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‘The way we’re working, isn’t working’: Dropbox

Dropbox Australia team

Would you trial four-hour work days, beach-side remote offices and job swapping to boost productivity? Dropbox Australia tested these and more, and now wants other workplaces to do the same.

The company is challenging Aussie businesses to trial new ways of working over the summer months as part of its “Enlightened Summer” initiative, following its own experiments of various ideas which delivered vastly different results.

From December through to February, Dropbox is asking Australian workplaces to trial a series of so-called “work-hacks”, in order to hunt out and test new ways of working that boost employee satisfaction and output beyond the traditional nine-to-five paradigm.

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“The world of work is facing a number of contradictions: we’re working longer and harder but productivity rates are at an all-time low; employee engagement is on a downward trend while workplace burnout is on the rise; and tech-enabled work has led to an always-on, 24-hour work culture. There is something very wrong about that equation — the way we’re working, isn’t working,” said Dropbox’s Australia and New Zealand country manager, Dean Swan.

“While industrial work requires manual labour, knowledge work requires cognitive focus. The aim of Enlightened Summer is to shift modern work culture from working harder to working smarter; from ‘busy work’ to focused work; and from distracting tech to smart tech.”

The initiative arose from Dropbox’s company-wide “Hack Week”, which this year was observed between Monday, 4, and Friday, 8 November, by its 2,000-strong global workforce.

What ideas did Dropbox Australia trial?

Mr Swan said his organisation’s experiments were designed to encourage the team (pictured) to “break free from their day-to-day routine, go off script and shoot for the moon”.

“This meant reframing, reinventing and rethinking what a more enlightened way of working could look like for ourselves and the entire planet,” Mr Swan told My Business.

The team ran experiments to turn everyday work routines upside such as:

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  • challenge the 9–5
  • four-hour work day
  • job swapping
  • Pomodoro Technique (a time management methodology)
  • remote office in Bondi
  • meeting-free day
  • email and chat suspension

Mr Swan said that the initiative is about encouraging other businesses of various size to also challenge themselves to identify and test ways to work smarter, not harder.

“We want Australians to use this time of retrospection to get out of the grind, break the cycle of autopilot, and make 2020 the year of finding a more focused and enlightened way of working,” he said.

“The main goal was to get people to break out of autopilot and challenge work habits that we’ve all either consciously or subconsciously inherited.

“For example, many of us have a habit of checking and responding to email and/or chat first thing in the morning and this habit continues throughout the day. One of the ‘work hacks’ we ran was getting people to schedule dedicated time to attend to email and chat, and suspend checking outside of those times.

“Those who participated in this experiment said it helped them be less reactive to every single communication that was coming in and to prioritise responses. It was a forcing function to make time for deep, focused work that was free of distractions.”

Dropbox Australia plans to share its own insights through a series of free workshops, before releasing the broader findings from other workplace experiences that take up the challenge in the new year.

“At the end of the summer period, we’ll share the experiences of workplaces that took part in Enlightened Summer, as well as feedback on ‘work hacks’ that worked best for their teams and why,” Mr Swan said.

“We think it’s important that people have a baseline understanding before embarking on their own experiments.”

Sneak peek at Dropbox findings

Asked to provide some snippets of Dropbox Australia’s own findings, Mr Swan said the company tested the range of measures outlined above.

“The remote office was the biggest hit — for obvious reasons! It was very energising being in a completely differently environment for the day, and everyone still got their work done, just at the beach instead of the office. People are still talking about how great and memorable that day was,” he said.

“We had a lot of people adopt the Pomodoro Technique and are still using it today — it’s a very easy and effective way to manage time and do focused ‘batch work’.”

On the flip side, there were experiments that were considerably more difficult to implement.

“Job swapping was the hardest work hack to orchestrate, but it was attempted and yielded some interesting insights — mainly around developing empathy for colleagues in different roles,” Mr Swan said.

According to Dropbox’s local boss, mitigating potential productivity risks of trialling these alternative working methods involves a great deal of trust — from both sides.

“Our most important company value is to be worthy of trust, and this means giving people complete freedom and autonomy to choose the work hacks they wanted to experiment with and when they wanted to do it,” he explained.

“For example, the four-hour work day was attempted by one of our team members whose core team is based in the US — so naturally, Monday (which is Sunday in the US) was a good day for her to trial this.

“We found that the four-hour work day could also be combined with the ‘meeting-free day’ hack, a re-occurring weekly event that people schedule in their calendars so that they can do focused work without distractions.”

Mr Swan added that Dropbox Australia is in the process of formalising feedback from its workforce before deciding how to progress.

“From there, we will plan to develop a best practices framework to roll out initiatives across Dropbox Australia and will share this with other workplaces at the upcoming workshops throughout summer,” he said.

Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016. 

The two-time Publish Awards finalist has an extensive journalistic career across business, property and finance, including a four-year stint in the UK. Email Adam at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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‘The way we’re working, isn’t working’: Dropbox
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