The pandemic was a time of much reflection on both a personal and business level. Technology companies, in particular, are evaluating whether they will ever return to a full-time in-office approach. Some are considering a hybrid approach and some may never build again. In the midst of all this, Dropbox decided to reimagine the office with a new concept called Dropbox Studios.
Dropbox CEO and co-founder Drew Houston sees the pandemic as a forced event, one that pushes companies to rethink work through a distributed lens. He doesn’t believe many companies will simply revert to the old way of working. As a result, he wanted his company to rethink office design with one that does away with cube farms with workers spread across a landscape of cubicles. Instead, he wants to create a new approach that takes into account that people don’t necessarily need permanent space in the building.
“We’re launching or opening our Dropbox Studios in the U.S., including the one in San Francisco. And we took the opportunity as part of our approach to reinvent the office into a collaborative space we call a studio,” Houston said.
Houston says the company really wanted to think about how to incorporate the best of working at home with the best of working in the office collaborating with colleagues. “We focused on having really great in-person curated experiences, some of which we coordinate at the company level and then some of which can go into our studios, which were retrofitted to support greater collaboration.”
To that end, they created a lot of soft spaces with a coffee shop to create an informal feel, conference rooms for teams to have what Houston called “off-site” and classrooms for organized group learning. The idea is to create specially designed spaces for what would work best in an office environment and what people missed out on in-person interactions since being forced to work at home by the pandemic, while allowing people to do more individual work at home.
The company plans to create dedicated studios in major cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Tokyo and Tel Aviv with smaller on-demand spaces operated by partners like WeWork in other locations. As Houston said last year, his company sees this as an opportunity to be at the forefront of distributed work and act as an example and a guide to help other companies as they embark on similar journeys.
“When you think more broadly about the effects of the shift to distributed work, it will be felt much further when we go back to the office. So we go through a one-way door. This is perhaps one of the biggest changes in knowledge work since that term was invented in 1959,” Houston said last year.
He acknowledges that they have to evaluate how this is going to work and iterate on the design as needed, just as the company iterates on its products and they will be evaluating the new spaces and the impact on collaborative work, making adjustments as needed. To help others, Dropbox is launching an open source project plan called Virtual First Toolkit.
The company is betting on this approach and will sublease much of its existing office space as it moves to this new way of working and its space requirements change dramatically. It’s a bold move, but Houston believes his company is in a unique position to undertake, and he wants Dropbox to be an example to others on how to reinvent the way we work.