Imagine working for a company that has designed its office to encourage employees to work from home (or wherever else they want). It’s not a fantasy for employees of wireless headset manufacturer Plantronics, which recently built a new headquarters in Santa Cruz, Calif. designed to make telecommuting easy. The building is loaded with video chat rooms, quiet “focus” rooms, wall-mounted TV screens for videoconferencing, and enough desk space for just 60% to 70% of employees. There is no assigned seating.
After writing about the headquarters last week, we received plenty of skeptical reader comments; many of you suggested that such a setup would encourage people to become workaholics since work can be taken anywhere. Others questioned the loss of coworker camaraderie. We spoke to a handful of Plantronics employees to find out.
Kyle Bokariza, a product marketing specialist at Plantronics, just graduated from college. He previously interned at the company, so he knows what it’s like to work in a cube-filled office with assigned desks. But, he says, the new setup remind him of college: “Coming from school, I’m used to in between classes going to the library, grabbing a table, and having a full line of site of people around me. That’s what the building reminds me of–sitting with people, working on group projects. It’s a familiar setting.”
Despite the flexibility, Bokariza still works in the office four days a week. He spends one day going to coffee shops to work, using Plantronics’ products and observing other people using them as well. “It rounds out my perspective on things,” he says.
Before the switch to the new office, senior product manager Jan Caldarella came into the office every day. It was a drain on her productivity; she was constantly waking up early to talk to colleagues in the U.K., staying up late to talk to coworkers in China, and rushing in to the office in between. It’s hard for her to get work done in the office. “People will come by and chat, ask questions. I feel like I’m constantly being interrupted,” she says.
Now Caldarella plans on working working from home two to three days a week–a move that she expects will drastically increase her productivity. Instead of driving to the office after her U.K. meetings, she can continue on working without interruption. That speeds up everything, and means that she can talk to China earlier, too. And that, in turn, leaves more time in the evenings for her to spend with family. “I need solid blocks of quiet time to get technical documents done,” she says. “My time in the office is now more high-quality time to socialize and meet [with people].”
Amy Huson, Senior Director of Enterprise Product Marketing, is used to working from home. She lives in San Francisco, which is, as she calls it, “an ungodly 75 mile drive” from Santa Cruz. This means that she has long worked from home four days a week (Plantronics allowed this on a case-by-case basis before the new office). “This is a lot easier for me. Now people naturally think to make a meeting online, and they always provide some kind of remote access,” she explains. “Before, I had become the stealth expert of finding anybody [in conference rooms]. I put all the work on me as the individual. It has kind of flipped.”
In the old office, most of Huson’s team members came in every day, and “they got used to having a remote boss.” But since Plantronics now encourages telecommuting, Huson’s team has switched to a more flexible working arrangement. “Now that we’re all working remotely and flexibly, I think the energy of the team has increased,” she says. As Huson notes, people often work better when they have variety in their work environments: “It’s palpably noticeable how changes in environment and workspace have sparked new interest in the team.”
And there’s one benefit to telecommuting more that everyone can agree on. “I think about that many fewer traffic jams,” says Huson.