Just outside of Austin, TX, technology company Zoho has purchased over 360 acres of land for its United States headquarters; and unlike other big tech companies like Google or Facebook, Zoho is taking more of a homestead approach via setting up a reclaimed farmhouse and a slow-growing, employee-run farm.
The company, which specializes in SaaS building and software development, is a privately owned entity boasting over 9,000 employees worldwide. Zoho has made a name for itself since 1996 by anticipating gaps in business strategy and integration, and preemptively building solutions for name-brand clients. Their global headquarters is located in Chennai, India, and has the open concept, start-up bells and whistles of a software company, but their new digs are far from conventional.
The plot of land in Travis County, Texas was purchased in the Spring of 2019 and was conceptualized as a typical tech compound. By the following year, a global health crisis changed those plans. The company quickly pivoted to working remotely, and the plans for a sprawling, Silicon Valley-esque empire were halted. Instead, the 85 Texas-based employees began to work safely from the farmhouse already on the land while also utilizing the agricultural resources. Slowly, the employees — whose day-to-day jobs were building cloud software — began planting seedlings in garden beds, experimenting with different vegetation, and quite literally growing a new headquarters from the ground up. The farm is becoming more functional each day, but it notably is not a commercial farm. Rather, it’s a place that employees can use to learn about agriculture, bond with their coworkers, and connect more deeply with the verdant Texas land.
Zoho’s Operations Manager, Tom Phillips, says the unforeseen path to the new “rural office” format is a greener pasture than their original alternative. “We had met with a couple of different architecture firms and design firms, and they showed us super fancy beautiful renderings,” Phillips notes in an interview. “It just didn’t really feel like us…Why pay an architecture firm a ton of money to build a campus when we can build it ourselves?”
As for office space, the company has refurbished existing structures on the land and repurposed them into conventional corporate space while avoiding the environmental disruption of teardowns and rebuilds.
The farmland has become a hit within the Zoho company and their relatives: when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, bringing friends and family to plant vegetables and embrace agricultural education was quickly encouraged. As of May 2021, their previous lease for a rental office in Austin proper expired, and all operations were moved to the farm indefinitely.
Zoho has hired two full-time agricultural operations specialists who are helping move the ball forward on productivity growth. This spring, the tech company was harvesting 40 pounds of produce per week. The land has been expanded to include five fully functioning agricultural plots as well as an orchard.
One of the full-time farm staff, Brandon Connor, says the technology employees are getting their heads out of the cloud software and taking the opportunity to learn about farming to heart. “This is the right company to do [this],” he said. “Working with the people that have been around the farm has been incredible. Everybody just kind of pulled their community into it, and it’s just been a labor of love.”