• Dropbox's CEO said business executives are pushing too hard to get people to return to the office.
  • "They keep mashing the go back to 2019 button, and they see it's not working," Drew Houston told The Verge.
  • He said workers value remote work and not being tied to a tech hub more than lavish office perks.

Dropbox cofounder and CEO Drew Houston said he views his employees like customers, and that means giving them what they want — which isn't in-person work.

"We will support however they want to gather," Houston said in a new interview with The Verge. "But we're finding that these retreats and off-sites and things like that are often a lot more effective than asking people to commute."

Houston said other business leaders are making the wrong move by forcing employees back to the office. Many companies are pushing employees to return to office in a hybrid structure, including giants like Google, Apple, and Amazon.

"They keep mashing the go back to 2019 button, and they see it's not working," Houston said in the interview, speaking generally about return-to-office mandates. "Then they just push harder, and then you have this really toxic relationship."

He compared returning to the office to returning to movie theaters or malls. It may have been cool for a time and people might still occasionally want to watch a big movie like "Top Gun" at the cinema, he said, "but the world has moved on."

The CEO said the reason it used to be so easy to get people to the office was because they didn't have a choice. A lot of CEOs today don't understand that flexibility wasn't an option in the past, Houston said.

Dropbox implemented a "virtual first" model in April 2020 based on studying remote-first companies. Dropbox now has about 2,600 employees and is 90% remote, the CEO said. The remaining 10% in-person programming and providing space for people to self-organize in hubs.

A Dropbox spokesperson said if a team is looking for team-building, they can do an offsite gathering or retreat. Retreats usually last two and a half days and include workshops and strategy sessions with team-building activities.

A team recently did an offsite gathering in San Francisco, which included a walking tour of Chinatown, according to the spokesperson.

Dropbox Studios are designed to create human connection. Foto: Aaron Wojack

In San Francisco, Dropbox converted its offices into studios, which are collaborative spaces designed for human connection. The CEO said utilization has been low for these spaces.

Transitioning to virtual first meant getting rid of the "super vibrant in-person culture" Dropbox had before, the CEO said. The company had a fancy office with Michelin-star chefs, a full coffee bar, a karaoke studio, and an Equinox-like gym.

In the midst of an AI-talent war, some have questioned Dropbox's decision to go 90% virtual, especially when competitors like Google still offer elaborate office perks to its employees. But Houston said people voted "voted with their feet that they value flexibility a lot more than snacks in the office."

"At home, you can set up your environment exactly how you want it and not just have snacks but your dog and something that's totally purpose-built for you," he added.

The move ended up being good for recruiting talent, the CEO said. Houston said 75% of employees used to be in the big tech hubs and now it's about 50%.

"That means we've gotten all these awesome people in these places who never would've joined Dropbox before at all levels," Houston said in the interview. "Places like Boston, LA, and Chicago went from zero people working there to now all those places have 100 or hundreds."

The 90% virtual model also avoids the "worst of both worlds," which according to Houston is the two or three-day hybrid compromise.

The CEO said one of the problems with hybrid work is it puts employees on a leash to tied to the nearby office space. That means you can't live outside commuting distance and you're still spending a lot of time in transit, which is "totally dead time," Houston said.

The CEO said the market will reveal whether going back to the office is the best way to get great talent — but he doesn't think it is.

You can watch Houston's full interview over at The Verge.

Read the original article on Business Insider