With the spread of COVID-19 impacting workplaces around the world, people and teams are now adjusting to, or preparing for, the realities of a distributed workforce at a whole new scale.

A study from Stanford university found that people working together were more engaged and productive than those working on a task alone - even the mere perception of working collectively on a task can supercharge performance.

Workplace tools like Dropbox, Slack, and Zoom enable businesses to stay up and running by letting distributed teams continue working together, even if they can’t be together. But the scale of what we’re dealing with is unprecedented and we are all in uncharted territory.

Our colleagues in Singapore and Japan are somewhat ahead of us, because they have been doing this form of distributed work for over a month now. We spoke to Michael, May and Asuka about what’s surprised them about this new way of working and asked them to share lessons for the rest of us.

Staying balanced 

Michael Hanna leads our APJ marketing team, he lives in Tokyo with his family and has been working from home since February 18th, this is his fifth week. 

For Michael, distributed work has been an adjustment rather than a drastic change. Michael has been working in regional roles for a long time, so is used to hosting meetings over video conference and scheduling his work around international times. 

“Japan was one of the first countries to be impacted by the virus,” said Michael “And I think local management responded really quickly, and made the right decision to ensure the health of the employees.”

Michael's home workspace

Working from home, Michael avoids spending nearly three hours a day on public transport, which affords him more time with family.  However, one of the biggest challenges has been adapting to the flow of work in a home environment. 

“Normally you can have a clear divide between work and home, which is broken up by travel or commuting, but when the travel is removed, your day can easily start earlier and end later, and it can be hard to find balance,” said Michael. 

The unexpected side effect is that Michael has found himself working earlier to be on time with the international teams, so he’s had to carefully monitor his hours to see how much time he’s spending at work each day. 

It’s important to monitor your hours when working from home, and make sure you’re being reasonable with yourself and maintaining healthy boundaries.  

Staying connected

May Dee Bautista is a member of our sales team in the Singapore office, which was our first global office to roll-out a distributed work plan back in early February.

Her regular day involves getting out and seeing customers and partners for as much of the day as possible. When not out seeing customers, May spends her time brainstorming with members of her team or troubleshooting with partners.

The biggest challenge for May has been in maintaining relationships and a sense of connection in the distributed work scenario. 

May conducting customer call and demo remotely

“We’ve had to move all our face-to-face customer meetings to video conferencing or phone. This is especially hard when doing tech demos because they require quite a bit of detailed information sharing and engagement.”

Similarly for Asuka, our communications manager in Japan, moving from a face-to-face business culture to operating almost entirely online has been a big adjustment.

“Up until now, press engagements in Japan are done exclusively in person. This week, I will be doing my first ever press interview via Zoom,” said Asuka.

The social aspect of distributed work is one challenge that we’re seeing come up, particularly when it comes to unstructured work. When working in a collaborative environment that favours unstructured work, ideas are given the freedom to grow and evolve as different team members feed into them. 

May said “I’ve struggled in that I used to chat to people around the office and share ideas, but now it’s hard to just have small chats.”

Make use of collaborative docs to recreate those water cooler moments, where ideas can be reacted to and built upon.

Recreating watercooler moments in Dropbox Paper

Staying active

Asuka has been working at home for five weeks now, and has had a mixture of internal and external relationships to adjust to, especially in a work environment where business is done face-to-face. 

Asuka’s regular typical work day could include an active mix of hosting a press conference, travelling around the city to meet with analysts or attending an event, so working from home has been a big change for her.

“When I first started working from home, I would just wake up and start working straight away,” said Asuka. “I used to work at the kitchen table, but then I would work, then eat, then go straight back to work. I had to change where I was working so I could move around.”

In a regular working environment this would be broken up by walking to meetings, trips to get coffee and lunch, and talking to other team mates. However, working from home, it can be easy to slip into a routine that cuts out exercise and puts you in front of the computer from morning til night. 

To improve her day, Asuka has since self-imposed exercise into her daily routine:

  • She has moved her working area from the kitchen table to sitting at her piano, thereby forcing her to she move around more to get to the kitchen, eat lunch and take breaks.
  • She has been wearing a fitbit, which reminds her to take time for exercise and walk around the house, it institutes a schedule of 250 steps an hour, and this keeps her moving. 
  • Recently Asuka has been getting outside to go for walks and having her lunch outdoors, these scheduled breaks help to seperate the day into manageable chunks and give her time away from the desk.  

Similarly, May has scheduled in 30 minutes for exercise every day and makes sure she gets regular doses of vitamin D. She and the Singapore team also catch up for yoga and walks at the botanic gardens.

Keep moving! Whether its around different areas of the house, scheduling in exercise time or keep track of your steps

The Singapore team catching up for some exercise

If you have questions about this story or want to speak with a member of the dropbox team, you can reach us at drop-everything@dropbox.com