Oct 23, 2020

Dropbox: redefining workplace productivity

Adrienne Gormley
6 min
Adrienne Gormley, Head of EMEA at Dropbox Business, on redefining workplace productivity in light of the COVID-19 pandemic...

 Before the Corona-virus pandemic spread across the world, many business leaders and workers were already discussing the growing need to change the way we work. Working life has been in transition for a long time, and the pandemic has put this shift into overdrive. The way we interact with work has always been shaped by social, economic and political influences - and, of course, by technology. 

The demographics of work have fundamentally shifted. Millennials are now the largest generation in the US workforce; in England, there are over a million more mothers in the workplace than there were 20 years ago; and freelancers are now the fastest-growing group in the European labour market.

Yet, even though we have seen wide-ranging changes, the way we measure our work has largely stayed the same. Leaders still find themselves focused on the hours we spend at work or online, and many of us are used to joining back-to-back meetings and sharing status updates or internal notes, as it creates the sense that everyone is ‘getting things done’. But are we actually making progress? Not according to a recent Dropbox survey, which found that workers waste 29% of their time on tasks that provide no critical value to the business.

Leaders need to acknowledge employees’ reduced bandwidth, and ensure that their precious time is spent on the most important tasks. For too long, we have been bound to an hours-based model of work that puts too much focus on how we get things done, rather than what is ultimately accomplished.

How to measure what actually matters 

More so than ever, managers need to be really supportive of their teams as they work in a fully distributed environment. We have the opportunity to up-end traditional ideas about productivity and embrace an output-based way of working that is better for businesses and workers alike.

There’s no point in mandating or expecting employees to be “logged on” for fixed office hours anymore; the reality of distributed work has made this senseless and, likely, impossible. 

Why ask them to burn through tasks that don’t have a discernible impact on business objectives, just to ensure they are logged on for a traditional 9-5? This model wastes precious time that also needs to be spent looking after ourselves and others.

Instead, the next step is to turn to what truly matters when it comes to our business goals: output. What have they achieved? How does a task take us closer to our goals? What should we do next? These should be the key questions that measure our progress and help us choose how to spend our time. 

So we can make this shift, we’ll have to help our teams prioritise and jettison any unnecessary “work about work,” allowing them to focus on the key goals and work that have the biggest impact. Then we need to trust our teams enough to set them free to work towards those goals via their own methods, tools and (reasonable) timelines. 

Ruthless prioritisation and the freedom to focus

Effective prioritisation can only be achieved if leaders ensure that everybody is aligned to one set of goals, building in touch points that enable team members to stay on the same page. Leaders also need to be strict and honest when interrogating team to-do lists and OKRs, and ask themselves, ‘what can we not do?’, rather than, “what do we want to do?”, to drill down into what’s really necessary.

Once everyone is aligned on their goals, managers need to prioritise the requests they are making of team members’ time, so they have the space for meaningful work. Back in April, at Dropbox, we saw more than a 2,000% increase in usage of our Zoom integration compared with February. Organisations rushed to find solutions to facilitate the synchronous communications we need in this new world of work, but it’s imperative to strike a careful balance of virtual collaboration to allow for real focus. 

One of the most important questions right now is, ‘can this meeting be an email?’. We all need to ensure we schedule meetings only when absolutely necessary. 

I find the “inform, discuss or decide” model a useful guide. If you are ‘informing’ - giving an update or providing information - this should be an email. If you are ‘discussing’ - multiple parties sharing feedback or perspectives - this can be done via collaboration tools like Dropbox Paper or Slack. If you are ‘deciding’ - making a key decision with a number of stakeholders - a meeting may be warranted. But use this time wisely and ensure everyone has the information they need in advance.

Trust in our teams 

Once teams are aligned on the key goals and tasks, and we’ve prioritised the demands we’ve made of their time, we need to allow our team members to work in the ways that work for them. This means trusting them to manage their own schedules, knowing that the expectations are clear and check-ins are in place to drive strong results.

And if we’re allowing employees to manage their schedules, we should also allow them to use the tools that work best for them. The average employee nowadays is more aware of the tools that are available to them in the world outside of work; as demonstrated by a recent survey that found that 41% of UK workers have used WhatsApp for work purposes. 

Once employees feel they are trusted to manage their own time and tools in order to reach their business goals, the results they’ll likely achieve will lead to further trust from managers - thus creating a virtuous circle of effective, dispersed work.

Ending presenteeism

By adopting an output-based approach, these difficult times could well cultivate a more positive workplace in the long term. Employers are already seeing that not everyone has to be physically present to make their professional and personal presence felt, and no matter where we are, we can all move the dial on a company’s goals.

This change should be embraced as it signals an end to an outdated stigma around remote workers’ contributions. A third of remote and flexible workers surveyed by Deloitte in 2018 felt that they were regarded as being less important than their in-office counterparts, while a quarter felt they were given access to fewer opportunities and missed out on progression and promotion opportunities. 

More distributed work could mean an increase in the opportunities that parents, freelancers and anyone who wants flexibility will see in their roles. We’ll also likely see more varied and remote teams, where everyone works towards the same goals, beyond the restrictions of a traditional office environment.

The way we measure our work lives in terms of hours spent at a desk and boxes ticked is an outdated concept that is no longer fit for purpose. 

We now have an opportunity to go back to the drawing board on the way we look at work. Let’s seize this opportunity, to make the world of work more tailored, enjoyable and productive for everyone. 

For more information on business topics in Europe, Middle East and Africa please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief EMEA.

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Jun 20, 2021

5 Ways Leaders Can Create a Healthy Workplace Culture

5 min
As the world embraces Men’s Health Week, five experts advise how leaders can create a healthy workplace culture for employees

This week (14th-20th June 2021) is Men’s Health Week. Physical and mental well-being have been important considerations for leaders over the past year, and it is essential this focus is maintained as we build back for the future. Here we have asked 5 experts for practical tips leaders can implement to create healthy workplace cultures.


Know the early signs of burnout 

Recently it was reported by the BBC that burnout for health and social care staff had reached emergency levels. 

Monkey Puzzle Training Co-Founder Karen Meager has studied the burnout recovery process in partnership with Coventry University: “The past year has seen people suffer from job-loss worries, work from home challenges, isolation, and feeling overworked. These are continuing, and all have the potential to contribute towards burnout. Healthcare workers, executives, leaders, managers and small business owners will continue to be the top people to suffer from extreme burnout.”

“At the onset of burnout, people commonly enter a phase of denial. So leaders need to be aware of those who are reluctant to take their time off, are compelled to work all hours, or have changes in their behaviour or mood, as these can all be indications of burnout taking hold. Encouraging them to take a burnout self-test provides a starting point to supporting these employees through recovery, as is role modelling healthy sustainable ways of working.Karen suggests.


Encourage professional self-reflection 

Creating an environment that encourages self-reflection is an effective tool for promoting personal development. Journaling may not be something you instantly think of for professional development; however, it is a successful technique for adults to aid mindfulness and productivity. “Journaling is a form of self-expression that can empower you to understand your feelings and ambitions and how to deal with them, therefore promoting positive well-being and a healthy workplace culture,” describes Elisa Nardi, founder of Notebook Mentor


Just 15-20 minutes of journaling a day over the course of four months are enough to lessen the impact of physical stressors on your health,” explains Elisa. “It can also inspire creativity, aid your memory, and help set actionable goals. It is an underused tool that can help employees manage tricky workplace situations such as conflict, illness or new leadership roles.


Manage your stress and resilience too

As a leader or manager, often, your complete focus is on the business or protecting your team, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. Leaders should also have strategies in place to manage their own stress, so they can sustain high levels of positive energy throughout the day. “Fueled by a burning desire for success, I ignored all the warning signs of exhaustion, which eventually took its toll on me - I literally collapsed from stress, and I didn’t even see it coming.” reflects Sascha Heinemann, an expert in Performance Recovery and Stress Resilience.


“When leaders manage their energy, create healthy daily habits, and practice resilience, they are able to perform to their fullest capacity and to provide the best possible support for others.” 


“Taking a break every 90 minutes or so helps you to refuel, recharge, and re-energize and ultimately allows you to get more accomplished, in less time, at a higher level of quality, and more sustainably. This role model contributes dramatically to a healthier, more engaged, sustainable, and productive workplace culture," he adds.


Instil a sense of purpose for your team

The idea that success equals working 12-15 hour days and giving everything of yourself to your workplace continues to prevail in many organisations. This is not healthy, nor is it productive for anyone involved. “The healthiest and happiest workplace cultures are the ones that are organised around purpose.” describes business and life coach Anand Kulkarni. 


“Leaders should be giving meaning to the work they are doing within their business and beyond and sharing this purpose with their staff, rather than focusing on long hours, crippling workloads or someone else’s idea of ‘success’. When people understand why they are doing what they do and how this contributes to something greater, productivity and well-being is increased.” adds Anand. 


Promote well-being from the top down

Leaders need to act as role models if well-being is to become embedded at the very core of the organisation. It’s very unlikely that employees will start acting in a new way that puts their own needs first if the leadership team continues to behave in an entirely different manner.


‘Many organisations have worked hard in recent months to put new policies in place that better support well-being, promote hybrid working and attempt to set clear boundaries, but many leaders seem to assume that they are exempt from it all, that’s when it all falls over’, explains leadership experts Martin Boroson and Carmel Moore, from The One Moment Company. 


A recent ONS report into Homeworking in the UK revealed that people are on average working 6 hours extra per week, and many are working until late in the evening, indicating that the boundaries between work and life are more blurred than ever. 


Despite all of these wonderful opportunities for people to self-organise, if the leadership team continues to work in the office Monday to Friday, or are communicating at all hours, then it’s a clear indicator that hybrid working is simply a ‘bolt-on’ tactic rather than an integral part of the company’s approach to promoting the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.’

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