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More firms embrace "virtual office"

Partly thanks to the telecommuting boom, some of Norwest's functions will remain in Minneapolis after the bank's merger with the Bay Area's Wells Fargo.

The "virtual office" is continuing to reshape the way businesses are operated--among high-tech companies and corporate giants alike.

In the latest case, the newly combined Wells Fargo and Norwest will be headquartered in San Francisco, Wells' hometown. But "because technology today creates the advantage of 'virtual offices,' some corporate functions could remain in Minneapolis," said Wells chief executive Paul Hazen, who will become chairman of the combined companies.

This could help cushion the blow to Minneapolis, which has lost its share of big company headquarters because of mergers in recent years.

This is just one example.

When Craig Barrett was promoted to chief executive of Intel last month, succeeding Andy Grove, Barrett maintained the office he kept in Chandler, Arizona, instead of moving to Intel's home in Silicon Valley. Barrett will still visit Intel's main offices, but will not work there full time.

Phones, high-speed Net access, and fax lines are leading to the boom in telecommuting. U.S. telecommuters numbered an estimated 11 million last year, almost triple the 4 million in 1990, according to a survey by FIND/SVP, a market research firm. It predicts that telecommuters will total 14 million by 2000.

The new head of Wells Fargo-Norwest, to be called Wells Fargo, won't be a telecommuting chief executive like Intel's Barrett, however. He's Richard Kovacevich, now chief executive of Norwest, and he will relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area, where housing prices are much higher than those in Minneapolis.