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Dropbox’s bid to build a smarter workplace

Tue 5 Nov 2019 | Marc Paczian

Ahead of his appearance at TechWeek Frankfurt, Dropbox’s Marc Paczian discusses the company’s new smart workplace application

When Dropbox first launched its groundbreaking file sync and share app in March 2008, it was just over a year since Apple launched the first iPhone. Just as the iPhone heralded a now-ubiquitous feature of our daily lives – the smartphone, Dropbox represented one of the earliest examples of a SaaS application aimed squarely at improving workplace productivity.

Fast forward to the present day, and there is a bewildering assortment of cloud-based software applications vying for employee attention and promising to make their lives easier. Firms are swimming in a sea of applications and each on average relies on over 150 to stay productive, according to Okta. Because of this oversupply, productivity is, in fact, being hamstrung. Employees have hundreds of tabs open, each bombarding them with notifications and forcing them to switch environments. 

There are countless studies that quantify the detrimental effect of ‘app overflow’. To take one, in 2012, McKinsey discovered that more than 60 percent of knowledge workers’ time is spent performing ‘work about work’ – including finding information, sending emails and coworker coordination. All important, but none expressing their distinguishing skills. This effectively means that for three days of the week knowledge workers are not utilising the knowledge that gets them hired to begin with.

For Dropbox, whose whole raison d’être is to improve the workplace experience, enough is enough. In a significant departure from its file hosting origins the company is entering the market with a new ‘smart workplace’ product called Dropbox Spaces, announced last month, which it hopes will consolidate today’s complexity.  

“What we are saying is that we’ve reached a point where we just have to do something about it,” explains Marc Paczian, solutions architect at Dropbox.

Space for change

Spaces, also the first foreground app Dropbox has created, ultimately aims to be an intelligent alternative to Windows Explorer, integrating every workplace application in your toolkit to your files and folders (and vice versa). The application has three core elements, each serving to, as Marc says, “bring your content to life.”

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The first feature is folder context. This enables users to add information to folders, allowing fellow collaborators to know a folder’s contents without looking at the files it contains. The second pillar is machine intelligence, which consistently scans folders to show each collaborative user only the files that are relevant to them. The third feature is the integration with other productivity tools. Spaces currently has integrations with G-Suite, Zoom, Slack and Hellosign, with Trello support in the pipeline. Marc says Dropbox is looking at “all of the productivity tools out there in the market.”

Say you have a weekly sales meeting at 1.45. By connecting Spaces to your Gmail calendar, when you open your Laptop at 1.45 the app will pull up the latest sales figures automatically. Because of Spaces’ G-Suite integration, the file it pulls could be a Google Sheet (Spaces also allows users to create G-Suite files from the application itself.) 

Through these three features, Dropbox hopes to end the inefficiencies of switching between multiple environments. The Slack integration, for example, allows messages to be sent from within documents that appear as document comments. If your colleague spots a glaring copy error, they can immediately launch a Zoom call to address it, without having to actually call up Zoom.

“This is the smart workspace, and this is how we are imagining the workplace of the future,” says Marc.

New territory

Spaces represents a substantial shift in business strategy, one that the company no doubt hopes will differentiate it from rising rivals such as Box. Like all trajectory shifts of its kind, moving into unknown territory was a sizeable risk. But Marc says it was simply the next step in the company’s evolution.

“We needed to take the next step. We were the first company to create a file sync and share app. Now file sync and share has become the standard. We had to find the solution for the next big challenge.”

Dropbox, which Marc says prides itself on healthy workplace culture, roadtested Spaces with its 2900-strong workforce. Almost all of them soon placed it at the centre of their digital environments. Marc claims he has never touched Finder since he got his hands on the first release – back when there were no integrations and the only feature was folder context.

“Just imagine you have a folder that you can give context to. You can describe the content, you can add tasks to it and mention people to deliver documents into that single folder from within your Dropbox app. This is fantastic. This has made my work life easier. And this for me is the key component. That’s my personal KPI.”

“Our customers are saying that [Dropbox Spaces] wasn’t something that they expected from us. But they totally understand the problem that we’re solving because everybody feels this pain. Right from the IT decision-maker to the business decision-maker. Every person working in an office feels the pain.”

Does Dropbox think Spaces is the magic bullet to workplace productivity? No. Marc says the application is just one part of a comprehensive strategy that must be complemented by collaboration and communication.

“Enabling success is not just about technology. The biggest part is culture – focusing on your employees again and helping them to focus without distraction. Whenever you implement new technology, ask your employees. Don’t just decide on something. Make tests with them, let them try the software and make sure it really enables them to focus and don’t implement software that just brings more distraction.”

Dropbox will certainly hope its Smart Workspace is number one on the list of new software that companies pitch to their employees.

Experts featured:

Marc Paczian

Solutions Architect


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