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.
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.
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.
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!)