No more musical desks

As a full-time teleworker, Sue Mitchell was never more of a nomad than on the days she went to the corporate office.

          As a full-time teleworker, Sue Mitchell was never more of a nomad than on the days she went to the corporate office.

          To become permanently home-based, project manager Mitchell gave up her office at Cigna HealthCare of Arizona in Phoenix. But when she visited the office for a day-long meeting or presentation and needed to check messages or work on a project, she had to compete with other teleworkers for workspace.

          "I had to scramble to find a desk to work from, and carry my computer and belongings with me from meeting to meeting," Mitchell says.

          Is this any way to welcome teleworkers back into the corporate office? Many companies laud the real estate and productivity gains that come with sending employees home to work full time. But what about when they come back? Many are left to ferret out vacant cubes, all the while praying it's got a working phone and LAN connection. What's more, full-time off-site workers often lose touch with the social network. No on-site workspace, no camaraderie.

          Some innovate companies are creating hotels or permanent telework centers to serve their remote workers when they return. Not only do companies find teleworkers more productive, workers find they retain ties to the corporate office and colleagues - a bond which doesn't come if their only desk is at home.

          In May, Cigna debuted its Phoenix E*Work Touchdown Site, an office suite designed to serve a variety of needs for the office's 44 teleworkers. Now, when Mitchell knows she'll be on site, she logs on to the "Phxmesa" coded directory in the company's Outlook program to reserve a space. Usually, she just needs an individual workspace to plug in her laptop and make a few calls. There are collaborative and group areas, and a handful of desktop computers to work on if she leaves her laptop at home.

          The site is more than just a place to work. Mitchell's rarely alone at the site. Once she's stashed her sweater and purse in one of 36 lockers and has logged on to the company network, Mitchell can catch up with other teleworkers sharing the facility.

          Her twice weekly visits to the center have created a social network that serves as a great remedy for the isolation and occasional loneliness of the home office. "I thought it was going to have a bunch of cubes," she admits. "But it's so much more than that."

          The site even helps Mitchell's team and manager. Before the Touchdown Site, tracking down Mitchell was a happenstance affair, admits Susan Cordier, Mitchell's manager and director of provider services. Mitchell had shared a cube with a co-worker - splitting her week between the home office and corporate office. That meant Cordier had to know Mitchell's weekly schedule to track her down.

          "Now I know Sue will be accessible and productive because she has a space," Cordier says.

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