processing equipment and communications links are found. There are numerous economic and social benefits to be gained by enhancing and extending distributed work practices. These include increased locational independence for employees, greater flexibility in convening project teams for employers, and better use of transportation resources for society. There are also some potential disadvantages, such as loss of contact and identification with an organization, as well as a possible increase in demands on employees' time and energy. Although many individuals already engage in distributed work, current technologies have several important limitations, especially for groups whose members are geographically dispersed and for individuals who need to work while truly mobile. However, technology itself is only an enabler of or constraint on change rather than a direct motivator of change. Thus, along with better technologies, distributed work practices will also be enhanced by a better understanding of the human factors and sociology of the changing workplace and labor force.
Recent improvements in the capabilities and availability of communications and computing tools have meant that distributed work, including telecommuting, can be done more easily now than in the past. Likewise, future improvements in these interrelated fields will benefit those engaged in distributed work. However, to optimize the opportunities for and effectiveness of distributed work, the study committee recommends that research also be conducted with distributed work as a specific focus.
Computing power, in terms of processing speed and mass storage capacity, and communication capabilities, in terms of available bandwidth and quality of services, can be viewed as a spectrum of varying capacities. Currently, with respect to distributed work, the "high end" of the spectrum may be thought of as being represented by a fully configured desktop workstation attached to a high-bandwidth network. The "low end" of the spectrum may be considered to be characterized by a small hand-held device such as a personal digital assistant with only low-bandwidth wireless communications capabilities.
Through the middle part of the capability spectrum, the nation's computing and communications infrastructure is reasonably well established and utilized. High-speed modems and communications services are decreasing in price and becoming more widely used. Both individuals and organizations have abundant computing power