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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.

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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."

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