Q&A: Mark van der Linden, Dropbox

Define collaboration in just three words

Creative. Productive. Connected.

How important is effective communication to modern business success?

The way people work together is increasingly complicated. Teams are changing. Today, it is not uncommon for employees to be asked to work with multiple people, on multiple projects, across different offices all around the world.

This complex dynamic means communication is more important than ever. It is the glue that holds teams and businesses together.

All successful businesses need a clear strategy and the right tools in place to help people communicate effectively.

What are the key benefits of having the right collaboration and communication strategy in place and acting upon it?

When everyone and everything is connected, ideas flow more freely. Then, working together becomes more creative and productive, and people can create amazing things.

But in order to achieve this, it's essential that employees are given the tools they need to work together seamlessly

What are companies currently doing well when it comes to collaboration and communication?

I've noticed a tipping point this year as business leaders and IT decision makers begin to acknowledge the blurring of the lines between consumer and professional technology and accept that the products most loved by employees, in their personal lives, are often the best solutions for the workplace.

Businesses that are doing this well, such as News Corp who are one of over 150,000 businesses now using Dropbox Business, are allowing employees and the external teams they work with to access information and collaborate with others easily, from any device, anywhere.

We recently did research with Ipsos MORI which showed a collaborative approach can enhance work experience - in particular that allowing employees to work flexibly along with using collaboration tools increases their happiness at work.

More than 80 per cent of UK employees using collaboration tools and enjoying flexible working were happy at work compared to only two thirds of those who were allowed to work flexibly.

Conversely, what could they be doing better/more of/less of? And why?

One of the most common silos in the workplace is email, which has become the hub for everything that employees need. It's simple, pervasive, and incredibly flexible. It's used as a to-do list, file system, discussion board, notification channel the list goes on.

However, the problem is that email was never designed to do any of these well, so the result is an experience full of compromises and inefficiencies. For example, the typical person spends 30 per cent of their day battling disorganised inboxes and context-switching between completely unrelated messages.

Businesses need to think creatively about the technology they have on offer for their employees, to ensure they are using their time productively and are not hamstrung by the demands of the inbox. It also ensures the business is set up to effectively communicate and collaborate with external stakeholders. At the end of the day, this is where the money is really made.

Who in the organisation should be taking the lead when it comes to choosing the right tools and implementing them successfully?

Today, the remit of IT decision makers goes far beyond technology. They're increasingly responsible for employee well-being, business growth and much more.

With this broad and impactful remit, it's essential that business leaders work together with IT teams to ensure employees get the best solutions designed to make working together as simple as possible.

How do you ensure you're collaborating and communicating effectively? Do you have any words from the wise or anecdotes from other real-world experience you can share?

You need to think about what you're trying to achieve, what information you're sharing and who you wish to collaborate with. Once you have this set, then you can establish the best collaboration strategy in order to reach your goal.

I'm a fan of anything that keeps lines of communication open and ensure working together is seamless. My team uses a WhatsApp group to ping each other quick messages when needed, and we try to make changes to documents in the cloud so that we can collaborate effectively. I've seen some of the most creative and exciting work happen when people aren't even in the same room.

Collaborative cloud technology is helping to breakdown silos by creating a central place where people can easily access, share and collaborate on work.

Where do you see the market and adoption of communication and collaboration tools headed?

We are seeing more and more productively tools appear on the market all the time, and cloud is becoming an everyday tool for people - one in three internet users in the UK are on Dropbox. It will therefore be increasingly important for collaboration platforms to offer a way for users to work across these different productivity tools, seamlessly.

I believe this is the way forward and as such we've started to add more collaborative features to our Dropbox products.

What will successful corporate collaboration and communication looks like five or 10 years from now?

It's very hard to predict the future in the technology. Dropbox is just eight years old and look how much has changed in this time! If I had to predict one thing, I'd say technology companies will be working together a lot more in order to provide a seamless experience for our users.

Why should people attend this event?

The role of IT decisions makers is changing and there is an increasing demand on their role to not only provide top IT solutions, but also to ensure that they meet the needs of different parts of the business.

That's why it is important that we come together at events like this one, to discuss best practice, learn new skills and share our experiences.

Is there anything else you would like to add on this topic?

One thing I enjoy witnessing is how collaboration tools gives businesses the freedom to work in a manner that suits them - and it's always unique for that business.

I always enjoy hearing how each customer uses Dropbox to redesign their work processes. For example, the way in which Channel 4 defined a workflow that was suitable for their employees differs to how Manchester University implemented Dropbox Business, and again to News Corp who use Dropbox Enterprise alongside existing CRM systems such as Salesforce.

If you haven't already signed up we might just about be able to squeeze you in at our Collaboration event. For full details head here


ITPro is a global business technology website providing the latest news, analysis, and business insight for IT decision-makers. Whether it's cyber security, cloud computing, IT infrastructure, or business strategy, we aim to equip leaders with the data they need to make informed IT investments.

For regular updates delivered to your inbox and social feeds, be sure to sign up to our daily newsletter and follow on us LinkedIn and Twitter.