Decades from now, historians reflecting on the onset of the Technology Age may argue about its most significant result -- the speed of communication, the introduction of e-commerce or maybe the Internet's free flow of information.
But there is one thing they will agree on. As the 20th century came to a close, American workers lost their art for excuse.
There is nowhere on the face of the Earth where you can't be found, where you can't receive a message, where you can't work on a report, send it halfway around the world, have it edited by a supervisor and back on your terminal in the blink of an eye.
The office is no longer a place, a static space surrounded by cubicle walls under the glare of fluorescent lighting. Every employee can be an office. Even in the nuts and bolts, shocks and spark plugs world of the Automobile Association of America, the office is becoming more virtual.
"We are actually placing computers in the tow trucks," says Michael Zbiegien, managing director of district offices for the AAA.
With the completion of the district office headquarters three years ago, AAA successfully blended the traditional office model with that of an emerging e-economy. Adopting new technology has provided the organization with new opportunities.
"Coming into this building has enabled us to expand on our technology communicationwise, putting in a network system, to connect all of our offices through the Internet and through e-mail," Zbiegien says. "We now have the capabilities of doing trip-tiks through automation, where they're keyed into the system, produced on a copy machine, bound together and then they're just marked with construction. It eliminates a lot of pulling of the trip-tiks."
It may not seem like a big deal, but every painstaking moment an employee took to pull each leg of a patron's journey was time away from more profitable work. That, ultimately, is one of the beauties of technology. It's the hidden way it makes workers lives easier that are key. While the flash of e-commerce garners the headlines, it's the workplace efficiencies, the tasks that can be handled automatically that will ultimately build the bottom line.
"We have all of our offices hooked up so that they can key in their future orders that people have called ahead for," he says. "We do them here and then send them out to the offices, which saves us a lot of time."
AAA has an advantage over many offices. With 17 district offices, the organization was able experiment with new floor plans, furniture configurations and equipment.
"We've been in an evolution process since 1987, and very aggressively since 1990, as far as remodeling all of our district offices," Zbiegien says. "We've been able to improve on each one and see what works well, and what doesn't work as well and improve on that. And a lot of these concepts we were able to incorporate into this office."
At one point, the company utilized in-desk computer terminals. But times change.
"We have had to go back now to having them on top of the desks," Zbiegien says. "That's something that we're changing, although we were still able to use those undercounter units in some other areas."
Zbiegien credits a close working relationship with the project's architect and furniture provider. Using adjustable height walls that hide wires gives employees the flexibility they need without filling the space with lots of intimidating wires. It also gives the company the ability to accommodate new technologies still being developed.
"We tried to make the building as user-friendly as possible, because we have so many different business functions throughout the building," he says. How to reach: AAA Ohio Motorists Association, (216) 606-610
Daniel G. Jacobs (email@example.com) is senior editor of SBN.