Technology   //   October 12, 2020

‘Creative work is changing’: How Dropbox is working to ease the future for creative teams

When offices and studios shut down abruptly in March due to the coronavirus, companies began an intense search for remote working alternatives and technology platforms that would make that transition easier.

And seeing the needs of creative teams at advertising agencies, publishers and other industries intensify during this period, file hosting service Dropbox last month released a new toolkit to its platform designed to smooth out some of the pain points in the remote work day that had begun to crop up, said Olivia Nottebohm, chief operating officer of Dropbox.

Included in the add-on was a large file transfer capability of files as big as 250GB, frame-by-frame commenting on video files and the ability to preview audio files without downloading them first.

Like many companies pivoting to meet, and offer solutions to, the myriad challenges of the pandemic, Dropbox saw growth during the first months of the new remote reality. By June 30, Dropbox had 15 million paying users, up from 13.6 million users from the same time last year, according to the company’s secondquarter results. What’s more, the company’s total revenue was $467.4 million, 16% more than the year prior.

According to the company, the number of trials started by both teams and individual customers during the early stages pandemic was up 20% from pre-coronavirus levels.

“It’s just underscoring the fact that there was this shift around March and April to remote and distributed work. We could see it in the number of people that were interested in trying to understand the technology and how they could use it in their day to day work,” said Nottebohm.

Below is a conversation with Nottebohm about how her team has been working to solve the remote work problems that creatives have, as well as her predictions for what the future of creative work will look like.

The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Why are creatives an important customer to cater towards when improving and growing your platform?

Creatives are a very high proportion of our customer base. They are one of the customers that we’ve grown up with and ones that we continue to try to push the envelope for to make sure that we’re delivering what they need to do their job. There is a lot to be done, especially in the world of remote and distributed work. But now more than ever, creatives are in this place where they have to do this in a more extreme way. They had to do distributed and global work before, but this has really changed the paradigm quite a bit. 

Was the recent batch of add-ons and developments inspired mainly by the pandemic?

It was two pronged. Creative work is changing for sure, not just because of COVID, but also because of the advancements in technology and the way we work. Now all of a sudden our creatives have to navigate more disconnected tools.

Also, you had the global element [of remote teams before], but there is an additional layer of more remote teams than ever. People who once were in offices are no longer in offices and stakeholders who used to meet in your offices or studios are no longer doing that either. That’s also why we saw the need for these really large file transfers, for example, more that we’ve ever seen before.

Who are some of your creative clients that have developed increased needs during the pandemic? 

Exposure is a creative agency in London, New York and Paris and they use Dropbox Business for their campaigns and projects. They did a recent launch for a mobile phone manufacturer and even though it was planned as a physical event, they had to pivot pretty quickly to an online launch.

They used influencers who were contributing content directly from the new phones using Dropbox, which enabled the agency to put together an edit without biking around hard drives in London. It was easy for the contributors to create and submit their work and it meant that they could concentrate just on that in their own creative minds versus the mechanics and the nuances of trying to get that material to the right places at the right time. 

Also, Future Classic is an independent Australian record label. We originally collaborated with them on a space where artists could come and share ideas and really exchange and collaborate. Our partnership with them extends back to 2018 and initially looked like basic file sharing across multiple offices and artists. They can now go from the simplified viewing and remote collaboration to this bigger file sharing and increased preview mode and annotations.

As a team leader yourself and someone who thinks about the way people work on a daily basis, how impactful do you think the pandemic has been on the way that creative teams work together?

There has definitely been a change to work. There was complexity and urgency and a fast pace [shift] to modern work that we all felt. But that is where the original mission of Dropbox came from.

We take it as an opportunity, but also as an obligation that we know how we can help workers of today and today’s reality stay focused and we feel that obligation to them.

Do you expect that the increased reliance on technology over the past few months will be here to stay?

We always talked about this transformation that the workplace would go through and it’s been top of mind for many people who think about getting their staffs familiar and comfortable with technology as a way to work remotely. Everyone got a bootcamp in that over the last couple of months, so now everyone is able to do it, which is terrific.

As a result, people are a lot more comfortable with the concept of raising their hand and saying they want to be in the office only a couple of days a week, or they want to join a company that doesn’t have a physical office. I think even the way that people think about work will have fundamentally changed as a result of what we’ve been through in the past months and what we still have to go. 

What is your perspective on this new world of remote work?

I believe the future is different in a good way because there’s also some really amazing benefits. At the top of my list is the ability to engage a more diverse talent pool. You can, all of a sudden, access amazing talent that is not in these hubs that we’re accustomed to. Maybe someone who doesn’t want to live in the Bay Area or pay the living costs of New York or has a reason to be in a different place but is incredibly talented.

I view technology as enabling us to access that talent pool, engage, collaborate and make them part of a team — there is an amazing opportunity for impact.