When the cloud storage agency Dropbox determined to close down its workplaces with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, co-founder and CEO Drew Houston ’05 needed to ship the corporate’s practically 3,000 staff dwelling and inform them they weren’t coming again to work anytime quickly. “It felt like I used to be saying a snow day or one thing.”
Within the early days of the pandemic, Houston says that Dropbox reacted as many others did to make sure that staff had been protected and prospects had been taken care of. “It’s surreal, there’s no playbook for operating a world firm in a pandemic over Zoom. For lots of it we had been simply taking it as we go.”
Houston talked about his expertise main Dropbox by a public well being disaster and the way Covid-19 has accelerated a shift to distributed work in a hearth chat on Oct. 14 with Dan Huttenlocher, dean of the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman Faculty of Computing.
Through the dialogue, Houston additionally spoke about his $10 million reward to MIT, which is able to endow the primary shared professorship between the MIT Schwarzman Faculty of Computing and the MIT Sloan Faculty of Administration, in addition to present a catalyst startup fund for the school.
“The purpose is to search out methods to unlock extra of our brainpower by a multidisciplinary method between computing and administration,” says Houston. “It is usually on the intersection of those disciplines the place you’ll be able to convey folks collectively from totally different views, the place you’ll be able to have actually huge unlocks. I feel academia has an enormous function to play [here], and I feel MIT is tremendous well-positioned to guide. So, I wish to do something I can to assist with that.”
Whereas the abrupt swing to distant work was surprising, Houston says it was fairly clear that your complete manner of working as we knew it was going to alter indefinitely for information staff. “There’s a silver lining in each disaster,” says Houston, noting that folks have been utilizing Dropbox for years to work extra flexibly so it made sense for the corporate to lean in and grow to be early adopters of a distributed work paradigm through which staff work in numerous bodily areas.
Dropbox proceeded to revamp the work expertise all through the corporate, unveiling a “digital first” working mannequin in October 2020 through which distant work is the first expertise for all staff. Particular person work areas glided by the wayside and workplaces situated in areas with a excessive focus of staff had been transformed into convening and collaborative areas referred to as Dropbox Studios for in-person work with teammates.
“There’s rather a lot lets say about Covid, however for me, probably the most important factor is that we’ll look again at 2020 because the yr we shifted completely from figuring out of workplaces to primarily figuring out of screens. It’s a transition that’s been underway for some time, however Covid utterly completed the swing,” says Houston.
Envisioning the Future Office: A Hearth Chat with Drew Houston of Dropbox
Designing for the long run office
Houston says the pandemic additionally prompted Dropbox to reevaluate its product line and start pondering of how to make enhancements. “We’ve had this entire new manner of working kind of compelled on us. Nobody designed it; it simply occurred. Even instruments like Zoom, Slack, and Dropbox had been designed in and for the outdated world.”
Present process that course of helped Dropbox achieve readability on the place they might add worth and led to the belief that they wanted to get again to their roots. “In numerous methods, what folks want in the present day in precept is identical factor they wanted at first — one place for all their stuff,” says Houston.
Dropbox reoriented its product roadmap to refocus efforts from syncing recordsdata to organizing cloud content material. The corporate is concentrated on constructing towards this new route with the discharge of latest automation options that customers can simply implement to raised manage their uploaded content material and discover it rapidly. Dropbox additionally not too long ago introduced the acquisition of Command E, a common search and productiveness firm, to assist speed up its efforts on this house.
Houston views Dropbox as nonetheless evolving and sees many alternatives forward on this new period of distributed work. “We have to design higher instruments and smarter programs. It’s not simply the person elements, however how they’re woven collectively.” He’s shocked by how little intelligence is definitely built-in into present programs and believes that speedy advances in AI and machine studying will quickly result in a brand new era of good instruments that may in the end reshape the character of labor — “in the identical manner that we had a brand new era of cloud instruments revolutionize how we work and had all these benefits that we couldn’t think about not having now.”
Houston famously turned his frustration with carrying USB drives and emailing recordsdata to himself right into a demo for what grew to become Dropbox.
After graduating from MIT in 2005 with a bachelor’s diploma in electrical engineering and laptop science, he teamed up with fellow classmate Arash Ferdowsi to discovered Dropbox in 2007 and led the corporate’s progress from a easy thought to a service utilized by 700 million folks around the globe in the present day.
Houston credit MIT for getting ready him properly for his entrepreneurial journey, recalling that what shocked him most about his pupil expertise was how a lot he realized exterior the classroom. On the occasion, he harassed the significance of growing each side of the mind to a choose group of laptop science and administration college students who had been in attendance, and a broader dwell stream viewers. “One factor you study beginning an organization is that the toughest issues are often not technical issues; they’re folks issues.” He says that he didn’t understand it on the time, however a few of his first classes in administration had been gained by taking over obligations in his fraternity and in numerous pupil organizations that evoked a way of being “on the hook.”
As CEO, Houston has had an opportunity to look behind the scenes at how issues occur and has come to understand that issues don’t remedy themselves. Whereas particular person folks could make an enormous distinction, he explains that most of the challenges the world faces proper now are inherently multidisciplinary ones, which sparked his curiosity within the MIT Schwarzman Faculty of Computing.
He says that the mindset embodied by the school to attach computing with different disciplines resonated and impressed him to provoke his greatest philanthropic effort thus far sooner relatively than later as a result of “we don’t have that a lot time to handle these issues.”