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Alastair Simpson
VP of Design at Dropbox
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REMOTE by GitLab 2021
June 29, 2021, Online, USA
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REMOTE by GitLab 2021: From Productivity to Purpose
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About the talk

Speaker: Alastair Simpson, VP of Design, Dropbox

As Dropbox enters its 3rd month of working Virtual First, VP of Design, Alastair Simpson, invites you for an exclusive look into lessons learned as he speaks to the challenges involved in redesigning the way we work. In this talk, Alastair will share a proposed framework for introducing the company-wide mindset shifts that are fundamental to the long term success of remote working, as well as his strategy for shifting busyness to impact, overload to focus, and disconnection to belonging.

Get in touch with Sales: http://bit.ly/2IygR7z

About speaker

Alastair Simpson
VP of Design at Dropbox

I'm a product design manager, leader and mentor. I love working with multi-disciplinary teams to solve complex business and interaction design challenges. I currently lead a large global design team across a portfolio of Atlassian's largest Cloud Products and Platforms; Trello, Confluence, Cloud Platform, Design System, Growth and the Atlassian Ecosystem. In the last 5 years I have helped scale the Atlassian design team from 20 to over 200 and built the Cloud Platform division from the ground up alongside my cross-functional partners. I also own a rather large sneaker collection :).

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Next up. Let's welcome. Alastair Simpson VP of design at Dropbox know whether you're a small startup, a mid-sized company or a large globally, distributed to redesigning the way you work is no small feat Dropbox, just happens to be entering its third months of working virtual first, and now, we're going to get an exclusive. Look at the lessons, we've learned and what they're doing along. The way, Alistair will share his guidance on how to steer a company-wide mindset shift, how to focus your team's work and how to

ensure that people feel a sense of connection and belonging throughout the transition. This talk with a framework that you can learn from as your organization. Implement remote first practices. Hello, my name is Alister the VP resigned here Dropbox and it is wonderful to join you today to share some stories about our transformation. Is we've shifted to Virtual first with a focus on moving from productivity to focus is up here. Talkin about the future of what and to be honest. You wouldn't be the first person who's asked me that question that puzzle in just a second. But

first, we all have the ability to be creative, but too, often curiosity and creativity educated out of us is the ability to ask great questions and to challenge assumptions. Very little time is spent on things like working with hypothesis and experiments with simply programs to Pasta House in order to graduate and get nine-to-five jobs norms. I want me to follow them without question. I'm a design on. I'm a father of two young kids, Frankie and Buddy the right 6 and 4.

They don't approach problems with process. They are inquisitive and that created by nature and it is proven that giving kids, unstructured playtime helps with creativity yet many parents and schools. Still truck structure. That kids time down to the minute schools even have bells to Signal the end of a day. Learning by rote is sadly, still coming place. Now, there was a deep societal connection between the way that we teach them. The way that we work do not have fails to Signal the end of the day, they still mostly operate as they did fifty years ago,

925 collocated synchronized in time. Fortunately for my daughter, Frankie the school she attends doesn't do tests or else they don't have single. Hklaw sermons on the job of Education. Solis it with the teacher instead. The children are organized in mixed age classes where they can help another teaches pose, questions to the kids. The kids, then ask questions in return. They create hypothesis and run experiments to see what they want from. A very young age, the fundamentals of design,

asking questions and challenging assumptions. But in reality, it's simply tapping into the a night, creativity and curiosity. The older children have Like the majority of our education at work environments have simply not kept up with the pace of change. The temping down of creativity from a young age has spilled over into work, is why we haven't seen how we look really evolved until covid-19 happened, but then overnight, we were forced into a big experiment to challenge long-held assumptions and ask better questions. I'm guessing

from any of you being forced to work. Remotely has for the lack of a better word, really sucked, but it's his baby and it doesn't have to stay. In fact, we have a unique opportunity to tap into our creativity to redesign work, for the better. Now. This is why you have the VP of design up here. Talkin about redesigning how we work a drop box, because if you get creative and open your mind to new possibilities challenges, no one's been commonly held assumptions. You can use design to address, common pain points of everyday life

and also work. Now we have to look back to see Al Horford, the story of how it begins with the Industrial Revolution. When our hands were replaced by the machine, is the primary tool of mass production. We were simply trying to be productive today. Knowledge workers rely on our minds to me, but ask me how we work happen, just like factory work. We still try to gather in one place at the same time. Even if I assume we still expect. We'll have to start at 9 and end around 5 p.m. Technology and incessant notifications. The off of the false promise of making us more

productive or actually more intrusive. In fact, modern technology in being always on leads the last time for family and life outside of work and often ends in Burnout, and I'd argue that checking off constable. Oh, being productive drains, the purpose for my life. So I genuinely believe that the next Frontier will be driven by shifting us from productivity into purpose for my hands to a head and into working with our hearts or purpose. And so if we focus on purpose, we no longer have to accept the assumptions around how

work is. I recently put this Theory to the test by helping Dropbox redesign from a collocated office culture to one that is virtual or remote first from traditional ways of looking into human sense of ways of working. So using the fundamentals of design. I teamed up with a chief people officer and a crew of creators to re-watch all of the habits in New Orleans from pre-pandemic times. This includes how and why we gather how and why we communicate and the culture we reinforced

through a corporate structures. What it really entails is a new system of beliefs and behaviors that inform how we show up every single day. Don't you design? I often start with a set of principles of principles thinking is one of the best ways to reverse engineer, complicated problems. And unleash creative possibility. The idea was to break down complicated problems in the basic elements, and then reassemble them from the ground up. A Dropbox based on competitive analysis in science from other companies and

insights from our own employees, three principles were to maintain human connection and culture. We recognize the importance of preserving human connection, cuz we still believe that in person engagement is critical to fostering a culture. Importantly, we want to ensure that. We keep a Level Playing Field field for all of our employees where everyone has equal opportunity to succeed no matter where they are located. The second principle flexibility and freedom. We want our employees to have more control over how, and where they work

by increasing. These choices, will have an expanded and more talent pool from which we can recruit. On the Lost principal to maintain a learning mindset, this principle underpinned, our approach and serves as the foundation, for everything that we doing. We were named Nimble and adopt the same philosophy. We use to develop our own products to build measure Anna. As a designer, I aim to put the customer at the heart of everything that I make and then descends, how customers with a two and a half thousand Dropbox employees. So as we

are ourselves before Stu work from home, when the pandemic first hit, we started to turn human centered design in wood and we're and research. When I sell those employees to co-create my research team, conducted a study around how the shift to working remotely was going for people across the company. We talked to a diverse group of people who represented different roles and departments as well as Life actors such as K. Get a status through the study. We uncovered powerful stories about how people finally felt like they could take Paws and eat dinner with the kids

without feeling guilty, how they felt loved, because everyone was remote. The playing field was leveled because nobody was at headquarters anymore. We heard about how people are finding ways to spot inspiration for the team is cultural shifting from tangible to intangible. We also had dozens of ideas that could help us feel more connected while we're apart to see that sign, major aspects about company. I have people find you an innovative ways to adapt company culture to help Propel us forward. Sometimes you have to slow down in order

to speed up momentum, does not always mean progress with the end of the pandemic. Seemingly, Nia employees were clamoring for information and decisions around our future of what strategy would we ever return to the office? Like, we were before? Would we go? Remote, only would we adopt a hybrid bottle instead of rushing? To all these questions immediately. We took time, we communicated clearly about my progress. We wanted to ensure that we were shifting from a focus on productivity to purpose for our employees allowing employees, to fill purpose in their personal lives as well as

in how they contribute to our company. So tough is beyond the what place means that modern employers need to look after the entire human and this encompasses personal life decisions around kids caregiving, responsibilities mental health and much much more. I'm taking our principles are in science and I'll datapoints is how we landed on a virtual. First approach to work and drop off some virtual first means, every employee's primary way of working will be remote, we will be working from home. But importantly, we are retaining our offices, but switching them to collaboration spaces

or Studios is recording them. We recognize the importance of meeting in person, but we want to do. So intentionally. Ask Judea is a places with teams can come together to collaborate in person. If you want some of that. Basically not. Like what we want to keep these in-person moments meaningful and magical. As we transition to Albert Troopers future, we knew that we had to help her employees go from an old way of working of thinking to renew human scented way of working and thinking. And this is why we anchored our approach on three key

behaviors or mine sets that we wanted employees to go from. And then to, and I'm going to talk you through those three now. Mindset shift has been helping employees focus on the outcomes that they are achieving and less on how busy they actually are all feel so drained from busyness to impact. Now, imagine this very common scenario. It's Friday night, you sit down with your partner. And you asked how they work week was, the typical response. Is, it was a really busy week. I think about that, just for a second.

As a society. We have a quite busy with good or at least we haven't accepted it as the norm. How much better would it be if you could respond to that question with? I really did some work this week, but positively impact, our customers and our business. It was a society. We need to shift the conversation away from Alice pain butts in seats mentality, that some companies actively track employee. We must move to Walton outcome-focused culture measured against solving, real customer problems with goals that are

around that problem. Not just a win for the business. So how do you actually do that? Don't drop box. We started with our company values. We recently updated those values. When we dated one of them to they win. We win. This sends a clear message from the top that if we focus on our customers, they then I'll business, we will follow. Now we back this up in product reviews by asking for the customer problem and goal and not just the business go. It's a really simple yet effective way to connect an

abstract company value into real product work and also to let everyone know that we are focused on impact to our customers. Next one of the key problems employees are felt even before the pandemic, was it being always on with numerous meetings all day everyday, the all 925 have been extended by smartphones than the implicit expectation, to always respond. Now, this may give the illusion illusion of productivity, but research shows that it also leads to burnout. To combat list, we created a set of cool collaboration hours, which is

roughly 9 a.m. To 1 p.m. In an employee's, local time zone where we are asking for is to be online and available for meetings or synchronous. Virtual collaboration. This encourages short, bursts of synchronous work with research shows, makes teams more effective outside of this time, employees can create their own nonlinear what day, which suits their own personal needs to. Instead of mandating be present old, a nine-to-five. We focusing on out, instead of measuring time, search for me, and many other parents. This means being able to pick up my

kids from school. A couple of days per week, will take breaks in the middle of the day to get to that. It is giving me a many employees permission to focus on their own personal needs without feeling guilty. My calendar is also open for everybody at drop off. It's not locked in private. I published an internal company blog post sharing how I set up my calendar to give me better. Work-life balance changing, people's mindset is hot and you need to model the behaviors. If you expect from the top down and then make them incredibly visible. Creating a nonlinear. What day was cool

collaboration. Has built-in also encourages space and distraction-free time to really focus on a specific problem or is all that. Can you pull, cold it? Deep deep. What is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It will make you better at what you do and it will provide you the sense of true fulfillment that comes from Crofton craftsmanship. It is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive, 21st century economy. And yeah. The ability to go deep instead spending their days

in a frantic loved email and social media. Not even realizing that, there's a better way. To all the above, has allowed us to focus on impact to our customers, and our business versus just being busy and always on. I will next month that shift has been helping employees, change how they feel from. Being overloaded with too many meetings notifications into a state of being focused and effective. One of the most common reasons that we are overloaded is that we create too many synchronous meetings and we make it okay. To constantly bombarded one

another with emails and instant messages. We created a cultural norm wedding back-to-back all day long. They quite to some guy jovonna in the illusion of being effective, sending a quick slot or email is also seemed. Okay, when if you think about it, both of the equivalent of walking up to a call that you can tap him on the shoulder to wash them. A question every few minutes. That's hardly. Very humane. Are we all like having meetings because we enjoy bringing people together. We are few now teammates a committed to paying attention to the issues that we're discussing. We also

assume that someone else must need. The information is being shed and we often forget to ask the question. Why were in the room and what the purpose actually is? We assume that someone else important schedule a meeting and they must be a reason the same for that report that we ride every week. Someone reads it right. Now, these kinds of assumptions of convenient and they help maintain our office rituals. That's a combat list. The Dropbox. We made it okay to say no to meetings with given official guidance on how to say no using messages like

this. Thanks for inviting me. I'm experimenting with limiting my meetings, to the 3DS decision-making discussion and debate so I can get back time to focus on wondering if we can try to cover of the slack or email Fest. If that doesn't work. I'm happy to chat more. I have personally emailed meeting organizes and ask the purpose of a meeting and declined until I receive one, a meeting without an agenda. Should be automatically declined. Again, as a leader is incredibly important that I model, these behaviors that I want to see in my team and the rest of the

company. I just mentioned the 3D and we communicated with synchronous, meetings must be reserved for those 3 days, important discussion, important debate, an important decision making. If you'll sing for this meeting does not meet this bar, for example, if you're just giving an FYI or a status update, then you should not be having it. There are better ways to cover things like status update. The do not involve an eating. Many of you may be wondering if we cut down the number of hours available for synchronous collaboration, made it okay to

say no to meetings and prioritize what meetings are used for. How does the majority of what actually get done not support moving from overload to focus. We lost employees to what a synchronously by default. This means instead of reflux to be scheduling a meeting for everything, trying to figure out what you need on said and how you can share it, a synchronicity. For example of our Dropbox paper. Don't keep injera or one of the other a Sting from a tool that we use this for you to be more inclusive and thoughtful and how you communicate. This is inclusive because your

teammate maybe in a different time zone or looking after a child is Parthenon than your work day. So you can allow them to respond and it's time that is convenient for them as well as keeping moving. Keeping moving forward to spending time to write down. Your own thoughts is also much more thoughtful than tapping. Someone on the shoulder, every few minutes by slack will just reflex of rescheduling. A meeting without an agenda. Mindset shift is helping people move from disconnection to feeling like they actually belong at work. Now, it is a common

misconception that working. Remotely means you automatically disconnected from your thing. We need to help people unload. And I have worked in plenty of office based environments where the culture was sterile, not inclusive and did not Foster a sense of purpose or belonging this by everyone being located in the same four walls. You must be deliberate about building toughest and belonging into your culture, regardless of whether your remote or in office. If you're not deliver about building purpose of belonging, whether your remote or an office, you will have problems with Dropbox

with him, to Liberal about encouraging connectivity. And a sense of belonging belonging to us means a sense that your perspective is welcome, and that you are accepted. By your team and the company. So we rewrote our own definition of call Chuck. At least shared this with the company. And so for us Dropbox culture is a shared set of values beliefs and actions. As we work together each day. We then set about sharing a set of practical practices around how employees to reinforce our culture through that died today,

actions. The really Skyla practices, we share our company values and tools throughout virtual. First tool kit is an open-source guide on how to live and work when virtual fast-twitch based on our own lessons democratizing design-thinking practices. As we evolve. In fact, I'll second major, update, will hopefully lunch today on June 30th, and I highly recommend you go and use that latest version. For example, a tool kit has a simple how to guide of how to run an inclusive that your meeting. Virtual meetings are incredibly important moments where you can share your virtual

show, yogurt from teammates that you care about them and a, creating a safe and inclusive environment that everyone wheels that have practices around how to structure your calendar to enable better work-life balance, will have a say, no to meetings and much, much more to be cleared, the virtual press tool kit is not a set of hard-and-fast rules or policy. We hire smart people and we don't want to tell them exactly how to do that jobs. That is how fun activity happens. We want to give them practices. Brian looks and guides to help them achieve great purpose in that work as well as

a personal lives. We believe what place the future must help people create an environment in which they feel like they belong and some inspired by the principles of tarot. We designed a set of corporate power connection cost to build connection through the power of stories and play. A simple set of congas can take a team from dysfunctional to aligned to fostering trust until we also develop the diversity and inclusion toolkit to help games. Build will diverse, and inclusive culture has the lens of design is what distinguishes this kit from the many

excellent resources. The order exists for diversity and inclusion. When designing, we ask questions, we Define problems, only explore a range of solutions. We went to learn and collaborate with others in this kit. Suggest a similar practice when building culture, both of these kits. If you search for them are available online for anybody to use. As part of a research study. We carried out, we found that one of the facets to cultivating, belonging was encouraging. Cross connections between colleagues in an office environment architectural design, accidental Collision

spices, deliberately to Foster this time for connection. The key was here at deliberately designed and we've taken this too hard as we redesigned our offices into Studios. Why we are remote first. We have retained our offices and repurpose them to intentionally Design Studio spaces. These are intended to enable meaningful moments of collaboration and culture for employees. They also help us live our principal to preserve a human connection and ensure a Level Playing Field for everyone. This means that I designed to Foster collaboration and cultural building moments, not

individual solo work. Repeat it out meeting rooms with large, but your whiteboards make sure they're intentional areas for focused feet. Work between meetings and rooms can be easily reconfigured to suit the size of the Gathering. These studios are supported by a set of local Champions who cure interest and cultural events for that teams. And we also have a complete guide of how and when to use them for team collaboration is weary. Imagine the future of the intestine. What is a true sense of belonging for our employees?

Behavior change at scale is hard. We're on the packing, hundreds of years of ingrained habits. It's why you need to have both the macro talk down point of view on where you think you're going to need to give people permission to uphold your beliefs than permission to challenge the status quo, but also provide the tools to employees to empower micro Behavior changes from the ground up things like the virtual first tool kit. The redesign and how we were may seem like it is outside the scope of traditional design teams, but it really doesn't have to be. All of us are

experimenting is we Define the future of work and Dropbox with simply deciding to be deliberate and and apply and intentional design lens to the problem of how great work gets done. Now as I close, I'm reminded again of my daughter Frankie and her Perpetual question off game at the dinner table questions. Like, Daddy, why do we have jails? When we can find another way to help people change or daddy? Why do people say you have to put the fork on the right side of your plate? That didn't and her constant creation of ideas, hypothesis

drawings to solve problems that she sees in the world. It would be easy to get mad at the questions. All the drawings in the ideas. It would be easy to tell her why they just simply won't work an Oscar to stop. But I done, I encouraged the Curiosity. So next time you hear the same questions from your kids or your employees about why something is done a particular way. I beg you please don't squash it encourages. This is creativity at what it is to unlearn habits or beliefs and behavior

that no longer service. And this is where magic happens on the future of work will be designed. I'm with that. I'd like to thank you. And thank you for putting us on. Thanks.

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