2011-12-09

Co.Exist

An Office Designed To Keep Employees Working From Home

The headset manufacturer Plantronics doesn’t much care where its employees work, and to prove that, its new offices are outfitted with a cornucopia of features that make telecommuting simple, easy, and encouraged.

Plantronics has a shiny new headquarters in Santa Cruz, Calif., but most employees probably won’t spend too much time there. The space is designed for people to not come in to work; there aren’t even enough desks to accommodate the whole Santa Cruz staff. The audio communications company hasn’t just accepted telecommuting, it has designed around the concept.

Plantronics, which makes wireless headsets, already has European offices that have made the switch to a more flexible working environment. "People change through different catalysts. We wanted to be more open to smarter working, anywhere anytime. [Plantronics’] European human resources had the catalyst of the government telling them they had to reduce their carbon footprint," explains Patricia Wadors, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Plantronics.

So this week, Plantronics opened a revamped headquarters in Santa Cruz that doesn’t have assigned desks, has enough desk space for just 60% to 70% of its employees, and houses a number of giant wall-mounted TV screens, which are intended to bring telecommuters into office conversations. The screens are virtually everywhere, including in the cafeteria.

There are video chat rooms, "focus" rooms designed for privacy, as well as team project rooms. Employees who aren’t comfortable working in coffee shops or at home can opt to use Plantronics’ dedicated spot at coworking space NextSpace in San Jose.

"There’s an expectation that you can work anywhere and be highly productive and engaged," says Wadors. The office just opened a week ago, but "the initial wave of people that walked through and started sitting in the workspace loved it," she says.

Plantronics is hardly the first company to encourage its employees to telecommute, but it’s still rare to find an organization that’s so dedicated to the idea. It might be a little bit of an adjustment to people used to sitting at work all day every day, but the generation just coming out of school--the one that’s used to having instant access to people through cell phones, Skype, and email--expects nothing less. With gas prices steadily climbing, the prospect of working remotely three days a week seems especially attractive. And Plantronics has no limits on how often employees work from home--it just asks that they make sure their home workplaces are ergonomically safe.

Will Plantronics ever take it to the next level and bring in telepresence robots? "I haven’t looked into it," says Wadors. "But I think I should."

Plantronics

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61 Comments

  • LindaRV

    A truism in architectural psychology is: a bare and boring office is just as unproductive as a cluttered office.

  • Mathman2012

    My wife commented that this arrangement looks like the secretarial pools she worked in when she first started working in the 70s.

    I currently work in an environment with low partitions, lots of meetings and talking going on, and have found the noise level usually exceeds 80 decibels. Noise over 80 decibels is a NIOSH violation and a health hazard; periods of noise over 80 db raises blood pressure without adequate noise protection.

    A better solution would be to have many conference areas with moveable sound partitions to contain the noise level and still facilitate conference calls or face-to-face meetings while keeping the noise level down.

    Sorry to say but I would never work there; I'm never going to work in a noisy, dehumanizing environment like that again.

  • Just keeping it legit

    This probably wouldn't matter but then it does:The headset manufacturer Plantronics doesn’t much care where its employees work, and to prove that, IT'S new offices are...

  • WhereCanIGetTheFunnyStuff?

    Office space is expensive, and the work can be done in India or wherever.

  • Ron Anderson

    and where is the actual production of the products done ? people always seem to forget that without products to sell there is no business and the process of making the products and the people that do those jobs are treated as an afterthought.

  • Karen Auby

    Hi Ron, I'm in PR for Plantronics. We have a manufacturing facility in Mexico. The employees at Plamex (Plantronics Mexico) are certainly not an afterthought :)  In fact, I'm very proud to work for a company that has so much respect for all of its employees. Plamex has even been awarded the Best Place to Work in Mexico.  Please check out this article in the San Diego Union Tribune: http://www.utsandiego.com/news...

    ~Karen

  • Robert Miles

    I'm now diabled enough that working in an office is impractical.  However, if enough of the more technical companies adopt this idea, I should eventually be able to find a job working at home.

  • Hjnb714

    I totally disagree with this idea. There are too many distractions at home. People are more disipline in a office setting than at home.

  • Piedy

    For me there are 10x more distractions at work. I can't control people walking by my cube, the constant phone calls, and noise. At home I am in control of the environment. Obviously if your home life is kids and pets running around non-stop during the day then going to work is a vacation, and that's where you should be. The point is allowing employees to CHOOSE where they are the most productive. When I need to collaborate and work as a team, I get together with that team. Most of the time I need alone time to get the actual work done.

  • Marie Cooper™

    Distractions at work compared to home are about 100:1 for me. At work, there is constant chatter, questions, people coming and going, people on the phone, gossip, coffee, cards going around, birthday cakes, cleaners, fire alarm tests, the roar of the hand dryer, computer problems, unnecessary meetings, mobile phones going off etc etc.  At home the only distraction I have is the cat wanting me to scratch his ears :D

  • Murph

    All depends on the person.  I know how to discipline myself.  I also know how to spell discipline.

  • Hannah

    In our company some teams are mainly office-based and some teams mainly work from their own homes. I work 99% from home, which is ideal for me as it means I can take breaks when I need to (unless I'm super busy on something time-sensitive), manage my work / life balance more effectively and can choose to do some of my hours at night or on the weekends. The flexibility in my schedule also means that when we have children I can simply reduce my hours rather than having to give up work entirely.

    I actually find that I am far more productive working from home than I have ever been working in the office where I am distracted by being too hot / too cold / having air blowing on me / noise from other people / stressed because of the commute, etc. At home I can make myself a hot drink and hot water bottle and wrap up in a blanket in the cold, or in summer I can wear skimpy clothes and eat ice-cream if I feel like it... I can also take time out if I feel unwell rather than having to take a sick day because I have a migraine. It also saves me a fortune in travel costs and clothing costs since I only really need 2-3 nice outfits for the office rather than a whole wardrobe of business attire.

    Because I am able to work from home I am willing to check my email every single day of the year in case something urgent comes up that needs my attention. If I was required to go in to the office I certainly wouldn't be willing to also work from home weekends and evenings.

  • Per Håkansson

    Kudos. I do the same via self-employment and it's the future. One way to turn the tables is to switch from time-based compensation to value-based. The there would be more focus on outcome than time spent.

  • theblueplanet

    Amazing! that's what everyone wants, save all the commute time. Spend time with family and be able to eat properly!

  • Tiffany

    'Working from home' isn't as effective as working in an office where you have the constant eye of supervision.  Take it from me, I used to work in an office, and quit my job to work from home.  Now, most days, I am computer surfing rather than working (hence, the reason I came across this article).
    To me, working from home is half-way, if not all-the-way, to playing hookie.  However, some businesses might not care if their employees are running at only 50% efficiency because of this hookie-playing, especially if the employees are paid only on a commission basis...
    For instance, it may be just as effective to hire twice the employees that are running on 50% efficiency, than hire 100% fully-dedicated but overworked employees.  There are plenty of us out there that would prefer only half a work-week for half the pay.
    Now, it's another thing entirely, to pay an employee hourly for 'working from home', when there's no way to guarentee they are actually working.  This system is most-effective, (and may only be efficient in the long run), for commission-only jobs.

  • Home Worker

    If you are not mature and fall short of your responsibilities then I agree with you.  Working from home for these types of people should not be allowed.  But these are the same type people who will also fail under strict supervision at the work place.

  • Kat

    If you need to be supervised to do your work, then you're not an efficient worker. Work needs to be based on what you produce and not how long it took you to produce it. 

    A good supervisor doesn't watch his/her reports all day but trusts them to accomplish their tasks in a professional manner and to a deadline. If someone can't do that, then they do need to be watched like a 3rd grader. 

    Moving towards more freedom to work when you want and rewards based off work produced rather than how long your butt was in a seat is better for everyone.

  • Piedy

    Totally agree. Any employee who needs their boss to constantly watch them and make sure they're doing their job is a detriment to the company, and their team. Also if the boss can't figure out you're missing deadlines and producing poor work, s/he should also be fired.