The Office of Tomorrow

In an increasing number of companies, traditional office space is giving
way to community areas and empty chairs as employees work from home, from their
cars or from virtually anywhere. Advanced technologies and progressive HR
strategies make these alternative offices possible.
Imagine it\'s 2 o\'clock on a Wednesday afternoon. Inside the dining room
of many nationwide offices, Joe Smith, manager of HR, is downing a sandwich and
soda while wading through phone and E-mail messages. In front of him is a
computer—equipped with a fax-modem—is plugged into a special port on the dining
table. The contents of his briefcase are spread on the table. As he sifts
through a stack of paperwork and types responses into the computer, he
periodically picks up a cordless phone and places a call to a colleague or
associate. As he talks, he sometimes wanders across the room.
To be sure, this isn\'t your ordinary corporate environment. Smith
doesn\'t have a permanent desk or workspace, nor his own telephone. When he
enters the ad agency\'s building, he checks out a portable Macintosh computer and
a cordless phone and heads off to whatever nook or cranny he chooses. It might
be the company library, or a common area under a bright window. It could even be
the dining room or Student Union, which houses punching bags, televisions and a
pool table. Wherever he goes, a network forwards mail and phone pages to him and
a computer routes calls, faxes and E-mail messages to his assigned extension. He
simply logs onto the firm\'s computer system and accesses his security-protected
He is not tethered to a specific work area nor forced to function in any
predefined way. Joe Smith spends mornings, and even sometimes an entire day,
connected from home via sophisticated voicemail and E-mail systems, as well as a
pager. His work is process and task-oriented. As long as he gets everything done,
that\'s what counts. Ultimately, his productivity is greater and his job-
satisfaction level is higher. And for somebody trying to get in touch with him,
it\'s easy. Nobody can tell that Joe might be in his car or sitting at home
reading a stack of resumes in his pajamas. The call gets forwarded to him
wherever he\'s working.
You\'ve just entered the vast frontier of the virtual office—a universe
in which leading-edge technology and new concepts redefine work and job
functions by enabling employees to work from virtually anywhere. The concept
allows a growing number of companies to change their workplaces in ways never
considered just a few years ago. They\'re scrapping assigned desks and
conventional office space to create a bold new world where employees telecommute,
function on a mobile basis or use satellite offices or communal work areas that
are free of assigned spaces with personal nick nacks.
IBM, AT&T, Travelers Corporation, Pacific Bell, Panasonic, Apple
Computer and J.C. Penney are among the firms recognizing the virtual-office
concept. But they\'re just a few. The percentage of U.S. companies that have
work-at-home programs alone has more than doubled in the past five years, from
7% in 1988 to 18% today. In fact, New York-based Link Resources, which tracks
telecommuting and virtual-office trends, has found that 7.6 million Americans
now telecommute—a figure that\'s expected to swell to 25 million by the year 2000.
And if you add mobile workers—those who use their cars, client offices, hotels
and satellite work areas to get the job done—there\'s an estimated 1 million more
virtual workers.
Both companies and employees are discovering the benefits of virtual
arrangements. Businesses that successfully incorporate them are able to slash
real-estate costs and adhere to stringent air-quality regulations by curtailing
traffic and commuters. They\'re also finding that by being flexible, they\'re more
responsive to customers, while retaining key personnel who otherwise might be
lost to a cross-country move or a newborn baby. And employees who successfully
embrace the concept are better able to manage their work and personal lives.
Left for the most part to work on their own terms, they\'re often happier, as
well as more creative and productive.
Of course, the basic idea of working away from the office is nothing new.
But today, high-speed notebook computers, lightning-fast data modems, telephone
lines that provide advanced data-transmission capabilities, portable printers
and wireless communication are starting a quiet revolution. As a society, we\'re
transforming the way we work and what\'s possible. It\'s creating tremendous
opportunities, but it also is generating a great deal of stress and difficulty.
There are tremendous organizational changes required to make it work. As
markets have changed—as companies have downsized, streamlined and restructured—
many have been forced to explore new ways to