In MIT go to, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston ’05 explores the accelerated shift to distributed work | MIT Information


When the cloud storage agency Dropbox determined to close down its places of work with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, co-founder and CEO Drew Houston ’05 needed to ship the corporate’s practically 3,000 workers dwelling and inform them they weren’t coming again to work anytime quickly. “It felt like I used to be asserting 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 workers have been secure and prospects have been taken care of. “It’s surreal, there’s no playbook for operating a worldwide firm in a pandemic over Zoom. For lots of it we have 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.

In the course of the dialogue, Houston additionally spoke about his $10 million reward to MIT, which can endow the primary shared professorship between the MIT Schwarzman Faculty of Computing and the MIT Sloan College of Administration, in addition to present a catalyst startup fund for the faculty.

“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 typically on the intersection of those disciplines the place you possibly can deliver individuals collectively from completely different views, the place you possibly can have actually huge unlocks. I believe academia has an enormous position to play [here], and I believe MIT is tremendous well-positioned to guide. So, I wish to do something I can to assist with that.”

Digital first

Whereas the abrupt swing to distant work was surprising, Houston says it was fairly clear that your complete means 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 change into early adopters of a distributed work paradigm during which workers work in numerous bodily places.

Dropbox proceeded to revamp the work expertise all through the corporate, unveiling a “digital first” working mannequin in October 2020 during which distant work is the first expertise for all workers. Particular person work areas glided by the wayside and places of work situated in areas with a excessive focus of workers have been transformed into convening and collaborative areas known as Dropbox Studios for in-person work with teammates.

“There’s rather a lot let’s imagine about Covid, however for me, probably the most vital factor is that we’ll look again at 2020 because the 12 months we shifted completely from figuring out of places of work to primarily figuring out of screens. It’s a transition that’s been underway for some time, however Covid fully completed the swing,” says Houston.

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Envisioning the Future Office: A Hearth Chat with Drew Houston of Dropbox

Designing for the longer term 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 means of working kind of compelled on us. Nobody designed it; it simply occurred. Even instruments like Zoom, Slack, and Dropbox have been designed in and for the outdated world.”

Present process that course of helped Dropbox acquire readability on the place they might add worth and led to the conclusion that they wanted to get again to their roots. “In numerous methods, what individuals want right this moment in precept is identical factor they wanted to start with — 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 higher arrange their uploaded content material and discover it rapidly. Dropbox additionally just lately 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 methods. It’s not simply the person components, however how they’re woven collectively.” He’s shocked by how little intelligence is definitely built-in into present methods 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 means 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.”

Founding roots

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 pc science, he teamed up with fellow classmate Arash Ferdowsi to discovered Dropbox in 2007 and led the corporate’s development from a easy concept to a service utilized by 700 million individuals all over the world right this moment.

Houston credit MIT for getting ready him nicely for his entrepreneurial journey, recalling that what shocked him most about his scholar expertise was how a lot he discovered exterior the classroom. On the occasion, he harassed the significance of growing each side of the mind to a choose group of pc science and administration college students who have been in attendance, and a broader reside stream viewers. “One factor you study beginning an organization is that the toughest issues are often not technical issues; they’re individuals issues.” He says that he didn’t notice it on the time, however a few of his first classes in administration have been gained by taking up duties in his fraternity and in varied scholar 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 individuals 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 faculty to attach computing with different disciplines resonated and impressed him to provoke his greatest philanthropic effort so far sooner quite than later as a result of “we don’t have that a lot time to deal with these issues.”


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