Creating Futuristic Offices

January 12, 1992

Rather than slowing down after many remarkable innovations, the head-spinning communications revolution of the past few decades is accelerating. A number of different systems of pocket telephones are being tested. Fax machines are likely to become as essential to households as toasters. And while computerization of homes has not occurred as rapidly as first predicted, it is continuing and changing many Marylanders' lifestyles.

All these innovations have spawned a dramatic change in commuting patterns. Flex-time has become an attractive alternative to many federal workers, in particular, resulting in freedom and free time but also longer and longer commutes.

And while most white-collar employees still work regular hours in central offices, more and more of that work really is not tied to any given site or time frame. Because of data banks and electronic links, employees with computer terminals can perform that work almost anywhere.

Officials are now proposing to establish the nation's first Federal Alternative Worksite Center in Hagerstown. Instead of driving 75 miles to the federal office complexes in the District of Columbia vTC or in its suburbs, government employees in the Hagerstown area could work minutes from home in a warren of offices linked to federal agencies with computers. "Imagine an umbrella, a network of work sites around the beltway to stem the inflow of traffic," says Wendell Joice, who is behind the idea.

Federal employees have been able to make arrangements to work at home since January 1990, when the President's Council on Management Improvement issued guidelines on a flexible workplace pilot project. Hawaii and Washington state already are experimenting with telework centers for state and private employees.

Flexible workplaces are not suitable for everyone or every job. But they are coming. And American life styles will change further, impacting everything from eating patterns to home life and recreation. The revolution is just starting.

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