When the cloud storage firm Dropbox decided to shut down its offices with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, co-founder and CEO Drew Houston ’05 had to send the company’s nearly 3,000 employees home and tell them they were not coming back to work anytime soon. “It felt like I was announcing a snow day or something.”
In the early days of the pandemic, Houston says that Dropbox reacted as many others did to ensure that employees were safe and customers were taken care of. “It’s surreal, there’s no playbook for running a global company in a pandemic over Zoom. For a lot of it we were just taking it as we go.”
Houston talked about his experience leading Dropbox through a public health crisis and how Covid-19 has accelerated a shift to distributed work in a fireside chat on Oct. 14 with Dan Huttenlocher, dean of the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing.
During the discussion, Houston also spoke about his $10 million gift to MIT, which will endow the first shared professorship between the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and the MIT Sloan School of Management, as well as provide a catalyst startup fund for the college.
“The goal is to find ways to unlock more of our brainpower through a multidisciplinary approach between computing and management,” says Houston. “It’s often at the intersection of these disciplines where you can bring people together from different perspectives, where you can have really big unlocks. I think academia has a huge role to play [here], and I think MIT is super well-positioned to lead. So, I want to do anything I can to help with that.”
While the abrupt swing to remote work was unexpected, Houston says it was pretty clear that the entire way of working as we knew it was going to change indefinitely for knowledge workers. “There’s a silver lining in every crisis,”
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