Cisco designed new Midtown office to win the war for tech talent

CEO: ‘Let’s make the office a magnet, not a mandate’



Do you know the humidity of your office breakroom? What about your conference room’s ambient noise level?

Those metrics and more are available throughout the top floors of a new Midtown Atlanta building, where technology giant Cisco aims to craft the ideal post-pandemic workplace.

“The building is actually a platform now,” CEO Chuck Robbins told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Everything in this building for us is all connected over the network.”

He said the future of offices — specifically ones workers want to use — involve digitizing nearly everything, integrating remote work options and locating in bustling urban centers. He said his company’s new collaboration and innovation center in the Coda building at Technology Square, which opened last week, highlights everything employers can do to appeal to the engineering and tech workers that companies are fighting to attract.

Cisco Systems, based in San Jose, California, showed off its new Atlanta hub Tuesday to Gov. Brian Kemp and several Atlanta leaders. The space is designed to show off nearly every aspect of the company’s hardware and software portfolio, which ranges from computer networking to teleconferencing technology.

“I think you all have captured what that new future will look like here with this office space,” said Katie Kirkpatrick, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.



Corporations have been rethinking the amount of office space they need in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which popularized work-from-anywhere schedules. It’s prompted many companies to downsize their office footprints as they grapple with how to encourage workers to leave their desks at home.

Robbins said Cisco has adopted a few mantras to combat that issues, such as “Let’s make the office a magnet, not a mandate,” and “What’s the return on the commute?”

With nearly 50,000 square feet of usable space, the office looms over Georgia Tech’s campus. Robbins made it clear the proximity to engineering talent was no accident. He said the giant Cisco logo on the building’s facade is intentionally pointed toward the campus.

“I want every single Georgia Tech student to see it every single day,” he said.



Tapping the talent pipeline

Cisco announced the innovation center in October 2021, joining a wave of tech companies flocking to Midtown.

Google, Microsoft, Mailchimp, Norfolk Southern, NCR, Anthem and Visa all either opened new offices or expanded their operations over the past five years. The Coda tower, which opened in 2019, was designed as an anchor for tech startups and companies looking for direct access to Georgia Tech students and graduates.

Kemp said he can see “every major technology company” through Coda’s floor-to-ceiling windows.

“The reason is because of that (higher education) environment, but it’s also because of the talent pipeline that we have,” he said.



Robbins, a Gwinnett County native, said companies like Cisco used to see California as the primary place for engineering and tech talent, but he said Atlanta and other urban markets have emerged as essential for recruitment.

“For about 20 years, it was viewed that there was a monopoly on technology talent coming out of Silicon Valley,” Robbins said. “I think the talent access has democratized significantly over the last few years.”

Kirkpatrick said the city’s burgeoning industry makes Atlanta a “global tech hub.”

Cisco has also invested in the city’s historic black colleges and universities. Last September, the company made a $5 million commitment to Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University through the Black Economic Alliance nonprofit.

Robbins said being located in the urban heart of Atlanta near the city’s higher education hubs shows how the desires of workers have changed over the decades.

“It used to be that everybody lived in the suburbs and drove into the city,” he said. “There’s still a bit of that, but there’s a whole lot more of the workforce that are choosing to live down near the city and actually work from here.”

‘Rethink the workplace’

In Cisco’s view, free lattes and sit-stand desks are no longer enough to get employees to want to trek to a physical office.

The company’s new hub is automated to control temperature, humidity, air quality, curtain height and noise levels. The 115 conference rooms all have video streaming capabilities, featuring cameras that zoom to show speaker’s faces and split screens to show every attendee. A bevy of seating options are also available, from personal booths to four-legged stools to padded benches.



Bob Cicero, Americas hybrid work leader at Cisco, said employees more frequently come to the office to be near their coworkers.

“When we rethink the workplace, we’re really rebalancing space,” he said. “We traditionally think about individual workstations. But here, we flipped the design model, and we have 10% of the space for heads-down focused work where there’s a desk, while 90% of the space is collaborative.”

Cisco employs roughly 1,100 workers across metro Atlanta. Despite layoffs rippling through the tech sector, Cisco is hiring 700 additional employees with an average annual wage of nearly $118,000 as part of its Coda expansion. The state offered $11.3 million in grant incentives and quality job tax credits to Cisco for the new office, which is an estimated $41.5 million investment.

Robbins said the new office will not only play a critical role in recruiting new talent, but it’s also a demonstration of Cisco’s products and office philosophy.

“We want this to be a showcase for our customers of how to design a hybrid work environment,” he said.