Here’s a description of what it is and how we use it at work, plus some templates for you to use:

I open my email and read: Subject line: “Important: please begin working from home” “Today, we’re taking the step of asking everyone in our global offices to begin working from home for the next two weeks.“

Overnight our entire company was asked to work from home as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. I mentally prepared to WFH for the next two weeks.

Here I am, months later, with another six months of remote work expected. I will have worked at an arm’s length from where I sleep for nine months—at the least. Yikes.

The world decided that only “essential workers” were allowed to go to work. I’m not a nurse. I don’t know how to 3D-print respirator parts. I’m a designer who pushes pixels on a computer. Talk about feeling nonessential for a moment. But it got me thinking: “What knowledge do I have that might matter to someone?” I realized people all over the world are looking for ways to “keep the lights on” at work, but from within their homes. And what I do know quite well is how to collaborate remotely using Dropbox Paper.

How Dropbox shifted to fully remote

You’d think that Dropbox, one of the companies that pioneered working in “the cloud,” would already be a well-oiled machine for remote work. That we’d just keep working as if nothing happened.

Think again.

So much of our work culture normally relies on seeing each other face-to-face. Disagreeing and committing during meetings. Passing a teammate in the hallway and sharing updates. Design-sprinting on whiteboards. Obviously, things have changed. I have witnessed my designer colleagues explore many new ways of keeping our culture alive. Some examples include:

  • updating Slack statuses frequently to increase that “desk neighbor” visibility
  • using virtual office tools to feel each other’s presence and enable small talk
  • running design critiques, sprints, and more in Figma
  • mind mapping in Mural
  • brainstorming in Miro

But what didn’t change was how we capture, develop, and execute on ideas—using Dropbox Paper.

We truly do live and breathe in Paper. From a blog-post draft (like this one) to a full product redesign, everything starts with someone jotting down thoughts in Paper. There’s something beautiful in using one tool for all stages of product development. A doc might start with an idea draft, but over time it will morph into a place for:

  • collecting feedback
  • making decisions
  • communicating a plan
  • keeping track of progress
  • analyzing results
  • sharing insights
  • storing knowledge for future reference

Sometimes we ship updates internally, which causes Paper to break. It’ll be mere seconds before Slack channels start firing up with people asking if Paper is down. That’s when you know that your whole company relies on a tool.

Even when we’re meeting in person, we usually take notes in Paper. Because we already have this “I’ll start a doc for us” habit, it has felt natural to use Paper more since we started working from home. What normally would have happened in person (such as weekly share-outs, retros, discussions) has just moved over to Paper, sometimes coupled with a Zoom Meeting.

Improve your workflow with the right tools

I was born in Sweden and grew up there. My mother is Costa Rican. For part of my childhood I lived in Mexico City, and for the past five years I’ve lived in the US. People ask me where I will “end up.” All I know is that I’ll most likely move several more times throughout my life.

The “problem” is that I love my team and the work I do. I don’t want to leave that. Therefore, I’ve become passionate about tools that enable people, like my future self, to work remotely.

Now, the WFH life might not be for you. And moving to another country might not resonate with you at all. But it might appeal to a team member of yours. Or perhaps one day you might want to work from Paris for just one month. Or you might suddenly need to work from home as you care for a new puppy. You never know.

Thinking about my future has made me look at this mandatory work-from-home year as a trial period to test and learn about remote collaboration tools—and my personal needs in a remote situation. I’ve asked myself questions along the lines of: How do I best communicate with my team? Where do I store and share knowledge with the rest of my company? What do I personally need in order to find motivation and focus?

The tools and workflows we learn today might enable the work or lifestyle we want tomorrow—or in a distant future when personal goals have changed.

Paper qué?

Maybe you’re thinking: “OK, hold on, back up a bit. What is this ‘Paper’?”

I got you.

What it is

Paper is a real-time collaboration “canvas.” At its core, it’s a web-based editor, similar to Google Docs. What differentiates Paper is its easy formatting, which makes any write-up look great. So many tools out there take time away from your idea by having you spend extra time on the presentation of the idea. Paper’s default style is crisp and visually appealing. (This is why designers love Paper!)

Screen shot of the Paper interface set on a green textured background.

Image by Billyclub

A versatile document

When you start a new doc, you’re presented with a blank page, open to any purpose. You can use it simply as a writing tool, with basic and straightforward formatting options. Or you can add more visual content, such as images and tables.

Screenshot of the Paper interface on a pink textured background.

Image by Billyclub

A place for discussions

Having short feedback discussions next to the content is invaluable. It’s time-saving and transparent to all who use the doc. I couldn’t imagine giving feedback on a 30-page PDF in a back-and-forth group email thread. To leave a comment in a Paper doc, you select the text you want to discuss and type command-option-M (for Mac) or control-option-M (for Windows). In the comment, you can mention and notify other colleagues by typing an @ symbol followed by their username.

Screenshot of the Paper interface depicting comment features.

Image by Billyclub

A lagom tool

Lagom is a word in Swedish that translates roughly as “in moderation” or “in balance.” Not too much, not too little. I’ve always believed that lagom is Paper’s superpower. Paper has tables, but isn’t Excel. It has commenting, but isn’t Slack. It has timelines, but isn’t Jira. The fact that Paper is lagom, in moderation, makes it great for the whole cross-functional team. This is why everyone at Dropbox, from Finance to Design, uses Paper daily to do 90% of their collaboration. Each specialized discipline can do the rest with advanced tools, such as Excel or Figma. Paper is our team glue.

How to get the most out of Paper

Here are more of my favorite ways to take Paper to the next level:

Embed advanced content

As mentioned before, you can add text and then format it. You can add images and comments. And Paper allows for even more variation, so that your work is comprehensive, engaging, and memorable. You can add advanced content such as:

  • tables
  • other Dropbox files and folders (embedded)
  • timelines
  • checklists or assigned tasks
  • Figma prototypes
  • Spotify playlists
  • YouTube videos
  • code blocks
  • Pinterest boards
  • LaTeX equations
  • Google maps

When you experiment with what you can add, you start to learn how you can shape a blank canvas into whatever your team needs to work together.

A series of images that depict the various ways one can embed content in Paper.

Image by Billyclub

Learn to format quickly

This will save you precious minutes when writing—which you’re probably doing more of now that you aren’t able to meet with team members in person.

A small formatting detail I love: When a link to a doc is pasted in Paper, it automatically renders as the doc name—not as the full URL. Another favorite is selecting text and pasting a link on top of it to automatically embed within the copy. Quick, clean, simple … chef’s kiss muah!

Paper also supports markdown. By learning to use it, you will cut down on your formatting time. On a blank line, you can type specific characters to format your text as either a header, bullet, to-do list, or more. You’ll find the full list of markdown shortcuts by clicking the Keyboard shortcuts button in the bottom right corner of your Paper doc.

A table contenting various markdown shortcuts that one can use in Paper.

Image by Billyclub

Use slash commands to add things quickly

Just as markdown saves formatting time, slash commands save insertion time. There are a bunch of items you can add to a doc by simply typing a forward slash followed by a command. The full list is here.

My favorites include:

  • /date
  • /time
  • /table 5x2
  • /note
  • /dropbox
  • /figma
  • /gcal
  • /fliptable ;)

Annotate on images to pinpoint feedback

Discussing very specific details of images is harder when you’re collaborating remotely, because you can’t physically point. Unless you’re sharing a screen in real time, it’s cumbersome to describe the details you’re referring to in writing. I often add sketches of design directions, and my PM leaves annotations with feedback when we’re not able to discuss it in real time. The feedback between me and Véronique, who made the artwork for this blog post, was exchanged in this way!

Presentation mode for simple sharing (and reading)

We often spend more time on a beautiful presentation than we do on the work itself. Paper has a presentation mode that shows your doc in full screen, where you can tab through the sections with your arrow keys. My personal hack is to use this mode when I’m reading a long doc and need to shut out the rest of the world to focus (read: hide all the distracting UI).

Use lots of emoji :thumbs-up:

Using emoji isn’t necessarily unprofessional. It can help you get organized. For example, you can add an emoji in front of a doc title to turn it into the browser icon (favicon) and distinguish the tab better. Or vote on ideas in a list by adding a personal emoji. Or use them to represent status (for example: checkmarks, arrows, stop signs). You can upload your own to customize the picker to whatever your team needs.

Type a colon followed by a search word to select an emoji.

Use templates for repeated work

It feels like we all need less “work about work” now that our home–work boundaries have been blurred. Investing time in organization up front can save you loads of time down the line. That’s where templates come in.

How we use templates at Dropbox

A template is great for when you expect to use the same doc structure again and again. It helps you save time, reflect on your structure, and easily share best practices with others. As a designer, I sometimes equate doc templates with Figma components, grid layouts, brand guidelines, and other design system tooling. Again, reduce the “work about work” and save time for the ideas that matter.

At Dropbox, people create Paper templates both for personal use and for whole teams. I know teams that have decided together on a structure to follow. And I know of times when just one person created a template for themself, shared it with others to use, and then watched it become popular across the company.

Real examples at Dropbox

  • Our sales team uses playbook templates to make sure they always gather the same customer information and can compare and leverage previous work.
  • My design team on Paper uses weekly team check-in templates for consistency, so everyone knows what content to add and where to find the updates.
  • PMs across the organization use product-specs templates to ensure that product experiments are consistently prepared, measured, and launched.
  • When interviewing candidates, we really want to ensure that we review everyone fairly and equally. Uniform interview scorecard templates help us do that.
  • Each employee creates a personal growth plan and performance review every six months. I’ve used templates my colleagues have made, which map more easily with our career frameworks.
  • I have a personal design critique template, which I use almost weekly when presenting a problem to solve, the background, and the feedback I’m looking (and not looking) for.
  • I started a personal weekly work estimation and emotional check-in to learn about my productivity needs after going fully remote, and to keep track of how I’m feeling at the end of every week, to find correlations between the two.

How to create a template

Creating a template is simple: Open the Paper doc you want to use and click on “Templatize” in the More ••• menu in the header. The header will appear black and say “EDITING TEMPLATE.” When you’re done with the template, click the “Create doc” button in the top right corner.

Paper interface with a spotlight on the Template feature.

Placeholder text in templates

When you’re in EDITING TEMPLATE mode, you can convert text into a “placeholder” that functions as replaceable text in all docs created from that template. This saves you the time of removing existing text, and helps suggest which content should be placed there.

An animation depicting formatting options in Paper.

New templates for your WFH needs and for COVID-19

To save you time, I want to share some templates that could come in handy during this period. They’re free for you to use in Paper with any Dropbox account, or to take inspiration from for whichever tool you prefer!

When we make and publish templates, we always rely on collecting internal best practices from experts and aligning with industry standards. To make them applicable to as many people as possible, we try to keep the content quite general. If you need to make your templates more specific to your team’s needs, just edit your copy of the template!

Note: Because translation of our templates takes some time, and because we wanted to get these to you as fast as possible, some are available only in English (marked “EN-only” below). We’re working on getting them translated asap!

Team emergency preparation Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to call attention to two templates that help businesses prepare for emergencies. These were built in collaboration with Dropbox Business Continuity Manager Chau Vu.

Team coordination

Work together, no matter where you are. Remember that you can customize these templates for your team’s specific needs.


Something that has brought my team together on a personal level during the quarantine is recipe sharing. Most of us are cooking a lot more, and with limited resources. 1/4 of all Dropbox employees are in our #foodathome Slack channel, where recipes are shared on a daily basis. My manager also made a meal plan, which I absolutely love and want to share with you too.

More templates You can find all of our published templates here.

How Paper can help you work remotely

As we’ve adjusted to working from home, we’ve had to find new ways to take the pain out of remote collaboration.

Paper makes almost anything look great

Because of Paper’s curated and thoughtfully designed formatting, we at Dropbox can spend more time on developing our ideas and less time on polishing their presentation.

Paper works great for whole teams

With its wide range of lagom (“in moderation”) features, Paper is a simple tool for your team to use cross-functionally.

Use templates to save time and share your process

It might seem tedious to create a template, but think of all the alignment, consistency, and time savings for your team if you invest effort up front to create structured docs.

I hope that sharing how we at Dropbox use Paper to work together can help spark new ideas for maintaining your flow during a socially distanced time, and maybe even after.

Stay safe out there.

P.S. Design, development, and QA of the featured templates, writing, reviewing, and artwork of this blog post, plus process management, were all done by women. Read more about the great women on our team in the Ladies Who Create column.

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