You may wonder why a Workplace-related video starts with Bruce Lee – we’re going to talk about the Liquid workplace, and mimicking water is exactly what this idea does. It has been 3 years we’re pushing this idea to our clients, and finally, one big company has decided to step up.

Dropbox has just announced that they will become a Virtual-first company – meaning that their employees may work as they please from home, while still being able to come at offices for meeting and gathering – they now call them “studios”. This has many implications for Dropbox, as a company: they lean into the strategy of reducing their overall footprint, and turn it toward collaboration only. And the real estate portfolio is just the tip of the iceberg, as you can figure out. It’s a massive change for Dropbox, who counts more than 2,300 employees, and had only before the pandemic 3% of its staff working remotely full-time. They have actually signed the biggest lease in San Francisco history, in 2017, with 730k sq.ft. in a four-building development in the Mission Bay district.

Dropbox, as every workflow-related businesses, has tried to make its own mind about the impact of COVID on work – and remote working, of course. They actually sponsored a study from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit about the effects of distributed work on productivity with 600 respondents. Conclusions of this study point that’s while employees say they’re able to be productive at home (nearly 90%) and don’t want to return to a five-day in-office workweek, they acknowledge that company culture suffers with no in-person interaction, risk of miscommunication is higher, and it’s harder to start new projects with multiple collaborators.

Hence, Dropbox decided to act upon these new data and change their workplace strategy, going “virtual first”. Remote work (outside an office) will be the primary experience for all employees and the day-to-day default for individual work. What hooks me the most in this announce are the few disclosed details, especially three:

Locations

the offices Dropbox currently have will turn into collaborative spaces – which probably imply that they would afford to sublease a part of these. They have already listed in July 270k sq.ft. – more than a third of their massive 15 year lease in San Francisco – and I am pretty sure we will see more of that in the coming months. Sounds like a bad time for property owners, and tenants with few leverages. To me, it proves again that no matter your business, and no matter the price difference between suburban areas and downtown, you’ll always be more flexible with a prized, central location than with a Category B. If budget is a constraint, pick smaller, not farther.

Non-linear workday

Because Dropbox works on different time zones, they will set “core collaboration hours” and will encourage their employee to design their schedule around that. In other words, you have common blocked hours for meetings, and you produce individual work before or after these. There is a weird smell of high school schedule in this, but I think it’s a fitted strategy for their context. For the less, it shows the acknowledgement by the organization of one of the biggest issues in the modern corporate world.

Transition management & measures

Dropbox created guides on how to work, and they claim they will measure the impacts of this new strategy. It sounds like a lot of survey – I am curious to know if utilization studies and metadata analysis will be performed. Check in the description for more details about metadata analysis, we made a video about this few months ago!

 

So Dropbox, unlike the first moves made by Facebook, Google, Shopify and others during the pandemic, is not going full-remote for those who want – the office has a place in the strategy and it’s clearly defined. Besides, keeping two classes of employees- those who work from home and those who don’t – perpetuates two different employee experiences that could result in inequities with respect to performance or career trajectory. The class struggle with the COVID is real, and as real estate managers, you should pay attention to it.

 

And if you want to explore what a liquid workplace strategy could look like for your company, send us a message, this is our bread and butter. I guess I see you later in the next video!