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Are you one of the New Nomads?

May 02, 2008 Business Daily, Technology

“…research shows that in America (knowledge workers) spend less than a third of their working time in traditional corporate offices, about a third in their home offices and the remaining third working from “third places” such as cafes, public libraries or parks. And it is not just the young and digitally savvy.”

The Economist (April 12th 2008)

The Economist recently ran a survey of mobile communications that should be read by anyone who wants to see the shape of the world of work to come. It shows how wireless communication is introducing profound changes to the way people work and live.

Anyone living in a modern western metropolis can confirm this fact. You will find well-clad professionals, young and old, sitting in coffee shops, park benches, open spaces – but they’re working. They are usually talking or typing away on a mobile device of some sort – and that device has led to immense changes in the way they work.

Two devices are enabling this change. The first is the laptop computer, which has finally become genuinely portable and extremely powerful – and can connect wirelessly to the internet and the office network. The second is the smartphone – particularly the BlackBerry and Apple iPhone – which have become portable offices through which the user can call, e-mail, read, edit and send documents, or hold virtual conferences.

This technology is dramatically affecting the world of work – and not just in the first world. I, too, am a pure knowledge professional: I live entirely off what I know, and sell that knowledge in different packages: articles, books, consulting advice and executive programmes. And I find that those ratios mentioned in the excerpt apply to me as well. I spend only a third of my working week in my office, which is itself an outsourced facility. I spend the second third in clients’ offices, conference facilities and public places. The final third is spent in my home office. This variety of workspace is liberating and relaxing – and boosts productivity.

Some hotels and restaurants in Kenya have been quick to recognise this trend and profit from it. The Java House chain, a homegrown success story, was one of the first to offer free wireless internet access in its coffee shops. Others are lagging behind. One hotel I was attending a seminar in recently wanted to charge 600 bob for an hour’s internet access! Connectivity is not a premium product anymore – it is a pure commodity. It should be offered for free, and act as a way of bringing traffic into your premises so that genuine high-margin products can be sold.

Helped by technology, there is a new generation of ‘nomads’ emerging. And it can go to extremes. The survey tells of Pip Coburn, who quit his position in an investment bank to start his own consultancy with some colleagues. The first thing to do was to buy smartphones for everyone. Having done that, Coburn and his fellow team starting working from anywhere – client offices, home, public spaces. They prospered, and were now ready to move into an office. But they felt no need to, and remain a ‘virtual firm’!

Watch this (virtual) space. If you aren’t already, you may become a nomad too.

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