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Inside Plantronics' mod Santa Cruz headset empire

Publish Date:

Thursday, February 27, 2014 9:04 am PST

News Organization:

Silicon Valley Business Journal

Source URL:

Vicki Thompson --

A water wall feature provides additional ambient noise. The flat screen with images of exotic fish and brightly-colored furniture accents are just for ambiance.

Click the image for a full tour of the recently-overhauled Surf City tech camp

Lauren Hepler

Economic Development Reporter- Silicon Valley Business Journal

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It may seem like a no-brainer to recruit employees to a corporate campus just a short jaunt from the beach. But tech talent in Silicon Valley has options.

Santa Cruz-based headset maker Plantronics Inc. has spent the last several years overhauling its headquarters with help from San Francisco design firm Gensler (also the designer behind Facebook's Menlo Park campus). The goal of the redesign: Enticing highly sought-after talent, encouraging more efficient and collaborative work and cutting down on real estate costs.

While the cool-office-as-a-talent-attraction-mechanism fad is nothing new, Plantronics did have a unique entrée to its redesign process, CEO Ken Kannappan told me.

The company's work with unified communications systems — which integrate phone lines, emails, IMs and other communications tools — also served as a starting point for the campus makeover. Mobile working tools that untethered workers from their landlines pushed Kannappan to re-think both office design and even his stance on working in a corporate office.

The pioneers in this industry were starting to think about, 'Hey, because I can now make people more mobile, how, within my office environment and within their work flow, should I encourage that?" Kannappan said.

Next came trips to companies in Europe, Asia, Australia and the U.S., plus universities studying the topic, to identify what was and wasn't working. Plantronics tested new office layouts at its own European outposts before implementing a combination of open office workspace and enclosed meeting spaces in Santa Cruz.

"There is this common misconception about what I'll call open plan and traditional workspaces," said Kannappan, who now works at an open desk instead of in an office. "The common misconception is that in a traditional work space, it's really hard to collaborate because people are divided artificially. The flip side of that in an open plan environment is that people can't concentrate because there is all of this distraction."

Sound-absorbent fabrics on walls and furniture were one effort to mitigate distraction. Plantronics also commissioned water features to produce ambient noise and muffle conversations going on in open office areas.

More broadly, Kannappan sees office design and mobile work policies as part of a broader "smarter working" philosophy. With the new office look (plus a gym and other perks added for good measure), the company has also implemented new company policies allowing employees to telecommute or work out of co-working spaces.

"If I'm doing reading, I don't have to come into the office," he said. "If I'm leading or I'm meeting with other people, I need to come into the office to interact with people. It's defined by my work."

Plantronics saved "millions of dollars" by converting the space, Kannappan said, though he did not disclose how much the company spent on construction or new furnishings for its campus overhaul.

Click through the images in this story for a tour of Plantronics' Santa Cruz campus, then stay tuned for more on "smarter working" from Kannappan.

Lauren Hepler is the economic development reporter at the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

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