Road warriors make deals at the wheel

March 20, 1995|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

William Washecka is a high-tech road warrior. His weapons: a frumpy black shoulder case, an overstuffed briefcase and his Lincoln Town Car.

Mr. Washecka of Ernst & Young accountants is among a growing number of business people who conduct a large slice of their work from behind the steering wheels of their cars.

This new breed of mobile worker zips from home to appointments to lunch meetings packing virtual offices -- laptop computers, cellular phones and facsimile machines -- with hardly a pit stop at their home offices. Cyberspace mavens call them road warriors.

Traveling salespeople have known this peripatetic life for years. But today there's no limit to the professions hitting the highways, portending what some predict will be a radical change in the nTC not-too-distant future for offices as many have known them.

It's a trend driven by high-technology: ever smaller, more efficient and cheaper mobile telecommunications devices. And it's a work life that poses its own particular challenges, from maintaining relationships with colleagues to being road-wise.

"The main strategy to survive is know the traffic patterns," says Mr. Washecka, director of Ernst & Young's life sciences and high-technology division in Washington. "You don't want to be on the wrong side of the bridge at rush hour."

As many as 4 million U.S. workers -- out of the nation's total work force of 123 million -- already qualify as road warriors by operating almost exclusively out of their vehicles, says Edward Kirk of Hunt Valley, co-founder of the National Telecommuting & Telework Association.

Road warriors interact with their co-workers via portable phones or the modems of their laptop computers, the heart of their virtual offices.

In addition, some pack portable facsimile machines, CD-ROM devices and even scanners to file documents in their computers.

The increased reliability, affordability and availability of these gadgets mean the need for actual offices is fast fading, says Edward Robertson, a consultant whose Bethesda company, NeuroSystems Inc., helps equip clients to become road warriors.

"Today, you can work from virtually anywhere you happen to be in the world. Even poolside if that's where you want to be," says Mr. Robertson, himself a sometime road warrior.

Pamela Tucker, president of Telecommuting Inc., a Hunt Valley consulting firm, adds: "The office in a briefcase is how we are evolving."

For an increasing number of workers, the result in just another decade may be a radical shift in where and how they work.

Of necessity, some workplaces -- such as doctors' offices, restaurants and manufacturing operations -- will not change. But Ms. Tucker and others predict that by early in the next century, half of all U.S. workers will work outside offices as telecommuters, and many of them could end up as road warriors rather than working from their homes.

As a result, it's likely that many offices will embrace "hoteling," Ms. Tucker and Mr. Robertson predict, replacing individual desks with shared workstations and lockers for storing personal items.

Some of Ernst & Young's offices already offer hoteling. "You can call ahead and make a reservation for a desk," Mr. Washecka says. "Someone will set your desk up with your family photos and your coffee mug."

Mr. Washecka's office essentially is his Town Car, purchased for its spacious interior. In the past year, he's put 30,000 miles on the car in work-related travels through the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

When he needs to meet with his Ernst & Young colleagues, he sets up a breakfast meeting at a restaurant between his home and his first appointment. His secretary sends him important papers by a facsimile machine he hooks to his laptop computer. Downtime in traffic jams is spent on his car phone. His monthly car phone bill: $300 to $400.

There are drawbacks to life as a road warrior: Mr. Washecka often comes home sore from sitting in his car all day. "But the advantage of working this way is I can spend more time meeting face-to-face with clients," he says. "I save an hour or two each day trying to get to the office."

Road warriors often are seen more by clients than by their co-workers and managers, says Ms. Tucker, and managers increasingly view that as a benefit.

As one manager of road warriors, Brad Westfahl, technology marketing manager for IBM's government systems division, puts it: "I would much rather see my employees out in the field with clients than burning up time in an office.

"There is enormous freedom in being part of a mobile work force. I love it," says Mr. Westfahl of Bethesda. "I spend more time with my kids, and I have flexibility in how I manage my work. If I have a brainstorm on a Saturday afternoon, I can sit down with the laptop and get cracking. If you had to drive into an office, you might put it off."

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