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Obsolete offices find a saviour

A new lease of life for obsolete 1960s office blocks could be provided by cordless information technology, according to a leading design consultancy.

Morgan Lovell, which calls itself a "workplace specialist", believes a new generation of wireless computer and telephone networks could transform working environments and save many buildings written off as unusable thanks to today's computing demands.

According to the company, one of the ironies of computers is that, despite being sold as a great liberating force, they have tended to have the reverse effect within the physical office environment. Desks and other office furniture are literally bound in place by a rats nest of underfloor cables. Changing the layout of an open plan office floor has become expensive and time-consuming.

A London-based accountancy firm with 900 staff in its head office says it moves a third of its workers every year at a cost of about pounds 1,000 a head. Far from allowing greater efficiently, IT has strapped businesses into an expensive straitjacket, Morgan claims.

The demand for underfloor wiring and overhead air conditioning has rendered vast swathes of office space obsolete. Many 1960s blocks are unusable in today's working environment because the gap between their floors and ceilings is too small.

The solution, according to Morgan, lies in equipment that already exists but whose potential has only just started to be tapped: cordless office telephones and cordless local area computer networks.

Products currently in production by companies such as Philips and Ericsson allow 1,000 people to have cordless phone extensions in one building. IBM, Motorola, Olivetti and AT&T, among others, now offer cordless computer networks. The two working together mean the average white collar worker can operate anywhere within an office building, abandoning their desk forever.

Morgan estimates the average office is not occupied for 30 per cent of the working day, making it an extremely wasteful overhead for most companies. Many workers spend little of their time at a desk, but most expect they will have somewhere to call their own.

The company believes the biggest challenge lies not in changing technology but in changing workers' expectations of their working environment.