Chief People Officer Melanie Collins shares her experiences with building the future of work

To move an entire company with hundreds of employees across the globe into a Virtual First work strategy, it takes more than a village. It takes strong, fearless leaders who listen to their people and work in the best interest of all employees no matter what — many of whom, at Dropbox, are women. Their stories of how they led us into the unknown across their different departments are truly inspiring. On the People side, there was one woman who was responsible for leading this massive shift: Melanie Collins, our Chief People Officer.

Melanie Collins

Like many organizations, we didn’t anticipate our sudden shift to remote work last March. This abrupt change in the way we worked forced us to experiment with new ways to keep our teams safe and supported, all while trying to figure out what the future of work looked like for Dropbox.

Melanie said, “At Dropbox, we’ve been very fortunate to have had a transition that, while certainly not without its bumps, was relatively manageable. This is a huge testament to our employees’ commitment and hard work, and also the fact that we have a product and platform that was built to allow us all to work from anywhere. Our experience has upended the preconceived notions that many organizations have had, and it’s shown us that people can still work effectively without being tethered to an office or specific city.

That said, remote work comes with a set of additional challenges — the potential loss of community and connection, the mental health effects of isolation and burnout, and the need to reimagine the employee experience and evolve our culture.”

As all of these factors related to remote work emerged, one critical question surfaced alongside them: if we could start over, how might we redesign our working life at Dropbox? Melanie and her team served as the mouthpiece for all Dropboxers in helping to answer this question. But the path to the solution was far from simple.

“Any shift in how we work, whether it’s remote, in-office, or hybrid comes with its own unique set of benefits and challenges. As we were considering various future of work permutations, there were a number of principles we anchored to in order to make our decision:

  1. Any future of work strategy had to support the company mission to design a more enlightened way of working; this represented an opportunity to really live out our product truths and build better products for distributed teams.
  2. We wanted to give Dropboxers more flexibility and freedom, giving them more control over how they work (for example, their schedules and their working environment), and we wanted to give them more options in terms of where they work. And by increasing these choices, we should have an expanded and more diverse talent pool from which we can recruit.
  3. Next we wanted to ensure that we were able to preserve human connection and evolve our culture, as we still believe that in-person engagement is critical. And when thinking about the future of work, leveling the playing field for all our employees was a driving factor in creating our new model (one benefit of constantly being on Zoom is that everyone is in the same boat — no one is being left out of the conversation. Our teams outside of the US have expressed how Zoom has been a “great equalizer” for them, and this notion of equality is something we wanted to maintain.)
  4. Next, we wanted to create a sustainable and thriving workforce that supports the long-term business health of Dropbox.
  5. And finally, our last goal was intended to underpin our entire approach. While being as thoughtful as we can, we know we’ll have a lot to learn and will need to maintain a learning mindset — to remain nimble, and adopt the same philosophy we use to develop our products — build, learn, and adapt.”

With all of these goals in mind, we pushed forward into the unknown and began developing our Virtual First strategy. This decision not only addressed each of the principles identified, but also created opportunities to adopt new ways of working, evolve our culture, and learn together.

As we officially launch Virtual First, we’re so grateful for all of the Dropboxers who have helped us build and refine this vision. We know we still have lots of learning to do along the way, but Mel is confident that, together, we can build a better future of work — not just for Dropbox, but for the whole world.

“Virtual First is a construct for our future of work strategy. It’s the ‘what.’ But the real magic comes to life in the ‘how.’ Dropbox has an opportunity to reimagine the concept of ‘work’ altogether that allows for performance, flexibility, individuality, and connection. But this requires fundamentally shifting and evolving our mindsets and being deliberate as an organization about how we allocate energy around work. The 9-to-5, eight-hour workday was invented by American labor unions in the late 1800s — so we are unlearning over 100 years of workplace behavior.

In terms of impact in the world, I see Dropbox as a contributor to the broader learning around the notion of work and how work gets done. We’re all iterating and adapting as we go and my hope is that all of our collective future of work experiences lend themselves to more transparency and community amongst other companies and industries — this notion of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’the more transparent we are about the successes and failures, the better we will all be as a result. Transparency on our progress, our wins, and our learnings is a key tenet of our values (‘own it’) and we plan to continuously share with our employees, our customers, and our community. I’m so excited to be on this journey with Dropbox and I can’t wait to see how the future of the future of work unfolds!”

If you’re interested in joining us on our Virtual First journey, you can check out job openings here.

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Get to know the people of Dropbox and the stories of how we’re making the world work better. Want to learn more about current opportunities? Check out: https://www.dropbox.com/jobs

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