This week I did a site visit at Plantronics in Santa Cruz California and I was impressed with the effort that was made by their design and technology departments to create world-leading products. However, what really struck me – because it used to be my own life focus – was the fabulous work that Pat Wadors, their VP of HR and Facilities, did to create a great place to work.
Part of this was the redesign of the workspace and part was the aggressive use of work from home and BYOB (Bring Your Own Box) policies. Something that Gartner has consistently argued that no one actually does.
With all due respect to Gartner, Plantronics has implemented this policy and, along with the other changes, is reporting a significant increase in productivity. And I observed what appears to be an increase in creativity and company loyalty/job satisfaction as well.
Looking Forward to Coming to Work
Before starting I should explain why this kind of thing fascinates me and why I have some unique qualifications to cover the topic. Back when I went to college I had a passion for the idea of designing places that people would love to work in, and in architecting companies where work wasn’t tedium.
It was actually a bit of a rebellion on my part because, as I grew up, people (particularly my grandfather) would argue that work wasn’t supposed to be fun because that was why it was called work. And every time I tried, as a child, to have fun working (granted doing inappropriate things like food fights, paint fights, or turning windshield washers into a vehicle-mounted squirt gun), I got into trouble.
But I was convinced you could create an environment where, rather than folks looking forward to the weekend, they’d look forward to coming in to work.
In the 1980s I went to work for ROLM, which had a department called “The Great Place to Work Department” with a goal of someday running it. Six months after joining, IBM bought ROLM and killed the department, claiming “making the company a great place to work was every manager’s responsibility.” And like anything that belongs to everybody, all effort that was focused on making ROLM a wonderful place to work stopped and ROLM went from being a billion dollar company to tumbling into the graveyard.
My career fell back on my marketing and computer science minors but my heart remained with this concept. I’m always on the lookout for firms that find ways to be wonderful places to work. Plantronics appears to be one of them.
Plantronics builds telephone accessories, which puts them on the forefront by virtue of what we’ve been calling convergence. The idea of driving together telephony and computing technology is at the core of this concept.
They make products like the Savi 740, which allows you to use a single headset to Skype or use a landline, and their other headsets allow you to move from Skype to cell phones. In their products are unique features that allow the headset to know whether it is on your head or not and automatically become disabled when you aren’t wearing it. They typically lead in battery life and voice quality and are the only vendor strongly present in both the consumer and corporate markets.
However, a few years back they seemed to be missing the consumer wave. And inside the company facility, reflecting their aging lines, it looked like a typical technology company, with cubicle farms in dark fluorescent-lit work pits.
They moved to revitalize the company and over time brought on board a new design team lead by Darrin Caddes out of BMW and a new CTO out of Cisco (there during the good years) Joe Burton. These two executives were significantly aided by Pat Wadors, who redesigned Plantronics to create a modern, attractive workspace that fosters collaboration and makes people want to come in to work.
Building a Great Place to Work
Internally the headquarters building was redesigned to open up cubicles and place teams in groups to foster collaboration. Natural light was piped in and the Plantronics symbol, kind of a stylized audio wave, was applied differently by artists on every available surface, reinforcing esprit-de-corps.
Conference rooms were modified to support Skype and walls were painted so that they could be used as whiteboards. There were even restraint-like booths set up so that groups of 4 could grab coffee and discuss their projects without leaving the building comfortably. They built guest stations so that folks coming in from remote locations or who often worked from home had a place when they were in the office. These stations were equipped with current displays including multi-monitor set-ups.
Because they realized they needed to support customers who used a variety of hardware, a policy of Bring Your Own Box was encouraged and the mix of Macs in Plantronics has skyrocketed. The end result is an environment where people work in natural light (are less tired), more encouraged to collaborate, and they often now prefer to come in to work rather than stay at home.
Yep, in talking to some of the employees many seem to actually prefer to make the drive, often a long one, into work because it is a better place than their home is.
There are a lot of places you can go to work, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to go someplace where you enjoy your time spent rather than always looking forward to the weekend and retirement? Companies that treat employees as valued partners and encourage them to work smarter and better like Plantronics are often in sharp contrast to those that seem to think workers should just be happy to get a paycheck and treat them like an easily disposed of resource.
At least several people at Plantronics used to work for widely recognized technology brands that have a history of not treating their employees as well. These employees report a strong contrast to where they used to be. Seeing their smiles and more positive attitudes I can imagine they wonder why they didn’t change jobs sooner.
Part of building a great company is creating an environment where people want to come to work. Google last decade became the gold standard for this. Plantronics is giving them a run for the money, and I think it would serve every company well to get into this competition. Creating a great place to work makes it a great place for everyone to work.
The sad issue is that it seems most CEOs work to make companies a great place for them to work, have unique perks like company planes, mistresses, and limousines, and fund those perks while making their employees miserable. You have choices of where to spend the best years of your life. Here’s hoping you not only make good personal choices, but you choose to make your company into a place where you’d be proud to work yourself. Kudos to Pat Wadors, CEO Kenneth Kannappan, and Plantronics – we need more like you.