Except for a computer monitor sitting on a desktop, the modest-size cubicle is bare. There's no keyboard, no Rolodex, no files. Not even a phone. The office of some cash-strapped company on the verge of bankruptcy? Hardly. It's the future work space of no less a corporate stayer than AT&T. Such spartan facilities, occupied ad hoc by whoever needs a desk that day, will likely mark a trend for businesses large and small.

AT&T has been shrinking floor space by arming its sales force with notebook computers, in a pilot program tabbed "the sales-force-automation platform" by its deviser, vice-president of sales and business-communications services David Grimes. The program allows the sales force to spend far more time in the field and requires about half its previously allotted office space.

Though it's significant, saving on office expenses is only a by-product, Grimes insists. AT&T's professed intent is to improve customers' satisfaction by increasing the amount of time salespeople spend with them. Every AT&T salesperson in a 10-state region around Dallas was given his or her own laptop, modem, and portable printer. Only occasionally does the employee sit down at a desk.

"It has improved the quality of employee life," Grimes reports. "The old way, a rep would call on a customer, the customer would ask an involved question, the rep would take it back to the office to research an answer, then schedule another appointment. It ate up the rep's time twice, the customer's time twice, the travel time twice."

Not only that; salespeople who used to devote weekends to office work away from home now spend the time in family settings. The program is proving so effective that already employees have been asking to operate out of their homes, forsaking four-walled offices altogether. -- Robert A. Mamis