Technology may come first in Silicon Valley but it's no easy task creating the infrastructure in which people can do their best work. Arden Hoffman has been creating that framework at Dropbox, where she leads their human resources team in guiding the company's internal workings and recruiting new talent.
She's been at Dropbox since 2014, following work at Google, Goldman Sachs and other notable institutions. Appropriately for Dropbox, she likes to keep things simple with her work. You don't really need too many apps or gadgets if you just focus on the task at hand and the people around you. We caught up with Arden to learn a little about how she works.
Location: San Francisco, California Current Gig: VP, Global Head of People at Dropbox One word that best describes how you work: Uncluttered Current mobile device: iPhone 7 Plus Current computer: MacBook Air
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I started my career as a tech journalist working for PCWorld Magazine. I was a liberal arts major at University of California at Berkeley in the early '90s and was interested in technology. I wanted to go into the journalism field, so I went to a tech magazine and started as an editorial assistant and fact checker.
My evolving interest in people and humanities led me to pursue a career building and impacting teams. I went on to attend The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to get my MBA, and study leadership development and change management. I continued on to consulting, where I focused on the people part of large transformations at big banks and credit card companies. After consulting I went to Goldman Sachs, where I was the VP of Talent Development and VP of Goldman Sachs University, delivering global training solutions to 13 global businesses.
Fast forward a bit. I joined Dropbox in 2014 after serving as Google's global head of people operations. Here at Dropbox, I head global human resources and recruiting, and help build the teams and culture at the company.
What apps, software or tools can't you live without? Why?
Apps I can't live without include Spotify, Amazon Fire/Prime, NYTimes and then… nothing. My approach here is all about simplicity. I believe in stripping away the distractions and focusing on people and meaningful conversations. Achieving this focus means having the fewest distractions as possible, which in turn enables me to have important, real-life connections.
What's your workspace setup like?
This may not come as a surprise, but my workspace is minimal. I don't need a ton of monitors around me and am productive with just my laptop. My ideal working space is a collaborative lounge area, and the Dropbox office has a variety of working spaces and rooms that cater to in-person discussions and face-to-face conversations. I also switch up my working space if I need to focus, and I usually go to the cafe and work with headphones.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
My best timesaving hack is to not have a long to-do list. I do this by going through email super early in the morning to start my day off, execute on tasks and projects quickly, and get things off of my plate as soon as possible. I don't let things sit that can be handled immediately and answer emails in real time to keep things moving. I don't procrastinate.
I've heard you advocate analysing data to improve HR organisations. Tell me how that works. What sort of data do you draw upon to improve a company's culture?
My approach is not focused on improving HR organisations, it's more about improving the organisation as a whole. It's critical to use both qualitative and quantitative data to gather the most comprehensive picture possible. To start, we obtain data through one on one meetings, attrition data, employee surveys, recruitment data and a variety of other channels to analyse and get a pulse on where the organisation is.
The leadership at Dropbox cares deeply about this data because it not only tells a story about the people, but highlights areas we can improve to make teams more productive, keep morale high, encourage open dialogue and recruit top talent. It also allows business leaders to see around corners — giving them information about what they need to be thinking about to maintain a strong and happy culture over the long term.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
Previously I used a simple pen and paper, but Dropbox Paper has changed the way I manage my to-dos. I feel rewarded when I check off my tasks, and Paper is the best way to make sure I keep track of everything. I have lists for each member of my team, and each stakeholder I work with regularly. Paper is similar to a physical, tactile notepad — as you've probably noticed, I like to keep things simple, not cluttered.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget or tool can't you live without and why?
I could probably live without most things, but I'd prefer to not live without music. Music gets me through the day and I love that I can have my collection streamed to me at all times — at work, at home and on the go. Spotify is the best music app. I also would rather not live without my New York Times app. That app is my go-to source for getting the news and staying updated on the go.
What do you listen to while you work?
I always have music on while I work, it helps my thoughts flow smoothly. Jazz and classical are my go-tos at work, especially John Coltrane. Though when a new album is released, I will listen to that for a bit. Right now it is Neko Case's album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.
What are you currently reading?
I'm currently reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich. It is a beautifully written novel about a tribal community, its strengths, cultural traditions and the resilience. Also, to feed my music passion, I'm reading Bruce Springsteen's biography as well. I usually have two books going at once because I never know what mood I will be in at the end of the day.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
I'm really good at blocking out the noise and just focusing and giving my undivided attention — whether it be to my work or the people I am speaking with, or spending time with my family and friends. I don't multitask, so I don't get overloaded with incoming information. This approach helps me be present with the people I'm with and on the tasks I have in front of me. Also, I am trying to perfect tacos and guacamole!
How do you recharge? What do you do to forget about work?
I usually recharge by swimming, doing yoga, reading fiction and hiking. Most of these are solitary, and require complete presence. I can't text while I am swimming! Sometimes watching football, but none of my teams are doing well this year, so that sometimes is more upsetting than relaxing.
What's your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?
I'm an early riser — 5:30AM. I usually get eight hours of sleep and I fall asleep right away.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
So many! Nora Ephron, were she still with us. Rachel Bloom, Samantha Bee and Jessi Klein, the head writer of the Amy Schumer show. They're all some of my favourite female comedians, actors and writers.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
The two pieces of advice I implement regularly are:
- Appreciate people, and tell them so.
- Coach people based on their strengths and not their weaknesses.
Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
Ask a lot of questions. Be curious. Don't worry about what you don't know — just find out and ask. And, be OK saying "no" when you need to disconnect.
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.