Office 2020: predicting how and even if we'll use office space in the future.

Author:Sturgeon, Julie

The first question is whether we'll even need corporate spaces in the future. Consultants such as John Frank of Indianapolis, the manager responsible for reducing IBM's real estate holdings by 60 percent across the country, insist that the force of telecommuting is undeniable and spreading like wildfire. Frank sees the switch to telecommuting as inevitable as companies try to trim expenses, as IBM did. Frank, who served as operations manager for IBM, told company officials he didn't want to lay off any more workers but that he would help the company save money by getting rid of real estate holdings and establishing a telecommuting program.

While Frank sees telecommuting as a real plus - an advance that benefits companies as well the workers - others aren't so sure. Stephen R. Lee, a professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University and a founder of its Intelligent Workplace lab, says telecommuting has been a failure.

"For the knowledge generation there is nothing to replace face-to-face teamwork," Lee says. "Properly designed buildings have the potential to create economic value for organizations and always will."

Because of Lee's belief in the importance of a common work space, his lab is dedicated to creating a more efficient and pleasurable work environment. Lee says the lab was started because "of a desperate need to conduct research and development for the American construction industry. The industry accounts for $500 billion in capital expenditures, yet fractions of a percent are invested in research."

Lee says that his commitment to improved work spaces is a better use of research because the technology isn't there for a large scale conversion to telecommuting.

So if telecommuting is not a viable option for most of us, that leaves communications companies, furniture manufacturers and interior designers a bit on a limb when calculating the future. Fortunately, many of the advances these experts see peeking on the horizon could work equally as well from remote locations as the hallowed corporate halls that architects defend.

Take, for instance, voice-activated and voice-enabled equipment that will translate meetings, conversations, proposals, contracts, memos directly into a typed document on the computer screen, bypassing human fingers. Couple that with translation devices that allow you to speak into the computer and watch your words appear in Japanese, and the world is your oyster. According to Frank, who has since left IBM to...

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