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Transcript: Future of Work: New Ways of Leading & Innovating

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MS. ABRIL: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Danielle Abril, tech at work writer for The Washington Post. Today we have two segments on the future of work, so I encourage you to stick around. First, Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and human resource officer, joins us to discuss leadership amid a changing workplace.

Welcome to Washington Post Live, Ellyn.

MS. SHOOK: Thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be here.

MS. ABRIL: Absolutely.

And remember, we always want to hear from you, our audience. You can share your thoughts and questions for guests by tweeting @PostLive.

So, with that, I want to go ahead and get started with a really hot button topic that's getting a lot of buzz from workers, and that's the four-day workweek, Ellyn. Earlier this week, the UK announced that it's launching the largest four-day workweek experiment to date. Previous studies on the matter suggest benefits to worker productivity and wellness. But what are your thoughts on the four-day workweek?

MS. SHOOK: Look, I think the four-day workweek is certainly something that organizations should consider. But I think most importantly, organizations really need to understand that there's no one size fits most. And when considering the experiences that people need and want to be successful and be productive, they have to really think about what the individual needs and wants. And that really is how we think about our own workforce of 699,000 people.

MS. ABRIL: So that's a great segue into the question I wanted to ask you about how the pandemic changed the way Accenture workers do their jobs. How is Accenture operating right now?

MS. SHOOK: So, you know, I think we had a head start on kind of the future of work, if you will, because we've been working in remote teams for decades to serve our clients. So, you know, we have global clients, our workforce is global, and teams, you know, have not been necessarily co-located to do the work that we do for our clients. So, we had a head start in understanding how you work remotely.

What wasn't happening at that time was that everybody was or largely everybody was working from home. That was not true. We were at client sites, in our delivery centers, and some people at home. So, we had a head start. And we took the lessons that we knew to accelerate how to, you know, ensure that people felt human connection. That was the first thing that we focused on during the pandemic. So, if you remember, one of the biggest vocabulary words that came out early during the pandemic was "socially distant." What we did was, we struck that word from the Accenture vocabulary, and we said we're not socially distant; were physically distant. So, we immediately turned our attention to how do you form strong human connection in a completely remote workforce. And we've carried those lessons through, and now what we're practicing is called an omni-connected experience, which really transcends space and place, and allows all of our people to have equal opportunity to contribute, make an impact, and grow their careers, regardless of where they're working.

MS. ABRIL: So, are there any requirements for employees to come in, or are some fully remote?

MS. SHOOK: First of all, we do believe that being physically together at certain times is beneficial. So, we do have people that work fully remote for some very few jobs. But we do also believe that there are times and for certain reasons that people should come together. But the way we think about it is not about this many days coming in or that many days from home. What we really think about is how do we earn the commute back? You know, 88 percent of our people said flexibility was the most important thing. So really thinking about how do we earn their commute to get them back in for certain things like, you know, collaboration or creativity time together.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. So, if workers are largely flexible and sort of able to work from home when it makes sense, I'm curious, the one thing that keeps coming up in conversations is how organizations sort of create a culture when a lot of people are, you know, working remotely. And you mentioned that--sort of that connection element. How are you, you know, continuing Accenture's culture when so many people are distributed?

MS. SHOOK: Yeah, I think we just published a piece of research a few weeks ago that really explored this concept of whether culture happens in space and place. And what the research really found was culture doesn't happen in space and place. Culture happens through human connection. And one of the most important findings in the research was this: Only one in six employees--one in six only--feel a human connection to their work, even though most people are either--have a technology connection to work or they're physically in a workplace. And what was really, frankly, for me shocking, it was--it was the most interesting finding in the research was that the people who are and have been working on site in a physical workplace feel the least connected. So, 42 percent of people who are in a physical workplace feel least connected, all the way through to people who are fully remote. Only 22 percent of people do not feel human connection when they're fully remote. And so what the research really showed us very clearly is that organizations really need to not think about culture happening in space, but culture happening through human connection. And of course, there's a huge financial business case associated with being able to do that.

MS. ABRIL: That makes a lot of sense. I want to also ask about how this change and shift affected your leadership style. Can you tell me, you know, did your approach to leadership change after the pandemic?

MS. SHOOK: Well, I would say the pandemic is still going on. But throughout the pandemic, what really emerged, I think, you know, we've always had empathy as an important leadership characteristic. But what really changed during the beginning of the pandemic through to today is that compassion is the most significant emerging leadership characteristic of our time. And the way I describe that is simply empathy, which we've had, plus action, equals compassion. So, it's not only about listening. It's about learning and acting on the needs of our people.

MS. ABRIL: And maybe this is just to tack on what we were talking about in terms of culture. But I'm curious, will office life and Accenture look anything like it did before the pandemic? Are we just in a new phase completely?

MS. SHOOK: Look, what I want to do is not look backwards. I would like to look forward and take all the lessons that we learned about do to you unlock human potential and use those lessons to create experiences for our people that inspire them to continue to learn and grow their careers with us. And so I do think that, you know, we will not go backwards, we will not look back to the time before the pandemic as the model. We're taking those lessons forward with us.

And again, this concept of earning the commute, why do people come into a physical workplace? They come for the human connection. They come for time with creativity. You know, I was talking to my colleague, David Droga, who's the founder of Droga5, and now the CEO of Accenture Song. And what he says is that, you know, creativity does not happen linearly. And while we were all dependent on collaboration tools during the pandemic, like Teams or Zoom, if you think about those tools, they allow conversations to happen in a linear fashion. They do not allow people to spar and come back and forth, you have to--it's unnatural, right? Only the person speaking is highlighted. You have to come off view, which people tended to forget to do all the time. And so that spirit of connection and creativity I think are really the types of things that are going to take place when people come together. It's not to say creativity doesn't happen remotely. Certainly, that would be ridiculous, because, you know, the most beautiful pieces of art have been created by individuals who have been alone in a workspace. But, you know, the kind of creativity that spurs innovation, that solves the world's most significant business challenges of our time happens when people are together.

MS. ABRIL: And do you think these shifts would have--would have happened inevitably? I mean, you said you were sort of already on this path, but things sort of maybe accelerated when the pandemic hit. Do you think this would have happened regardless of whether COVID hit us or not?

MS. SHOOK: Yeah, I think that the technology--you know, the acceleration of the pace of technology allowed us to accelerate exploring future of work for sure. And you know, out of times of disruption sometimes comes innovation that would have never happened. And so I'm an optimist. And I believe that while the trauma of the pandemic--both, you know, people, the loss of life, the mental health trauma that will be ongoing for many years after the pandemic, the one silver lining is that we learn new ways of working and we learned how to connect to each other in different ways.

MS. ABRIL: And in terms of the tech itself, you know, you talked about some of the struggles, the linear elements of, you know, doing things remotely and having, you know, Teams or Zoom meetings or whatever it is that you're doing. Do you think that we have all the tech we need for this more flexible future? Or do you think there needs to be some tech advancements and developments here, and what would those be?

MS. SHOOK: Well, I like to think of it as like, not the people that are working remotely, but I think you also need to be very inclusive of people who don't have that choice. And people that need to show up, whether they are people who work in bank branches, or people who work in a hospital or people who work in a manufacturing facility, you know, you need to be inclusive of thinking about what flexibility is and how technology can help with their flexibility as well. And I think there's a long way to go there. By putting technology tools in the hands of people, you can really think about a more nuanced view of what flexibility means not just on site/off site but how do I create a schedule that works better for me as a human being, as a parent, as a student. And I think those types of technology skills that allow for more agility and scheduling and more agility in location.

Imagine being a hotel company in a city like mine. I live in New York City. There's lots of hotels here in New York City, and hotel companies having multiple brands. Imagine if employees could access cross-brand schedules so that they could create a schedule that was more flexible for them. And I know there are a lot of considerations associated with that. But I think those are the types of technology tools that are going to be on the horizon, which will allow workplace flexibility to be much more inclusive of all workers, which I think is critically important, especially at a time where we're still in a talent market that has not been as hot in this country since post-World War 2.

MS. ABRIL: So, I want to talk about the workers themselves. You know, there was a labor shortage, and now we're starting to see some slowdowns, and even in some cases some pausing of hiring within the tech industry. What is Accenture seeing here? Is this--are we at some kind of turning point for the tech industry?

MS. SHOOK: Look, I am not going to make a prediction right now, because there are so many factors that are affecting, you know, work and workplace. I can tell you that over the course of the past two years, we added 200,000 people to our workforce. And while the talent market has been constrained, we have not been. And what I think employers need to focus on is this holistic view of what employees need. And we like to ask a very simple question of ourselves, and we help our clients ask that same question: Are employees net better off by working for your company?

And the way net better off is defined is really interesting, because it has six dimensions to it, and two of them are something that employers have always been focused on: the job and the paycheck. But when you're in a volatile talent market, some of the other things become super important, like are people getting market relevant skills. So, in a downturn, could they transfer their skills to another industry, another organization that might need the skills in a different way, so providing market relevant skills. This concept of emotional and physical resiliency is so important to people.

And while companies have learned that they need to look at their employees more holistically, more companies have looked at--not all companies--but more companies have recognized that employees still say only one in--only 25 percent, one in four employees feel that their employers are looking after them. And in times of volatility, I think it's those times where responsible businesses and responsible leaders double down on caring for their people, because the cycles are--you know, these are cycles. Economic cycles are cycles. And the way people are treated during very good times and very difficult times will be long remembered as an economic cycle, you know, comes to--comes to a transition.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah, definitely. And I, you know, want to ask about how Accenture is navigating this particularly interesting time when workers are actually demanding more from their employers, not just from the sense of what you're talking about in terms of how they're being treated, but taking stances on hot button issues. You know, lately, we've seen a lot about abortion. We've seen a lot about gun ownership and gun regulation. How is Accenture navigating this?

MS. SHOOK: Yeah, I mean, every year I wait for the Edelman Trust index to come out to see what that says to see how people feel that they have trust with a lot of institutions, whether it's government or media or employers. Employers have been at the top of the trust index now for at least two years. Why am I talking about that? I talk about trust in cycles like this, because you need to have transparency with your people in order to build trust, and I think trust is the most important currency of our time.

So, we do have a very sophisticated learning framework. I talked a little bit about it. It's listen, learn and act. And you know, issues that are important to our people are important to us. And the way we consider them is through a cross-functional team. We think about our core values, we think about our people, we think about our clients, and we think about our communities. And that's how we go about assessing, you know, how we navigate important issues that are very important to our people and important to our communities and our business.

MS. ABRIL: Ellyn, we have a little time left for one last question, so I’ve got to squeeze this one in.

MS. SHOOK: Okay.

MS. ABRIL: What do you think are the biggest challenges as we embark on this new era of work?

MS. SHOOK: I think the biggest challenge is for, one, employees to use their voice, you know, to ask for what they need, because only through employees asking and employers listening can we really unlock the full potential of people.

MS. ABRIL: I think that's a great note to end this on. So, I want to thank you so much, Ellyn, for your insight, for your time, and for joining us here on Washington Post Live.

MS. SHOOK: Thank you so much, Danielle, for having me.

MS. ABRIL: Absolutely.

And thanks to all of you for joining us. Please stay with us for the next segment of this conversation with Drew Houston, founder and CEO of Dropbox.

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MS. KELLY: I'm Suzanne Kelly, CEO and publisher of The Cipher Brief, a media organization focused on national security. You know, we all had to make some pretty significant changes in how we do business once the pandemic hit, and it really shook things up for large organizations as well, who sometimes had to send tens of thousands of employees home. So, it's my pleasure now to welcome Tiffany Davis, who is division vice president of human resources at ADP, to talk about how ADP was able to kind of utilize lessons learned from the pandemic to really support the thousands, tens of thousands of employees who had to work remotely.

Tiffany, welcome.

MS. DAVIS: Thank you so much, Suzanne. It's a pleasure to be here today.

MS. KELLY: You know, I really want to hear from you straight away about the lessons learned that are being heeded by human resources leaders and how they're looking now from what they've learned since the pandemic to support a workforce of today.

MS. DAVIS: Thank you so much. Such a great question. I'll start out by saying it was such a great opportunity to work for an organization like ADP, which I thought that we did a phenomenal job when the pandemic did approach us and some of the challenges that we were up against. But from an HR leader or an executive standpoint, there were two probably lessons that I would identify here.

I think, one, it was a significant opportunity for us to think about business continuity and contingency planning and really thinking about from the standpoint of we do a great job of making sure our associates have the tools and resources that they need while in the office. But it was a great time for us to think about what are those tools and resources that were needed for associates in a home environment. So, I will tell you something that we learned on the journey and we continue to evolve.

The second thing I would actually say is it was another time for us to really focus in for our leaders who are leading our employees every single day and really supporting them and leading with heart and also engaging with moments that matter. There were so many different things that were happening in people's lives that were outside of the work that they do every single day at ADP, and it was a shift around as a leader. How do you have those conversations? How do you engage? How do you actually make sure that you were supportive? And so the development of that type of framework through the pandemic has really just helped--equipped us not only as HR leaders, but also for our leaders that are managing our employees each and every day. So those are two things that I would say from a lesson learn perspective that we continue to evolve, and I know that other organizations are doing as well.

MS. KELLY: It would seem to me that if there was any part of an organization that had really the opportunity for innovation and growth that was presented by the pandemic, it was the HR department. So how are the ways that HR leaders sort of captured that opportunity at ADP?

MS. DAVIS: Another great question, Suzanne. Innovation, I would say, has been our middle name over the course of the pandemic and I think will continue to be our middle name. But one of the things that I would start out with saying is in HR, what we tried to do is focus on the importance of our HR executives, leaders, and associates, having the opportunity to be closely connected to our employees during this time. And one of the ways that we've actually had the opportunity to do that is to make sure that we could automate some of our more manual tasks, or nonvalue-added tasks, I would say, to the associate experience.

We've also played a role in making sure that we have those same conversations on the business front. When we think about all of the personal challenges and all of the things that our employees have had to balance, how do we also make sure their experience is also--make sure that that experience is just worthwhile and also that they feel like that they can get their work done in an effective way? And so we have played a role in working with our businesses to make sure that automation occurs so that we can remove friction points and that we can also remove tasks from their plates to make sure that they could be effective in this environment.

MS. KELLY: You know, we live in a world today where we have so much data at our fingertips, I think more than we ever have in human history. It's an issue in national security. And I'm interested to hear how data was really driving efficiency now for human resources as well.

MS. DAVIS: So one of the things that I'm most excited about, Suzanne, is one of the things that we underwent during the midst of this pandemic, is we took the opportunity to really survey our employee population to really get their perspective and opinion on their sentiments around HR. And so we've evolved that survey. It's not that we haven't done it before, or prior to the pandemic, but we've evolved what that survey actually looked like.

So, it's comprised of two elements. The first side is what we call HR NPS, or net promoter score. And that really focuses on asking our employees, based on your experience with HR, what's your likelihood of recommending a family member or a friend to ADP. And the second part of that survey is what we call the HRXPS, which is really around the experience with HR.

And there are a couple of experience questions that we actually asked that are based into about five categories, and those categories are really around as an HR--as an associate, I'm sorry, or employee, that you actually see the value that HR brings, that you feel supported--do you feel like that you get what you need from a growth perspective, that you're given what you need from a tools, support, resources, experience, vantage point, and that also HR plays a role in making you feel safe, which we know was very important in the midst of the pandemic.

And while we have had phenomenal results, I would say that it's been great data that we can leverage not only from the numeric standpoint of what the score actually says, but the comments have been instrumental, and how we have continued to design the work that we do as HR leaders and executives, but also how we continue to evolve our brand and interactions with our associates and employees. So again, something I continue to be excited about but has been instrumental from a data perspective.

MS. KELLY: I love to hear about how data is really driving efficiency across organizations as well. Tiffany Davis, division vice president for human resources at ADP, thank you so much for your time.

MS. DAVIS: Thank you so much, Suzanne. It's a pleasure.

MS. KELLY: Back to my colleagues now at The Washington Post.

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MS. ABRIL: Welcome back. For those of you just joining us, I'm Danielle Abril, tech at work writer for The Washington Post. We're pleased to have Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox, with us here today. Welcome to Washington Post Live, Drew.

MR. HOUSTON: Thank you, Danielle. Great to be here.

MS. ABRIL: Absolutely.

And a quick reminder to you, our audience, we always want to hear from you. You can share your thoughts and questions for guests on Washington Post Live by tweeting @PostLive.

So, I want to start off, Drew, with this policy that you guys called virtual first. It's been working since 2020 for you all. Can you explain how this virtual first model works?

MR. HOUSTON: Sure. So, I mean, like everyone here, we were--the pandemic comes, lockdown. The world--it is clear that the world was going to be different afterwards. And I think a lot of--obviously, a lot of the things, most of the things about the pandemic were difficult, but I think we're all surprised by the degree to which, you know, if you're lucky enough to work--to be able to work from a screen, that companies were able to function, and there are a lot of good things about not having to commute and being able to get new kinds of flexibility at work and other benefits.

And so it's such a dramatic change and such a big crisis. We looked for, you know, what's the silver lining and how might work change permanently as a result of this now that, you know, before COVID, we were working out of physical offices, but it seemed like after COVID, we’d permanently be working from screens. So, we thought about how do we get the best of both worlds? How do we get the best of the remote experience where you have flexibility and also get the best of the in-person experience, because one thing we missed during lockdown, one thing that was really painful was not being able to see other people in person. And I don't think there's any substitute for that. There's a lot of great things about the convenience of being on Zoom, but it's very hard to build relationships on Zoom compared to face to face.

So, what we did is basically, we decided that the primary orientation of the company would become remote, so you could keep working from home, don't need to commute to the office, don't have to come in every week. But about 10 percent of the time we want folks to meet face to face, through off sites or community events, things like that. We call the model virtual first. And we launched it in October 2020, which was pretty early for these things. And we finally--now that things have started to reopen, we've been able to really start reintroducing the in-person experience. I was at an off site for a couple days earlier this week. We just had a big community event, a few hundred people in San Francisco. So, it's been working really well.

MS. ABRIL: And so I know you explained a little bit of the background of what went into this process, but I'm curious if you--now that things are sort of returning to some new sense of normalcy, have you considered like a return to office situation that a lot of folks are going to? Why or why not?

MR. HOUSTON: Basically, no, at least not in the way that a lot of companies are doing it. So, as I said, our model is you work primarily from home, and then we have--then we want you to spend around 10 percent of your time face to face. This is a little different from what companies are doing where, you know, they’re coming into the office--asking people to come into the office two, three days a week. The challenge of that model--and we explored that model--is it's--we believe it's easy to get the worst of both worlds when you do something like that. Because if you--if everybody’s working two days a week in the office, if it's--if it's the same two days a week, then it's inefficient--right?--because you have like, the majority of the week the office is completely empty. But if it's not and you come into a half empty office, then it sort of defeats the purpose of community if most of the people aren't there.

And I think we found something that we were not envisioning, which is that people just moved away--right?--they spread out. Virtually all organizations have some--you know, are on their way to having a double-digit percentage of remote employees, even if they would have been very anti-remote work before the pandemic. And so the problem with that is if you have people commuting, and then one of the team members is outside of commuting distance or can't make it and your commute to the office to be back on Zoom but without your snacks or your dog. And you know, in a world where we've all gotten used to this flexibility and where companies are offering it, I think companies need to adapt.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I will tell you working with my dog is wonderful.

Do you think anything gets lost? You know, some folks we hear from when they talk about the hybrid model or return to office, they talk about their worries of either losing a sense of culture or losing a sense of collaboration, camaraderie. How are you balancing that, given your policy?

MR. HOUSTON: I think that's a really important concern. And I think as I said earlier, there's no substitute for the in-person experience. I mean, I think that's something that many of us are discovering, or will discover, as things start to reopen and we spend more time together and that there's a lot of conversations or relationship building that you just can't do over Zoom. Like, you can't really do a dinner over Zoom or like, meaningful experiences the same way.

So, importantly, we're virtual first. We're not remote only. And I think all companies should think about how do they get the benefits of both, because for things like building relationships, collaboration, convening people, it’s just--it’s not the same doing that virtually.

MS. ABRIL: Understood. And do you think you would have gotten to this model even if the pandemic hadn't hit, or do you think this was a direct result of the pandemic?

MR. HOUSTON: I think a little of both. So, I mean, COVID took us through this one-way door where before we worked out of offices, and now we work primarily out of screens. That shift to using more technology, spending more time on screens had been in place for a long time, and that and just digital transformation more broadly was already underway. It got pulled forward dramatically due to COVID. But I mean, I don't think anyone would have predicted the death of like the five-day office workweek from COVID. I certainly don't think that we would have seen the degree of change that we saw. I mean, it's one of the biggest changes to knowledge work since that term was invented 60 years ago.

And I think it's--I think it's an exciting opportunity. I mean, there's so many negative things about the pandemic, but one of the positive things I think we'll look back on this period is it’s an opportunity to really rethink the nature of work, the nature of the workweek. I mean, so much of how we work has sort of descended from these industrial kind of factory mindsets, dictating how and where people do their work. And so the decoupling of work from physical space, I think, will have a lot of benefits.

MS. ABRIL: And in terms of I know you talked about, you know, the in-person activity happening mostly, you know, at off sites and things like that. What can you tell me about the office itself? Are you guys still using the office? How does that look now?

MR. HOUSTON: Yeah, I mean, we basically--we completely rethought our physical space. So, we've reduced our physical footprint by like, 80 percent. So basically, we don't--we don't have individual workspaces. So, you don't--you don't walk into the office and see rows of desks the way you would have before. We turned the office into convening and collaborative spaces that we call studios. And so people can come in and do off sites, or they can do community events, hold talks, or happy hours, things like that. And so it's more of a vibrant and collaborative place. And we’ve started rolling it out, and I think people are still figuring out exactly what to use studios for and what to go off site, another place. I think, you know, we're running a lot of experiments, like all companies are. But so far, it's been resonating.

MS. ABRIL: Makes sense, yeah. I'm very interested in how people are, you know, reevaluating their space, given these new ways of working. You mentioned something about how employees moved. That was an unexpected thing that happened during the pandemic. And one of the things that we're seeing is, in some cases, compensation changing as a result. Is Dropbox changing compensation based on where employees are?

MR. HOUSTON: Well, we've always had a market-based compensation--or approach to compensation. And so there are differences in cost of living or differences in pay depending on where you live that are dictated by the market. So that that general approach hasn't changed.

I mean, we've certainly seen a mix shift. We're hiring a lot more from other locations. And one of the great things about the flexibility that we have post-COVID and models like ours, like virtual first, we've seen that we've been able to unlock pools of talent in lots of different places. So, I think on balance--so we'll continue to be market driven. I think there's a question of, you know, I think there's a continuum from like if you're doing the same job, same pay to having it be completely--or having very different pay based on location. I think the market will kind of decide. I think it'll kind of be in the middle, is where I think it's going. But I think it's great for everyone. Employees--or companies have access to more talents. Great jobs are available to a lot more people and a lot more places. They're not--a lot of the opportunity that you've seen in tech and other sectors isn't now--isn't just limited to being within a, you know, however many mile radius of San Francisco or New York or other tech hubs. So, I think there are a lot of benefits.

MS. ABRIL: So, with that, are you seeing a change in your talent pool or the candidates applying? And how do you expect that to change over time as you continue to hire?

MR. HOUSTON: Yeah, I mean, I think we've been able to--as I said before, we've been able to reach a lot of great candidates. And actually, our recruiting has become a lot more efficient as well. So, we've seen offer accept rates increase a lot. We found ourselves getting access to execs that live in place--execs and talent more broadly, engineering, design, all kinds of folks who otherwise wouldn't have applied to Dropbox because we didn't have an office in their location. So, it's been a huge benefit to us from a recruiting and--recruiting and retention standpoint.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And so I want to quote something you previously said. You once said, “Instead of the tools helping us do the work, the tools kind of became the work.” Can you explain what you meant here?

MR. HOUSTON: Sure. Well, I think--I think probably many of you know what I'm talking about. In a world where we're always on and always connected, technology has brought that kind of advance for us. There's a lot of good things about that. It's enabled a lot of flexibility we've been talking about. But more communication, more collaboration, more tools aren't always better. And I think when you look at the experience of what's going on under our Zoom windows or under our videos, it's just--and you look at the tabs in--the hundred tabs in your browser and hundred tools on your screen, the--your digital environment has become a very chaotic place, and I think it's a lot more distracting and overwhelming than it needs to be. So, a lot of what we're focused on at Dropbox is thinking about, all right, how do we help you organize your working life beyond your files? How do we help you take care--not have a hundred tabs everywhere?

And I think more broadly, we need to--when we think about how do we move to these virtual models, one challenge is, you know, kind of ironically, we found that people in some cases were working more or without good boundaries, or when the boundary between--the physical boundary between home and work is completely dissolved, then work can spill over into every waking moment. And that's actually not good for--it’s not good for employees. It's not even good for companies if people don't have a sustainable pace. So, I think you need to set guidelines within your company about how do you communicate, how do you turn off some notifications, how do you encourage people to find a sustainable pace.

One thing we do is we have core collaboration hours. So we try to--we ask people to fit all their--to try to fit all their recurring meetings within a few hour block during the day so that you don't have--especially for people that are working across different time zones that you don't have this sprawl. So I think it's not just the physical environment or what do you do remotely, what do you do in person. I think the other mechanics of how you operate and how people work together need to change. And I think a lot of the technology that we're using needs to help us save, get back to the vision of helping us save time, helping us be more organized, instead of overwhelming us.

MS. ABRIL: So that actually leads to--directly to my next question, which is, what tech is needed for the future of work? And does it already exist? Is it just a reorganization of the tech we have, or are there things that don't exist yet that we need?

MR. HOUSTON: I think we need smarter tools. And I think we need to look--again, look at our digital environments. We're living and--we're working from our screens all day, and when you look at--just look at that experience, there's a lot of room to clean it up. I mean, at Dropbox, what we think about is--you know, I started the company 15 years ago, because I kept forgetting my thumb drive and I had all these files I needed to get to from different devices on different operating systems. But today, those hundred files on my desktop have turned into hundred tabs in my browser, as I was saying. So, we see an opportunity for Dropbox to help you organize all your cloud content, because we see people using files, but also Google Docs, and Figma, and Airtable, and all these new tools. And there's a lot of benefits that these tools provide, but then some of the challenges are that some basic experiences like search don't really work very well, because you have like 10 search boxes where you used to have one. There's no single view of all your stuff. So, you have to go--if you want to see what's--get a view of all your stuff, in many cases, it's scattered across your Dropbox or Google Drive, your OneDrive, all these different things. And so we need a new organizing layer.

And to me, it reminds me a lot of imagine--it's hard to remember but like, imagine life before Kayak or flight search, imagine having to go to like 10 different airlines, do the same search to try to pull all these things together yourself. In a lot of ways, our productivity tools are really fragmented like that. So, we see a big opportunity to better organize all your content, all your stuff at work, and then more broadly find ways to help you organize your working life.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah, I could definitely use some help there.

MR. HOUSTON: I think we all could.

MS. ABRIL: What would you say has been the biggest lesson for you within these past two years?

MR. HOUSTON: You know, I think there's no playbook for running a company during a pandemic. I think we're all still figuring it out. And I think there's a lot--you know, but the--I'd say that the lesson is really to find the silver lining and--in any kind of crisis. And so there's--again, as I was saying, there's so many bad things that happened with the pandemic. But, you know, at the same time, it ripped up the floorboards in all these ways that were bad, but it gave us--it also gave us an opportunity to think--to not have to put them back down in the same places, so certainly thinking about what are the opportunities that are creating the crisis through the through the change that it brings.

And then when you operate under uncertainty, I think a lot--it's--the companies that have an advantage are the ones that can adapt and respond quickly. And so, you know, we're still learning with our virtual first model. But we made an aggressive bet pretty early on, and we've been [unclear] pretty quickly. And I think a lot of what's frustrated employees is when--or what we've heard from other folks who have joined Dropbox is that they're really frustrated that their companies not making a decision, or always saying like, you know, will tell you in three months. So, I think being able to find the silver lining in a crisis and in an any time of uncertainty focus on adaptability more than getting the right perfect answer I think were important lessons for us.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And we have time for one quick question. So, I know you mentioned all the tech challenges and the things that Dropbox is focused on in terms of developments. But beyond the actual features and productivity and technical challenges, what do you think are the biggest challenges as we embark in this new era of work?

MR. HOUSTON: Well, I think it's finding the right balance across a lot of the tradeoffs that we've been talking about, right? So how do we make sure that we get the right level of in-person connection? You know, is the right number 10 percent of the time face to face, or 20, or 40, or 5? No one really knows. I think the world is running millions and millions of experiments, and we're going to learn a lot.

And then I think that the challenge is of sustainability, right? There's this epidemic of knowledge worker burnout that we've seen alongside the rise of a lot of this technology. And I think technology brings a lot of benefits, but I think there are also a lot of challenges. So how do we have a sustained--how do we build our environments such that they help us focus, right? How do we--how do we build--how do we get the things on our screen to help us focus instead of making focus impossible? So, I think there's a lot to figure out and it's--I think it's a really fertile time for--a creatively fertile time to solve some really important problems.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah, a lot of food for thought there are, a lot of questions to ask ourselves, and a great time to do it.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have. Drew Houston, thank you so much for being here with us today.

MR. HOUSTON: Great, thanks, Danielle.

MS. ABRIL: Absolutely.

And thanks to all of you for joining us, as well. To check out what interviews we have coming up, please head to to register and find more information about all our upcoming programs. I’m Danielle Abril. Thanks again for joining us.

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