When the cloud storage company Dropbox chose to close down its workplaces with the break out of the Covid-19 pandemic, co-founder and CEO Drew Houston ’05 needed to send out the business’s almost 3,000 staff members house and inform them they were not returning to work anytime quickly. “It felt like I was announcing a snow day or something.”
In the early days of the pandemic, Houston states that Dropbox responded as numerous others did to guarantee that staff members were safe and consumers were looked after. “It’s surreal, there’s no playbook for running a global company in a pandemic over Zoom. For a lot of it we were just taking it as we go.”
Houston discussed his experience leading Dropbox through a public health crisis and how Covid-19 has actually sped up a shift to dispersed operate in a fireside chat on Oct. 14 with Dan Huttenlocher, dean of the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing.
During the conversation, Houston likewise discussed his $10 million present to MIT, which will enhance the very first shared professorship in between the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and the MIT Sloan School of Management, along with offer a driver start-up fund for the college.
“The goal is to find ways to unlock more of our brainpower through a multidisciplinary approach between computing and management,” states Houston. “It’s often at the intersection of these disciplines where you can bring people together from different perspectives, where you can have really big unlocks. I think academia has a huge role to play [here], and I think MIT is super well-positioned to lead. So, I want to do anything I can to help with that.”
While the abrupt swing to remote work was unforeseen, Houston states it was quite clear that the whole method of working as we understood it was going to alter forever for understanding employees. “There’s a silver lining in every crisis,” states Houston, keeping in mind that individuals have actually been utilizing Dropbox for many years to work more flexibly so it made good sense for the business to lean in and end up being early adopters of a dispersed work paradigm in which staff members operate in various physical areas.
Dropbox continued to revamp the work experience throughout the business, revealing a “virtual first” working design in October 2020 in which remote work is the main experience for all staff members. Individual work areas passed the wayside and workplaces found in locations with a high concentration of staff members were transformed into assembling and collective areas called Dropbox Studios for in-person deal with colleagues.
“There’s a lot we could say about Covid, but for me, the most significant thing is that we’ll look back at 2020 as the year we shifted permanently from working out of offices to primarily working out of screens. It’s a transition that’s been underway for a while, but Covid completely finished the swing,” states Houston.
Envisioning the Future Workplace: A Fireside Chat with Drew Houston of Dropbox
Designing for the future work environment
Houston states the pandemic likewise triggered Dropbox to review its line of product and start considering methods to make enhancements. “We’ve had this whole new way of working sort of forced on us. No one designed it; it just happened. Even tools like Zoom, Slack, and Dropbox were designed in and for the old world.”
Undergoing that procedure assisted Dropbox gain clearness on where they might include worth and caused the awareness that they required to return to their roots. “In a lot of ways, what people need today in principle is the same thing they needed in the beginning — one place for all their stuff,” states Houston.
Dropbox reoriented its item roadmap to refocus efforts from syncing files to arranging cloud material. The business is concentrated on structure towards this brand-new instructions with the release of brand-new automation functions that users can quickly carry out to much better arrange their uploaded material and discover it rapidly. Dropbox likewise just recently revealed the acquisition of Command E, a universal search and performance business, to assist accelerate its efforts in this area.
Houston views Dropbox as still developing and sees numerous chances ahead in this brand-new age of dispersed work. “We need to design better tools and smarter systems. It’s not just the individual parts, but how they’re woven together.” He’s shocked by how little intelligence is really incorporated into present systems and thinks that quick advances in AI and artificial intelligence will quickly result in a brand-new generation of wise tools that will eventually improve the nature of work — “in the same way that we had a new generation of cloud tools revolutionize how we work and had all these advantages that we couldn’t imagine not having now.”
Houston notoriously turned his aggravation with bring USB drives and emailing files to himself into a demonstration for what ended up being Dropbox.
After finishing from MIT in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer technology, he coordinated with fellow schoolmate Arash Ferdowsi to discovered Dropbox in 2007 and led the business’s development from an easy concept to a service utilized by 700 million individuals worldwide today.
Houston credits MIT for preparing him well for his entrepreneurial journey, remembering that what shocked him most about his trainee experience was just how much he found out outside the class. At the occasion, he worried the value of establishing both sides of the brain to a choose group of computer technology and management trainees who remained in participation, and a wider live stream audience. “One thing you learn about starting a company is that the hardest problems are usually not technical problems; they’re people problems.” He states that he didn’t recognize it at the time, however a few of his very first lessons in management were acquired by handling obligations in his fraternity and in different trainee companies that stimulated a sense of being “on the hook.”
As CEO, Houston has actually had an opportunity to look behind the drape at how things occur and has actually pertained to value that issues don’t resolve themselves. While private individuals can make a big distinction, he describes that much of the difficulties the world deals with today are naturally multidisciplinary ones, which stimulated his interest in the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing.
He states that the frame of mind embodied by the college to link computing with other disciplines resonated and motivated him to start his greatest humanitarian effort to date earlier instead of later on because “we don’t have that much time to address these problems.”