Illustration by Justin Tran
Illustration by Justin Tran

Virtual First Toolkit

Virtual First Toolkit: How to shift your mindset


Published on October 13, 2020

Work is changing at warp speed. The rules and expectations around when, where, and how work happens are all in flux. It can be dizzying. At Dropbox, we’re going Virtual First, which means remote work will be the primary experience for all employees, with in-person gatherings for team collaboration (once it’s safe to do so). We wrote some principles based on our experiences so far and and included resources about adapting to Virtual First work. We’re publishing this Virtual First Toolkit, and we’ll practice, test and add more content as we learn. This piece is about shifting your mindset for Virtual First. You can visit the rest of the Virtual First Toolkit here: 



Virtual First work isn’t telecommuting from Mars. But it is fundamentally different from in-person and standard-issue remote work. With people decentralized across timezones and locations, teams will need to rethink everything from their schedules, to their social contracts. This means challenging some of our basic assumptions about how great work gets done. 

Focus on impact, not busyness 

Many workplaces still operate on a butts-in-seats model that imposes strict hourly requirements. But decades of research suggest that when companies let employees work more autonomously, they become more engaged and productive. As you transition to Virtual First work, try to prioritize mutual trust and outcomes above attendance and activity. You can start with goal-setting. Instead of measuring how much stuff your team does (for example, 15 projects completed), try measuring the impact your work has (increased adoption of X feature by 20%)

Go non-linear 

Being distributed gives organizations a chance to rethink the typical 9-5 workday, and to exercise more agency over how and when we work. Doing this well will require a good deal of intention—about when to come together, how to design your workweek, and what impact looks like.

Think async, by default 

In most workplaces, synchronous (real-time, meeting-based) communication is the norm. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to wasteful meetings that negatively impact our well-being and productivity. Virtual First work provides a chance to develop better habits. One of these is replacing “quick syncs” with “asynchronous by default.” Going forward, try to solve problems over email, cloud docs, or chat before reflexively scheduling a meeting.

Bias toward simplicity 

Much Virtual First communication will happen in writing. To reduce misunderstandings and move projects forward, keep it simple. Avoid TL;DR by being concise. Help other teams by documenting your work in a way that’s easy to find and act on. That way, they won’t have to schedule a Zoom meeting or ping someone on Slack to get context. 

Be patient with yourself, and each other

Experts in habit formation know that big behavioral shifts take time. This is especially true for large groups of people. As we learn to work virtually, we’re bound to mess up every now and again. Give yourself and your teammates permission to make mistakes, so you can learn from them.