Posted 12 months ago by Laura Ryan

Dropbox's Laura Ryan on "making work human”


Dropbox has a mission to create an enlightened way of working. A mission this powerful is one of the reasons that make it an exceptional place to work. Whilst technology has done lots of amazing things for people and has greatly enhanced our lives, we are also aware that it leaves people feeling in a state of always being “on”, whether in a professional or personal setting. This has been heightened all the more due to the fact that our home space is now our work space; solidifying just how important it is to focus on the work that actually matters. 

This is why pre-pandemic, our goal at Dropbox was to build the world’s first smart workspace. Creating a digital environment that brings all our team’s content together with the tools they love and cutting through the noise; employees are being served with the information that they actually need. 

Our core values are all about making work human and we place equal emphasis on human skills such as empathy and kindness alongside traditional professional skills. Our culture at Dropbox is deeply personal, driving a sense of passion and is engrained in our DNA.  From an HR perspective, it is essential that we are brand ambassadors of our values and mission. To really eat, sleep and live our own brand we need to have a very future focussed mind-set. By moving away from traditional 9-5 contracted hours and offering unlimited holiday, we are practicing the very thing that we preach in enabling our employees to work in a more enlightened way and to give employees the flexibility to ensure that work fits around their lives and not the other way around. A huge focus has been put on training and building up our leadership capability to ensure that we measure success by output rather than input and shift our focus away from presentism.  

When we went into lockdown, we were extremely fortunate that our teams were already fully enabled to work from anywhere through our technology.  We moved quickly to provide solutions for equipment through offering allowances for employees to purchase the necessary equipment to set them up for success at home. This was our way of saying to our employees that in the midst of this uncertainty ‘we’ve still got you’ and really emphasised the role that Dropbox played during this time. There was a deep understanding that this was not an experiment; we spent a huge amount of time focussing on employee mental health, wellbeing and resilience through supplying toolkits for managers and building an internal communications strategy so that our teams felt connected even while we were distributed. In our recent employee surveys, our employee engagement and participation results were the highest that they have ever been. Our employees felt supported and cared for during a global pandemic and this really matter to us. 

Like many organisations, Dropbox has continued to adapt and respond to the ever-changing situation to the best of its abilities during this period with shifts in our traditional HR programs and cycles such as performance management. For example, traditionally we have done 2 performance management cycles a year; employees do a ratings self-assessment as do their managers and the process can take anywhere between six to eight weeks.  Personally, I have never been a big advocate of ratings and numerical scales to evaluate performance as I don’t believe it can fully tap into the uniqueness of each individuals’ performance and the “number” can overshadow a quality conversation. I am delighted that we are reviewing our performance management approach and making a shift away from numerical scales. What we are really trying to do is get to the heart of what performance management is all about - unlocking potential and developing talent. Fostering a culture of real time feedback and creating safety in organisations is key to enabling growth.  

We did a pilot last year with no ratings across some smaller teams in engineering, legal and a small HR team and it resulted in great success. We want managers to feel comfortable having a robust performance conversation without having to be anchored to a number. It has been a topic that we have been exploring for a number of years, in which we have studied trends across a multitude of organisations and fundamentally it is about building stronger leadership confidence and capability.

Whilst it has always been something we were working towards, COVID-19 has caused such a shift in the relationship between managers and their teams – can we ever go back? We have been vulnerable in each other’s homes living, breathing and surviving a global pandemic and as a result we naturally have formulated a far deeper connection with our colleagues. Arguably this makes any numerical rating system in performance management somewhat dated and we should not go back to the hierarchicaltraditional processes that were in place beforehand. We don’t need to be adding to people’s stress right now, rather we need to be bringing out their very best. We can’t get rid of processes altogether because ultimately, we need them to bring some level of order and consistency but it is about making these processes far more human and meaningful.  

Finally, at the very core of our beliefs and values is trust. Trust is the most empowering intangible mechanism to drive productivity and performance. This really is a win-win situation and we want to continue to maximise our employee potential, through making the work that we do human. At Dropbox, we are not afraid of change; rather we accept the challenge to continuously evolve and adapt in order to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. 

By Laura Ryan, Director of Human Resources at Dropbox

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