Making ourselves at home at work

The nature of work keeps changing, we're told. True enough. Technology has made work more portable and given rise to fast, flexible teams - including "virtual" ones, linked only by wireless.

But even those who happily toil in bathrobes from home-office alcoves know the two most basic components of office-based work remain the people and the place.

There are a limited number of ways that those constants can be configured. Still, there's a big push to be more creative. Chalk it up to shifts in US demographics.

Baby-boomer bosses have spent about a decade applying the "question authority" credo to the firms they run, says Thomas Petzinger Jr. in his book "The New Pioneers." A generation of managers has concluded that worker fulfillment has a positive impact on a firm's bottom line.

"What a concept!" Mr. Petzinger writes. It's a concept that's been greedily bought into by the Gen-X workers right on their heels. Not that it's hard to sell hammocks, hoops courts, and onsite day-care facilities as guilt-free places to be found during a workday.

For today's lead story, Neal Learner and photographer Andy Nelson hit three workplaces near their Washington base - a New Economy company, an old-line firm, and a federal government building - and found similarities in the ways each organization has moved to get workers out of "silos" of isolation and into more fluid, conversational workspaces.

At many places of business, it's time now to confront new issues, ranging from the loss of privacy to the limitations of ergonomically correct furnishings that suit the setting - but not the pack-rat habits of many workers.

Stand by for further memos.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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