Illustration by Fanny Luor
Illustration by Fanny Luor

Distributed work

How Dropbox Spaces can help you make sense of distributed work

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Published on May 07, 2020

Illustration by Fanny Luor

Before COVID-19, the most stressful part of your day might’ve been the bumper-to-bumper commute across town to your office. Now you’re dealing with a less predictable kind of chaos. There’s the disturbing news, and there’s the added struggle of learning how to work in an entirely new way—at home in isolation from your team.

You may already be experienced at remote work and comfortable with occasionally keeping on top of tasks from home. But when your entire team is out of the office indefinitely, it’s a different job.

Earlier this month, Chris Marsh, Research Director at 451 Research, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence,  discussed the crucial difference between remote work and distributed work. He makes the case that newly distributed companies tend to rely too much on real-time communication like chat and video meetings because they don’t have better systems in place to organize their work.

Even before the pandemic upended our lives and instantly changed our way of working, we’d been spending so much time bouncing between email, chat threads, status updates, cloud docs, and files, it was a struggle to keep track of all the details. And within each of those channels, you only get a chronological view of exchanges with a few team members. 

This ends up creating endless silos, making it hard to see the context within your network—and your projects across the organization. These problems are only heightened in our new distributed work reality. They’re also the problems we’re trying to solve by building a smart workspace.

With Spaces, you can have one organization system instead of a dozen. And you can search across file types to find what you need quickly.

Now that teams around the world have to adapt to the dislocation and disconnection of working from home, there are even bigger challenges to communicating and collaborating. Today, we’ll show you how your distributed team can use Dropbox Spaces to reduce chaos and restore order by creating context and improving visibility.

Keeping all your work organized 

When all of your files, folders, and documents are scattered across multiple apps, it's easy to forget where to go to find what you need. That's especially true now that documents and memos are piling up faster than ever. 

When all of that content lives in a mix of synchronous and asynchronous tools, things get even more complicated. You might remember the name of the file—or at least the topic—but if you don’t remember whether it was sent as an email attachment, Slack message, or Zoom chat link, you have to do the same search in all of those places. You end up spending way too much time moving in and out of these fragmented workflows just to track down one file.

But with Spaces, you can keep all different content types in the same place, so you have one system that organizes all your work. PDFs and Photoshop files can live alongside cloud docs like Google Docs or Figma files. In Spaces, local files and cloud docs aren’t two separate worlds anymore—they’re all accessed in the same place. This means you can have one organization system instead of a dozen. And you can search across file types to find what you need quickly.

Search highlights in Dropbox Spaces
Animation of search on Dropbox desktop app

The tray shows recent documents you were working on, as well as suggested content you’re likely to need for upcoming meetings, all in one organized place.

Putting content in context

When we default to chat threads, email chains, and video calls to communicate about our work, it creates a context problem. The goals of the project and feedback about progress are both separated from the actual work, which creates confusion, misunderstandings, and misalignment.

Everyone has their own way of working. Some prefer conversations on email because they’re easy to search. Others like getting quick responses in chats on Slack. But the more people you have on your team, the more channels you have to check, and the more work you have to do to compile dozens of conversations about your project. 

Imagine having just one Space that serves as the central location for the project. Instead of having isolated interactions based on communication about the project, the interactions happen in context. Project overviews and timelines can be viewed next to the content, so you can better understand the project scope and how to prioritize tasks.

Project overviews in Dropbox Spaces
Animation of overview on Dropbox desktop app

That’s the idea behind Spaces. By connecting people and content in the same place, you ensure that the right people are up to speed on projects, and everyone has the context they need to contribute effectively.  

When you live in a Space that outlines the project strategy and deliverable deadlines, it’s easy to assign tasks to team members, track progress, and see comments on content, all in one place.

Managing your time more effectively

Distributed teamwork can easily lead to notification overload. When your team relies on real-time tools like chat for the basis of their work, you constantly get pinged with notifications. You feel like you need to respond right way, or risk being rude. This makes it hard to focus on your priorities. 

It can also make your whole team less effective and slow down progress. Ever been in a Zoom meeting and forgot to turn off Slack notifications? In the middle of the meeting, you hear a notification and peek at it out of reflex. The red badge goes away because you’ve seen the message, but after you get your head back in the meeting, you forget all about the Slack message. Two days later, your teammate reminds you she’s still waiting on a decision on that project. Multiply this dynamic by all the people you work with, and you get traffic jams across the organization that are simply forgotten questions. 

Dropbox is designed around the work, not the conversation about the work. You can respond to comments on your own time, when you’re ready. This allows you and your team to have the space to work and formulate thoughts instead of scrambling to throw another meeting on the calendar. 

As Daniel Kahneman notes in Thinking Fast and Slow, many of us do our best thinking in a slow, deliberate mode rather than real-time conversation. When you’re able to comment on the content within the context of the project overview, you’ll be able to save time that you used to spend in conversations and meetings trying to clarify context. This enables you to use your working time more effectively and impactfully.

File previews in Dropbox Spaces
Animation of file previews in the Dropbox desktop app

Reducing friction

When our team transitioned to distributed work, most of us left the large monitors at the office and took home our laptops. It was a tradeoff that made sense when we didn’t know WFH might be our new normal. Now that we’ve been working this way for weeks, it’s easy to see the cognitive friction that happens when you have to keep toggling between apps on a 13’’ screen.

Shifting gears from content creation to communication was already tough, but it’s even tougher when you’re squinting at a smaller window. But integrating all your tools in one place can help. Spaces brings together Slack, Zoom, Google Cloud, Microsoft, Salesforce, Adobe, HelloSign, and many other tools you rely on into a single workspace. This lets you do more in one place instead of having to go back and forth to different surfaces.

Animation of suggested file attachments for calendars in Dropbox

Four ways to reduce friction using Dropbox Spaces:

  • Attach files for upcoming Zoom meetings so they’re waiting there when you join
  • Chat about a document through Slack right from the doc 
  • Attach a file to a Trello board
  • Send a contract or document out for signature using HelloSign

Even after the COVID-19 crisis is over, the way we work will continue evolving to be more fluid and dynamic. And as more and more people work across multiple channels on multiple devices, having one unified workspace will be crucial in keeping teams on the same page.

To learn more, read Introducing Dropbox Spaces or visit our help center for a quick overview.