SERIES: New Work

Dropbox and the New Work-cupcake link

3 July 2019
Hamburg News visits Dropbox amid employee types, cupcake culture and innovation boosters

Drew Houston, a U.S. computer science student was about to travel from Boston to New York in 2006. On his arrival at the bus station, both his USB stick and work were missing. Faced with this quandary and a four-hour bus journey, Houston began writing a programme to access his files online anytime, anywhere. His efforts ultimately led to Dropbox, which has been headquartered in Silicon Valley since 2007. The cloud provider also has three offices in Germany and its German headquarters in the WeWorking Space on Hamburg’s Inner Alster Lake. As part of our series on New Work, Hamburg News went behind the scenes at the tech company. 

Open office landscape and sofa corner

The open-plan office with some 20 Dropbox employees can be found on the seventh floor above the Europapassage. Things are slightly different as there is no canteen and the office manager is based in London. “Everybody helps,” says Jenny Wiethölter, PR Manager for the German-speaking countries at Dropbox, smiling. There is an open kitchen, a sofa in the corner and a cosy room for those important telephone calls. The meeting rooms are called “Moin, Moin” or “Seute Deern” (Low German for “sweet girl”) all of which were agreed on democratically, Wiethölter added. The corporate language is English. Dropbox employs well over 2,000 staff in 14 branches worldwide.


Open-plan office and quiet retreat area

Core business in Hamburg 

“We’re all old hands. Our core business here in Hamburg is Dropbox business meaning Dropbox for companies”, said Marc Paczian, Solutions Architect, who manages the cloud service across many different software systems. He is also responsible for digitization at Dropbox and represents the company at the Chamber of Commerce. Paczlan has been committed to corporate values priorities from the outset, as founder in 2016, and as explained below.

Cupcake principle and five corporate values

“Our corporate culture at Dropbox is characterized by five values. First be worthy of trust. Safety is the be-all and end-all for us. We have to live that every day. That’s our business model, after all.” Second the cupcake principle, which definitely is my favourite company value. A cupcake is actually a muffin with butter cream and with raspberry or sugar pearl icing. We want to do things for others that are not self-evident.” This does not have to consist of large gifts, but can be small considerate gestures and things to sweeten up life. When Paczian leaves the elevator on his arrival in the morning, for instance, he pushes the button sending it back down to the ground floor so that the next person does not have to spend ages waiting downstairs.

Cupcake fan Marc Paczian

Dropbox also places great stead in sweating the details to make an assignment perfect. When it comes to suggesting projects, the company urges people to aim higher meaning there is room for improvement. The fifth principle is us not me. Paczian pointed out: “We work together and leave selfish thinking at the door. There are hierarchies, of course, but they’re not lived.” Dropbox practices active leadership and encourages employees to become leaders regardless of job title. 

Direct line to top management

Transparency also plays a special role here,” he added. Regular surveys among employees showed that decisions take too long sometimes and prompted Paczian to set up the ‘unblockme’ e-mail address about six months ago. Employees who feel that their project is not making progress can now contact top management directly.

Workwithme for ideal working atmosphere

All of Paczian’s colleagues prioritise transparency. Anyone can take a look at the employees’ diaries, including those of the founders. “We also invented the Workwithme paper,” he added and presents a detailed document in which he has answered all kinds of questions about himself. “I am an Enneagram Type 2, so I like helping people and sometimes find it hard to say no. It also says when I am best reached and that I don’t make appointments on Monday afternoons because I run my son’s soccer training. If my counterpart knows this from the start, he can adjust accordingly. This makes co-operation easier – across borders and cultures.”

Employees' favourites                  

Changing values in the new world of work

Little things make a difference, Paczian noted, adding: “We have many international projects and everyone ticks differently. But if I know, for instance that my colleague from Dublin values punctuality, then I’d rather be five minutes early than too late. That gives us both a good feeling.” So there it is again, the cupcake principle, which is based on the Ennegram of Personality – a model of the human psyche taught as a typology of interconnected personality types. The New Work expert. Dr. Max Neufeind goes one step further and describes the change in values characteristic of the new world of work. Emphasis is now on conserving new values. We live in a heterogeneous world of values and this presents companies with challenges. They now have to ask themselves: Who suits us? How much of this plurality can we reflect and can we cover different worlds of values?”

In-house accelerator for bright ideas

The annual “hack week” is a real booster of innovation, Wiethölter and Paczian agree. During that week, both Dropbox developers and employees all over the world can work on their own projects. Early in 2018, this led to an in-house incubator to boost ideas for start-ups among Dropbox employees with the aim of bringing the product to market maturity within a year.

Sources and further information

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