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Home-networking lab to study remote workers

Set to begin in May, the Internet Home Alliance's four-month research project is aimed at discerning the "ideal" physical work environment.

An industry group is moving forward with its plan to study remote workers, as its member companies gear up for a push into tech's next frontier: the home.

The Internet Home Alliance said Tuesday that it plans in May to begin its "Mobile Worker Pilot," a four-month research project that's meant to discern the "ideal" physical work environment for mobile workers--those who perform at least 15 percent of their job on a computer and are free to work from anywhere.

The test will be run out of a 2,400-square-foot facility in The Shops at Willow Bend, a mall in Plano, Texas. Findings will be available in the fall to alliance members and later in the year to the public, the group said.

Companies from a variety of sectors--kitchen appliance makers, software vendors and hardware companies--are among two dozen members of the group. Besides tech heavyweights like Microsoft, IBM, Motorola and Sun Microsystems, other members include telecommunications companies SBC Communications and Bell Canada, automation software maker SupportSoft, developers Arvida and Catellus Development, antenna maker Cushcraft, and online grocer Peapod.

The project is expected to yield information that could help those companies develop new products and services intended for wired homes and the people who live and work in them.

In addition to standard office gear like fax and copy machines, the "Connection Court" laboratory, which will be open to the public, will have broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity, access to business news on plasma screens, specially designed furniture and food services. Researchers will be looking for usage patterns, site behaviors, productivity levels, technology preferences and the impact of the space on companies in the region, the alliance said.

Last year, the alliance conducted a Web survey of 842 mobile and remote workers in three unidentified U.S. cities. Among the key findings: Workers' productivity rises with the degree of freedom they have to choose where they work; companies with fewer than 100 employees have the highest concentration of workers with "complete freedom" to choose where they work; 69 percent would like the freedom to choose where they work.

"Advances in technology and the continued growth of the networked economy are challenging the traditional concept of a centralized office," Tim Woods, vice president of ecosystems development at the Internet Home Alliance, said in a statement.

"Our research shows that there are more than 20 million mobile workers in the U.S. who could take advantage of this type of environment," Woods added. "Clearly, this reality represents an enormous business opportunity for companies with products and services that meet the needs of this growing market segment."