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The Mobile Workplace

August 24, 2011

By: Evona Niewiadomska, Binghamton

As the internet powers the majority of communication and discovery in our everyday lives, both personally and professionally, the majority of business processes have shifted online.  We are able to operate in a wireless ecosystem with very few physical and spatial constraints, and require very little to actually get our work done (i.e. laptop and cell phone).  A wireless network enables us to disconnect from the traditional brick and beam, cubicle filled office buildings and work remotely by “connecting” from almost anywhere in the world.  Mobility has not only changed the way we work, it’s also created new opportunities and challenges for the modern workforce.

For large companies, workplace flexibility is an opportunity to cut real estate costs by implementing a telecommuting policy for its employees, which has become especially important in the recent recession-stricken economy.  Not bound by location, companies also have the opportunity to hire and retain top talent from outside of their zip code – using programs like Skype to communicate virtually.

One movement inspired by this trend is ROWE, or “Results Only Work Environment,” where people are paid for productivity, not time spent “at work.” In January 2009, Jeff Gunther, CEO of Meddius, launched a 90 day ROWE experiment where he found that “after a few weeks, most people found their groove. Productivity rose. Stress declined. And although two employees struggled with the freedom and left, by the end of the test period Gunther decided to go with ROWE permanently” (Experiments in workplace autonomy).

Mobility also empowers entrepreneurs, freelancers, consultants, etc..  Using platforms such as WordPress and social media tools like Facebook and Twitter for content creation and distribution, anyone, anywhere around the world can launch a business—operating alone or virtually with a team.

In March 2011, The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity reported, “During the Great Recession, more Americans have become entrepreneurs than at any time in the past 15 years. However, while the economy and its high unemployment rates may have pressed more individuals into business ownership, most of them are going it alone, rather than starting companies that employ others.” 

Corporate employees are telecommuting and startup businesses are foregoing the traditional and expensive multi-year office space lease, which exceeds their needs.  As a result, the work-from-home population, comprised largely by the “contingent workforce, a provisional group of workers who work for an organization on a non-permanent basis, also known as freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, independent contractors or consultants,” has risen exponentially and will continue to rise over the next decade (Wikipedia).  According to the Intuit 2020 Report: Twenty Trends that will Shape the Next Decade, “The number of contingent employees will increase worldwide. In the U.S. alone, contingent workers will exceed 40 percent of the workforce by 2020.”

Hiring someone across the country or even across the world is becoming common practice among companies, both big and small. oDesk, a marketplace for online work teams is one of several companies facilitating this shift.  In June 2011 alone, oDesk’s oConomy reports over $18M spent on online work, over 86,000 jobs posted and more than 1.7M hours of work performed through oDesk – all around the globe.

Mobility is trending and turning millions of people into office nomads.  Without an “assigned” office to go to, mobile workers are working out of coffee shops, bookstores and, of course, their homes. Coffee shops have proven to be too noisy, and for those who need it, do not offer a professional meeting space. Working from home can become extremely isolating, people’s inherent need for social interaction.

The demand for a suitable workplace alternative to fit the needs of these office nomads is growing. As a result, and with no precedent to follow, there have been several creative solutions as businesses react to this growing consumer base – trying to hit that sweet spot and figure out what that very thing that these people are looking for is… and how to offer it!

For those of you experiencing an alternative workplace, what are some lessons you have learned?

Editor’s Note: Evona manages and runs daily operations at WorkBar, a shared workspace and alternative to traditional office space, catering to small and startup businesses looking for flexible and affordable office space. You can contact her at evona.wiktoria@gmail.com.

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