WorkLabs: What distributed work forced us to learn about inclusivity at a global company

The past few months have been a blur of learning new skills: how to work from home effectively, how to juggle work and family life when both worlds collide in the same space, how to connect with our teams when we can no longer chat face to face in the hallways and more. While working remotely was already a reality for some Dropboxers, it quickly became the only option for everyone, which required us to make some adjustments.

But just because we no longer have the ability to gather together in our offices around the world for meetings, brainstorms, tea breaks, or after-work karaoke sessions doesn’t mean our close-knit culture has faded. In fact, we’ve found that putting everyone on the same playing field has actually created the opportunity for many Dropboxers to feel more included than ever before. As we’ve all shifted to a distributed work environment, Dropboxers have expressed how important inclusivity is to their ability to thrive in their jobs — helping us to evaluate what we were doing before, what we’re doing now, and what we’re moving toward for our future.

As a global company, we’ve always tried to keep a major part of our focus on how to make all Dropboxers, working in dozens of locations around the world, feel as included as if they worked out of our headquarters in San Francisco. Ellen Pollak, Enterprise Account Executive, is based in our Sydney Australia office, and has been impressed with how connected she was able to feel to the company as a whole pre-lockdown.

Ellen said, “Especially being in an office all the way across the world, it’s really important to have a connection back to HQ and the people who are driving our business forward. Having a group of people who are focused on the inclusion of others is really important, and we definitely feel that here. Even the little things add up. When we get similar treatment to HQ, like the tools to help us celebrate a heritage month or another event that’s going on, we feel special. It’s the same when we have company-wide meetings, and Drew and Arash specifically go to the camera and speak to us — it creates inclusion and makes us feel like we’re really part of the whole team.”

But how do you create inclusion when you’ve never even met another Dropboxer face-to-face? One of the first hurdles we encountered as our offices closed and our teams began working from home was the question of how to onboard and train new employees. Our teams hustled to reconfigure a virtual onboarding and training process that would make sure that new Dropboxers felt confident, empowered, and part of our family.

One such Dropboxer is Jody Chiang. As an Enterprise Business and Partner Sales Manager, she is responsible for covering markets in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. Since Jody is based in Singapore, where we’ve just recently opened a new office, she expected to travel quite a lot for her role. But when she onboarded in March, lockdown had already begun — meaning that her onboarding process and the demands of her role both had to be redefined quickly. Thanks to a host of tools that enable remote collaboration such as Paper and Zoom, Jody was able to onboard safely from home, as the rest of her team has figured out alternative ways outside of work to make sure she feels like she is truly part of the group.

Jody said, “There is definitely a lack of personal interactions when you’re working from home, so regular catch-ups with the team over Zoom and/or Slack are very important to me. Sometimes I will book my manager’s and colleagues’ time to have Q&A sessions with them. I also have a weekly meeting with my manager to discuss work, and sometimes my team has virtual “snack” sessions on Friday to just talk about our lives and how we are coping. Sometimes even a simple greeting or sharing of news/jokes via mobile social apps like WhatsApp is a great way to keep the connection too.”

Another non-lockdown specific way we aim to create a connected environment at Dropbox has been with our ERGs (Employee Resource Groups.) These support Dropboxers who identify with many different backgrounds and cultures. In February, just before lockdown began, we had a soft launch for our newest ERG, enABLE: a group for Dropboxers who identify as having a disability, who support a family member or loved one who has a disability, or feel an allyship with those who fit either one of those descriptions.

Leigh Shevchik, a Senior Content Strategy Lead on our Customer Experience team, is one of the leads for enABLE. While the challenges of distributed work have been many, especially for those who are caring for loved ones with disabilities, Leigh has also seen some unexpected advantages of this new reality.

“For many folks that identify as disabled, this is a good thing. It has allowed them a lot more flexibility in their day-to-day: commute time has been eliminated and there’s a reduced fear of exposure. It kind of puts you all on an equal playing field — even if you’re someone like me, who did a lot of working from home before this, and was challenged because you know you’re missing those face to face in the hallway conversations.

We’ve been asking for things like this for years: more video conferencing options and virtual conference requirements to make sure everyone can participate equally. We’re all kind of hoping that this is planned long-term and isn’t just a one time thing — that when the world comes back to as close to normal as it is going to, we still have these opportunities. Working in a big city like San Francisco or NYC, there are a lot of barriers and expectations of what office life is like that make it difficult for people who identify as having a disability to take part in it. That’s one of the things I’ve liked the most about working at Dropbox, is that they’re as inclusive as possible. There are always ways to improve, and we’re helping to identify those, but the willingness is there.”

As new developments happen every day, we’re not sure when we’ll be able to return to our offices. But we’re hopeful that, as we continue to find ways to become and stay connected, our teams will still feel part of a better whole.

As Jody said, “I think the Dropbox community is creating a great environment not just within the company itself, to keep each other motivated and stay connected, but also providing technology tools to support others. I believe our community will be able to influence many others, including our partners and customers, to be positive and embrace the new norm with a more friendly, supportive, and digital approach. We definitely have a successful story to share with many others about how we’ve created this inclusive environment within our Dropbox community — and if we can do it, so can they.”

We’re grateful for the team members that have helped make our transition to distributed work a smooth one, and one that benefits everybody as much as possible. For a deeper dive into the difference between remote and distributed work, and how this shift can play out positively for many companies, check out this piece.



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