If you fell asleep in a ’90s data center and woke up in a modern one, you’d know instantly. But if you dozed off in your office and woke up 25 years later, it’s possible you’d be none the wiser until you confronted the espresso machine.

In the ’90s, we added one building a month to our San Jose campus. Twenty years later, the office space still looked about the same. You’ve seen it: 60-inch cubicle walls with perimeter offices blocking natural light. The space was antiquated, dilapidated, and—frankly—depressing.

In 2011, we had a new incentive to modernize the workspace. We had entered a fierce competition for talent, and open, flexible space with the latest technology would make our workplace more attractive to potential hires. We also wanted to optimize utilization of our real estate portfolio. Many employees worked from home at least one day a week, so on any given day we were only using 50% of our 23 million square feet of office space around the world

Supporting today’s diverse workstyles

In 2012 we began converting our buildings to Cisco Connected Workplaces. The renovated buildings have three characteristics: activity-based workspace, integrated technology, and flexible policies. Each office has a variety of spaces we can move to freely throughout the day: communal areas with comfortable seating, quiet rooms, huddle rooms for 2-5 people, and larger conference rooms. We have pervasive wireless and any kind of voice or video endpoint we could want. Managers and employees agree on how often employees need to be in the office—all the time, never, or something in between.

We’re “customer zero” for some of the Cisco technologies we’re using in the new spaces. One is Cisco Workplace Analytics, which uses the building’s wireless network to see where people (their wireless devices, actually) move throughout the day and how long they stay. We use the information to continually optimize the design as work styles evolve.

About the budget

Renovating hundreds of buildings isn’t cheap. We were confident we’d see payback based on talent attraction, retention, and OpEx savings. But we also knew we’d have to prove that to our CFO. So rather than submitting a request for a lump sum, we built a 5-year plan to prove the case in a few buildings in year one and then accelerate the investment in subsequent years.

Business value to-date

As of 2018, we’ve renovated 90% of our global portfolio. In the process we’ve shed 7.5 million square feet by terminating our leases or selling the buildings. That saved nearly $200 million in OpEx and produced $288 million in net asset sale proceeds. We closed 21 of 60 buildings in San Jose alone.

At the same time, productivity rose by 19% (as measured by an internal survey) and 73% of the workforce reported better work-life balance. I’m especially encouraged that 66% of new hires say the workplace had a positive impact on their decision to join Cisco.  We’ve all heard the advice to not judge a book by its cover, but face it, people do. And in this case, open, flexible workspace accurately represents what’s behind it: a company that invests in collaboration and work-life balance.

What kind of space, technology, and policy do you think belongs in a modern workplace? I invite you to share your ideas below.