It may look like a branch office, but Pacific Bell insists that's not what its new Woodland Hills facility is at all.
It's a satellite work center for "telecommuting," the company says, and the goal is to save employees from having to drive all the way downtown when they're in or near the west San Fernando Valley.
The goal also is to get other companies to do the same thing, since that likely would mean more business for Pacific Bell.
Telecommuting normally involves working at home or at some location more convenient than the conventional workplace on a computer that is hooked up over telephone lines to a main office.
Pacific Bell has six people working full time at its new Woodland Hills facility, two more who spend part of their shift there and three others who drop in when it makes sense to.
The Woodland Hills office, which opened this spring, is the second such Pacific Bell center. The first began recently in San Francisco. Counting at-home workers, Pacific Bell says it has more than 90 managers telecommuting in California.
Pacific Bell claims that telecommuting saves time, money and energy, and improves productivity.
Rick Higgins, the company's telecommuting manager, said the Pacific Bell office in Woodland Hills consists of 12 cubicles of 100 to 125 square feet each. The cubicles are equipped with telephones and personal computers and share a conference room and a laser printer.
Higgins said each cubicle could be duplicated for about $2,500.
A Pacific Bell spokeswoman says working in a telecommuting station can be better than working with a computer at home because employees at home can feel isolated.
Home also offers the temptations of the refrigerator and interruptions from the children, besides sometimes being a bad place to meet with customers.
Figures were unavailable on how many Californians telecommute, but Thomas E. Miller, who studies telecommuting for the market research firm of Link Resources in New York, said his firm's surveys show that California has more telecommuters than any other state.
Overall, he said, 240,000 Americans--out of a work force of about 107 million--use a computer, modem and telephone for work at home, according to a Link survey conducted in January.
Miller said that number is expected to double this year but added that most of those telecommuters spend part of their time in their offices.
"Companies are not going to export their work forces to the home on a wholesale basis," he said. "But, given the interest in quality of life and the need for productivity, all of that contributes to acceptance of creative work-at-home functions."