and social contracts. We really want to shift our mindsets around work. This virtual first strategy gives us the chance to develop better habits about when and how we meet.

Working from home isn't for everyone

Shifting from quick live snycs, to going asynchronous by default. So trying to solve problems over tools, like email or Slack versus in a live meeting. We will also be giving explicit guidance on when meetings should be scheduled, guidelines on what requires a meeting, what could have been an email. And so meetings for things like complex problems or sensitive topics we want to empower our employees to get work done without the need to be on a Zoom. And we also want to give tips on how to use our various communication tools.

What does this mean for workers who don’t want to work remote?

There are some home setups that are simply not conducive to being able to do great work. We are going to basically stand up a flexible-first allowance and this enables folks to make deliberate choices on how they want to spend that perk stipend. So if you wanted to spend that on a co-working space, we would help sponsor that. This may not be aligned to employees’ preferences. When they joined Dropbox they didn’t join a remote company, so we are making this pivot kind of halfway through here and so we know that this might not be for everyone and we understand and we are just hoping that employees give us a shot.

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