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Telecommuting Centers Provide an Alternative to the Corporate Office

September 1, 1994
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Related Topics: Ergonomics and Facilities, Telecommuting, Featured Article
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In today's highly mobile environment, many companies are discovering that conventional corporate offices no longer fit the bill. They're expensive to maintain, and they're inconvenient for telecommuters and road warriors, who find themselves spending hours driving to and from a far-flung location. As a result, many firms now are turning to smaller telecommuting centers—places that offer a full-fledged office in a convenient location. At these sites, an employee can receive secretarial aid, make photocopies and pick up mail one or two days a week. Quite simply, they can step into a corporate environment that's equipped for their specific needs.

It may be the next great wave in alternative work environments. Already, a growing number of companies—including Pacific Bell and Panasonic—are creating their own satellite offices, and independent firms now are beginning to create shared telecommuting centers to cater to the growing demand. In Valencia, California, located approximately 35 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the Newhall Land and Farming Company has created a prototype for corporate America. The 30,000-square-foot facility—a converted warehouse—is equipped with state-of-the-art offices, conference rooms, free parking and convenient freeway access. Companies—including CareAmerica, Cigna and Great Western Savings—have already leased space.

"The center provides a place for telecommuters and others to work in their own community," says Jim Backer, director of marketing for commercial and industrial real estate at Newhall Land and Farming. "People find they no longer have to spend hours on the freeway getting to and from the office. It has improved their productivity and the quality of their lives."

Newhall Land and Farming has gone to great lengths to satisfy companies seeking space. All office suites are separate and secure. Furnished and unfurnished offices are available. And the overall environment has been designed and laid out by consultants who specialize in alternative worksites and technology issues. To be sure, nothing is left to chance.

So far, the center has proven an overwhelming success. Not even a year after it opened the facility, Newhall Land and Farming is leasing at 100% occupancy. And some of the firms—such as Chatsworth, California-based CareAmerica Health Plan Inc.—have discovered an array of supplemental benefits. During last January's earthquake, for example, the HMO provider used the site for recovery and emergency operations. Using computers, phones, modems and faxes, personnel were able to keep the company online during trying times. Afterwards, commuters, who were cut off from their usual worksites by impassable roads and freeways, were able to set up shop and continue with minimal disruption.

Consultants such as Santa Monica, California-based Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum's Loree Goffigon, believe that independent telecommuting centers soon may appear at airports and a variety of other locations. "The problem with a lot of business centers is that they're ugly and low-tech," says Goffigon. "By fashioning the concept for the '90s and providing cutting-edge capabilities, non-traditional workers have far more options available. Ultimately, that benefits them and the company."

Personnel Journal, September 1994, Vol.73, No. 9, p. 68.

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