- After going “virtual-first”, Dropbox introduced “non-linear” workdays to let staff organize their schedules more.
- International HR head Laura Ryan tells Insider how an audit of her calendar showed there were meetings she wasn’t adding value to.
- “That wasn’t allowing for any ad hoc meetings, which certainly wasn’t allowing much work to get done.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
When Dropbox asked its 2,500 employees to audit their calendars to analyze whether there was anything they could cut, its international HR director Laura Ryan realized she “was in 15 hours of standing meetings a week, not adding value to any of those.”
“They had just built up over time. That wasn’t allowing for any ad hoc meetings, which certainly wasn’t allowing much work to get done,” Ryan told Insider.
The audit was the first step towards the “non-linear work day” that Dropbox began implementing in October, shortly after it announced it would shift to “virtual-first” working in which remote working was the default.
Teams define “core collaboration” hours for meetings and individuals are free to structure the rest of their day whenever they want.
This could be evening or early hours, whatever best suits when they function best and when they’re naturally inclined to sleep.
Under this system, Ryan, who is based in Dublin, Ireland, cut a third of the 15 hours of meetings she was in and re-thought her contribution to others.
Now, her day typically starts with preparation, breakfast and school drop-offs.
At 10 a.m., the first of her core collaboration hours begins, which are generally spent on calls. Between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. she is meeting-free and will respond to emails, work on documents, and take a walk.
She then goes back into collaboration mode, spending between 4 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. on calls, with the occasional late international call.
Ryan said that, after employees do their calendar audit, they’re asked to block out the core collaboration hours needed.
Respecting other colleagues’ independent time by not requesting meetings outside collaboration hours – and equally not accepting meetings outside your own – was key, she added.
So is clearly communicating schedule preferences to others in the team so no one thinks a person has gone AWOL when actually they intend to be working from 8 p.m. to midnight that day.
Current company guidelines state that the “collaboration hours” should take place between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. and between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., to allow for some cross-time zone meetings.
Teams, however, can adjust these as required. The rest of the time is reserved for independent, focused work, and does not have to be during the traditional working day but any time the employee prefers.
Regardless of how someone cuts up their day, the idea was to move away from a mindset of “busy for the sake of it” to “impact,” said Ryan.
With office perks less of an attraction for future candidates, Dropbox will be emphasizing the policy in recruitment, Ryan said.
New employees will be able to discuss their preferred work pattern, be they early birds or night owls, with their line manager during their onboarding. Team meetings could be shifted earlier or later, as long as all are in agreement, Ryan added.
Some teams lend themselves to a work pattern outside of conventional hours naturally. Engineering teams, Ryan said, typically start and end later.
And any role that is not customer-facing, such as HR, or marketing and communications, could work well in a non-linear fashion.
Sales teams, for example, need to work more traditionally as most of the company’s customers are still working this way.
But Ryan said Dropbox’s sales teams have introduced a rotation system so staff can still do non-linear working hours on certain days.
Ryan said the company was willing to tweak the system as time goes on.
“We’re not going to get this right on day one, but we’ll figure it out together,” she added.