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Rebooting the Workforce

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After nearly two decades of working in an office, I recently decided to strike out on my own. You might have read about it. And almost overnight, the proverbial cubicle walls vanished, and I became part of a growing number of folks who work from cafés, home offices, or just about anywhere.

Broadband, as I have written in the past, is freeing us from the geographic restrictions. Will this trend continue to gain momentum? Hard to say, but early indicators show that office is where the laptop is.

The new virtual worker – equipped with a laptop, a broadband connection, a mobile phone and a desire to live a sockless lifestyle. Brent Simmons and Nick Bradbury know what I am talking about. Whether it is chasing your own dream, or part of the distributed team, the meaning of work is changing. It is for many of us who might work for say Yahoo or a Google, and use EVDO cards to stay connected, working as we ride the Caltrain.

With this change, come other realities. On a more personal level, deciding when to switch between personal and work time has been a challenge. Being productive when the easy chair beckons can prove to be a devil’s choice. Interaction, or the lack there of, with others is a constant challenge. How do you fight off the cabin fever?

What are the best tools and what is the right gear to stay in touch with your team? How do you motivate your distributed teams when you are all dispersed all over the planet? The answers for these questions are hard to come by, and it was precisely for these reasons, we are introducing a new group weblog/community, Web Worker Daily.

The idea for this community stemmed from reading posts by Greg Olsen, and talking to Niall Kennedy, who is the latest to Go Bedouin. Helping curate and manage this community of virtual workers is Jackson West, who is the lead writer for Web Worker Daily. (His thoughts are here.)

Joining in the effort is the entire GigaOM team, and lots of special friends. I would like to thank 1Lotus for coming up with a beautiful design on such short notice; and WordPress team for making sure we were ready for launch on Labor Day.

While we will write about tools you can use, what we really want is your stories. How you work? Your personal tool kits, your workspace, and just simply your story – anything that would help us web workers be more productive, happier and of course, the collective that is rebooting the workforce.

84 Responses to “Rebooting the Workforce”

  1. This is really a nice way to find neat blogs on the internet.I was searching for a particular query when your blog popped up in the search engines.I guess you just have to put together a organized web site.

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  2. Om,

    Congrats on bringing this out. I was my employer’s first telecommuting experiment, and there are a lot of ups and downs to it – I’m still psyched to be doing it, though. Looking forward to what I’ll read here, especially with regard to home office organization and the technology that supports mobile workers.

  3. Web Surfer

    I love reading articles like this! I work for the newly formed AT&T post the lastest SBC Communications merger that swollowed up another competitor. We are currently looking at how to handle telecommuting given “legacy” AT&T employees largely telecommute full time and “legacy” SBC employees have to beg for approval.

    Pretty hysterical — a communications and technology company who does not TRUST their employees to leverage their products in the way they market them.

  4. Great site. This is how work life was supposed to be. I had envisioned the nomadic home worker. One day at Panera, another at Starbucks, all the while working on some big project for some important client. I thought with free WiFi, instant access to caffeine and high carb foods, and alternative rock music that I would be the ultimate productive worker. My breaks would involve a walk around the neighbourhood or a trip to Best Buy. That life did not materialise (even when I was a consultant in the 90’s) but work from home initiatives are soon to be deployed at my current employer and I relish the opportunity. I will be visiting this site very often.

  5. Om,

    Great chatting with you and Niall this afternoon. A few follow up thoughts.

    As a mobile worker my needs are: connectivity, power, caffiene, in about that order, ideally in a space that is neither too quiet nor too loud (so quiet I can hear a pin drop reminds me in a bad way of bad libraries, too loud makes any skype calls or phone calls useless not to mention making it near impossible to listen to any podcasts or even just hold a regular conversation)

    But beyond the basics a few additional observations I’ve found after a few years of being a digital beduin.

    Printing can be an issue for the mobile worker. In my office, or even at my home, I think nothing of printing out a long document for later reading/anotating (generally I print two pages per page and duplex to save paper and weight). More importantly when I make a transaction online I always print out the reciept and confirmations.

    So when I have to do a transaction outside of the office one trick I’ve found that is very useful is to have a “print to PDF” tool installed on my laptop – that allows me to “print” the reciept/confirmation for future reference.

    Another issue I have found between working at my office (when I had one) or my home office and working entirely mobile from wifi hotspots is that while I can freely download (or upload) large files or sets of files from my own networks, this is much harder from the typical wifi hotspot. I typically download about 300mb of podcasts each day, along with about 10mbs of emails. From my home, extremely fast DSL, this takes me just minutes in the morning and I am usually done even before finishing catching up with the emails that came in overnight. But from a random wifi hotspot this could take an hour (or more). So I find myself not running my podcatcher from wifi hotspots (or these days pulling my mail down to Outlook) while I’m on the road. I may occasionally synch a specific podcast feed but I avoid synching everything.

    And finally a separate negative aspect of being mobile, one I need to find a good solution for, being mobile makes it that much harder to practice good backup policies – i.e. with a home or office network I should (but haven’t yet) set up an automated backup system to always backup my laptop on a regular basis – but when I’m on the road, and especially when I’ve been on the road for a long time, I have few if any options for backing up my systems (solving the poor download/upload speeds for most wifi hotspots might also solve this problem combined with a “backup in the cloud” type of service.

    Anyway, great site and I look forward to reading it on a regular basis (and I look forward to rolling out their advanced services to everyone…)


  6. Finally a place I can call hOMe…forgive the pun :-)

    Great site, the nomads are being looked after. Om a list of tools/apps people use to make life easier would be great, I have managed to get myself PC free also, by moving all email online, no more outlook (not that I used it) for me. Now I just need to move all my files online, and have them searchable.

    and a quick hi to all the other “non-cubicle” peeps

  7. Finally a place I can call hOMe…sorry for the pun, just couldn’t resist.
    Its nice to see the nomads are being cared about. I’ve recently dumped my office, and got mobile, and its great.

    It would be great if we could have a list of tools/apps people use to make it easy. I have moved all my email online, so can access it from any PC, I never liked being tied down to one computer. Now all I need is a file storage place, from where I can pull all my files….oh and of course more wifi…UK is still far behind the US here, and India…hasn’t even started.

  8. Finally a place I can call hOMe…sorry for the pun, just couldn’t resist.
    Its nice to see the nomads are being cared about. I’ve recently dumped my office, and got mobile, and its great.

    It would be great if we could have a list of tools/apps people use to make it easy. I have moved all my email online, so can access it from any PC, I never liked being tied down to one computer. Now all I need is a file storage place, from where I can pull all my files….oh and of course more wifi…UK is still far behind the US here, and India…hasn’t even started.

  9. We’ve taken this one step forward and distribute ourselves all over the world. It’s basically the same gig, you just need a little setup time to track down your high speed broadband and prepaid mobile services to keep mobility and productivity. Added bonus is massive cultural immersion. Great approach and look forward to watching this grow!

  10. A fantastically useful site, thanks!

    A question, though: is the grey-text-on-charcoal background deliberate? I sure hope it’s a glitch. (I’m using Netscape 7.1, if that makes any difference)

  11. I’m very interested by the content of your blog, but the appearance is almost unreadable. I had to copy and paste into Notepad since the light grey on dark grey is too hard to read in place. Please consider changing this to something more readable.

  12. Hey Om,

    Cool site and a great idea. You might be interested to check out the work of the Lern people who wrote Nine Shift and have ideas about this kind of thing. Their book was an amazing read for me and really opened my mind tot he kind of potential changes we face. Their blog is here:

    I’M IN:
    I suspect the reason is because we view Nazism as the epitome of evil; people who went out of their way to slaughter millions whereas we think of Soviets (rightly or wrongly) as being misguided especially in the early stages. The merits are debatable but I think that’s why. Also the left still has a certain naive attachment to Soviet era characters.

  13. I think you’ve found an audience, a need, and a great opportunity to fill it. Subscribed!

    BTW… can anyone here explain why our language is inverted. Why do people who work in an office say they work “out of” an office? How come people who work at home say they work “out of my home”?

    BTW… can anyone here explain why it’s cool to use Soviet and Bolshevik imagery in an ironic way, but not cool to use Nazi imagery?

  14. Fantastic site and premise Om! WWD hits very close to home for me although I suppose you could say I’m only semi-Bedouin ;^)

    I’m part of a very distributed team (from New Zealand to the UK to Chicago to Seattle to the Valley to my home in New Mexico to Southern California) and most of work is virtualized. Although I have set up a one-room office, I’ve experienced the fluidity of time and place and the all-too-easy temptation to blur the lines between work and personal time (usually toward the former at the expense of the latter) you describe.

    I have the freedom to work where I want, when I want and I’m not sure I could ever go back to the 8-6 world.

    WWD is now part of my must-read list. Thnaks for pulling this great resource together!

  15. congrats on an interesting idea – good luck – my earlier post was just a one line link to my web site, sorry; i was tired and emotional at the time of posting … wondering why the www world and my clients were so quiet – then realised it was labor day, d’oh.

    regards this idea – i like the fact that it is not prescribing (that’s my impression anyway, correct me if wrong) a strict definition of its objectives/purpose but rather is inviting a collaboration/learning and sharing exercise for all us ‘virtual warriors’ (‘to paraphrase that awful executive pseudo macho term, ‘road warriors’ from the heady 90s boom days – which are coming back in our industry? maybe?) … anyway, i’ve worked in a nomadic manner for many years now, even when i was ‘a suit’ in corporate land i never had an office desk let alone an office. airport lounges was more a home than even my family home. i’ve always worked better this way so the trend to this being more of a norm is something i welcome as i believe it empowers people more and makes them feel more entrepreneurial. not always, but often.

    nowadays i am engaged in independent consulting and in parallel working on some ideas related to delivering more effective business development BI for the ISV community by using the internet in a true real-time sense; if it all comes off, i hope you’ll all see some developments/news in the near future, when funding is finalised, etc, etc, etc – you know the script …

    currently, as you may see from my own humble RSS/blog, i am preoccupied with the cultural shift reflected in myspace, youtube, et al and also growing increasingly tired with email as a primary communication tool for international business/consulting … RSS promises a great deal of potential to be different and really use the internet and ubiquitous high-speed global connectivity.

    so, i look forward to reading the thoughts here from people more learned than myself!



  16. Best of luck Om. It is indeed a brilliant idea to have a blog dedicated towards the Web worker. It would be very interesting to read the content here. Also looking forward to some great tips and tricks for the WW here.

  17. Nice site, nice theming and a great topic. I’ll be glad to catch up on the latest news from the perspective of one who works about 10% out of the office, looking to increase that to about 40% over the next year or so.

    Laptop, mobile phone, space pen, hipster PDA = ready to go anywhere.


  18. Great news ! I wish you all the best. I might not be able to work from cafe’s yet, becoming an independant consultant was my step to freedom. And in the summertime, which is rare in this little country, people spot me wearing no socks…..

  19. Hey Om, very excited to see you tackle this subject, and that you’ve got the same caliber of crew writing content. Can’t wait to see how the site matures, but it’s already making me miss my days as a laptop nomad.

    My one tip to offer when working out of cafes, if you want to save money, get a Tmobile account at Startbucks (or better, just get EVDO). The 55 cent refills beats having to pay full price on refills as well as tips for the staff at some independent coffee houses. As much as I loved the non-chain shops, I was spending way too much money trying to justify my prolonged stay at those establishments. There’s no guilt in taking advantage of a Starbucks.