Bedouins Are Everywhere

By Greg Olsen, Coghead Software

Little did I know how truly pervasive Bedouinism was when I wrote Going Bedouin. The number of emails, comments, and related posts I’ve since come across on the subject has been astounding (at least to a blogging newbie like me). I feel like I unknowingly stepped into some sort of quasi-religious mass movement. There is clearly passion around the central ideology of infrastructure minimalism. What’s also interesting are the different facets of this movement that draw peoples attention and the different perspectives that are being voiced.

Three key areas of discussion focus seem to have arisen:

  • Technology: Saddlebag contents? What specific tools are available to Bedouins?
  • Location: Tent or no tent? Physical vs. virtual office?
  • Social needs: Are Bedouins lonely? Can alternative workplace concepts meet the social needs of workers?

Clearly for some, the focus is on the enabling technologies of neo-Bedouinism (I’d put myself in this camp). I received several inquiries regarding lists of specific Internet service vendors and other options. I came across the blog of an old acquaintance, Ismael Ghalimi, whose IT|Redux blog discusses Office 2.0 and provides an excellent technical ‘how-to’ resource for neo-Bedouins. Ismael even provides the contents of his saddlebag. I am also starting to put together my own Bedouin Resource Guide to augment what Ismael has done. If anyone has any good resource links, please forward them.

For many other people, the subject of physical work location is the primary interest. Clearly, there is a large subgroup of ‘tent-less’ Bedouins who are committed to a purely virtual office. After posts like Jackson’s post , I’m certain there are coffee shop owners that are scrambling to create “Welcome Bedouins” signs and to figure out how to better extract revenue from the Bedouin crowd. Surely some business model will emerge where oasis operators and Bedouins can mutually benefit from a loitering location flush with AC, bandwidth, and table space. Stowe ‘Kwai-Chang’ Boyd takes the tent-less approach furthest in Degrees of Freedom and appears to have “Gone Vagabond.” The disposable underwear strategy qualifies as uber-minimalism.

Many companies that go Bedouin, however, will choose to use office space. Our company leases an office where most of us are co-located on most days. The situation is low-cost and flexible, albeit Spartan. We also use coffee shops and some team members work remotely most of the time. For our particular business, the central office plays an important role in team building, team coordination, and individual productivity. Given our team size and the product we are building, many things are just easier with full face-to-face bandwidth and predictable access to conference rooms and quiet office space.

One of the chief concerns that many people seem to have is in how a Bedouin approach may adversely impact the “social needs” of workers. For many people, their work environment is a primary vehicle for social fulfillment, and for most of us it at least ranks as important. Remote means of social interaction (e.g. email, IM, phone, MySpace, Skype) are plentiful, but clearly (and thankfully for the sake of species survival) most people do need physical interaction with other people. Simple, spontaneous group activities like going to lunch are a very positive aspect of having a common workplace. The key question, however, is “to what degree do we need our social structures organized for us by our employers (or churches, schools, or other institutions)?” People today are much more capable of maintaining their own complex social networks that loosely interact with their work or whatever else they do. IMO, people who work in Bedouin organizations need not be any less socially fulfilled than those who work for multi-thousand person companies with recreation facilities, departmental leagues, and large staffs of HR folks planning social activities.

I look forward to reading many more posts on this subject. It’s clear that the appeal of neo-Bedouin approaches extends beyond technology companies (see David Collin’s comments regarding nonprofits). It will be interesting to see just how diverse and how large the organizations will be that put these types of practices into place.

Greg Olsen is the Chief Technology Officer of Coghead Software, a start-up based in Redwood City, Calif. Bedouins are everywhere was first published on March 8, 2006 on Coghead’s company blog. Reprinted with the permission of the author, Greg Olsen.