Sunday, August 17, 2008

Employers Get a Little Creative

Today's Province newspaper carries an article about companies getting a bit more flexible with employees based on environmental concerns and high gas prices. The article says that almost half of the 236 companies that responded to their survey offer some kind of flexible work locations, telecommuting, flexible hours or condensed work weeks. But they claim that its more about employee wellness than reducing the commute times and environmental impact.

Twenty years ago or longer I can recall the predictions of the majority of us working from home or a sleek telecommuting centre near our local community. After all these years we still have crowded highways and long commute times during peak hours. Its the same the world over. For many years I have enjoyed the freedom of working from home. While I have a small office in my home, as well as a professional office strata unit that I own, I find myself more often than not at my "telecommuting centre". For me and many others, this telecommuting centre is the local Starbucks. I know of 10 or more business people that work routinely from my Starbucks. Some don't have any office or headquarters for their business. They choose to meet their clients and close deals over a coffee. We all know each other well enough to chat, share contacts, network, and talk about our work week or personal life.

I really feel that in many locations, Starbucks is missing the boat. At my Starbucks they could easily add a second floor and call it The Work Space or something similar. They could have meetings on boths sides of the space that are available for rent (along with coffee, pastry and sandwich catering), fax machines, a photo copier, etc. Rows of work stations with WiFi and VOIP would allow the net savvy to work away. Perhaps this business floor would even have its own coffee bar, with staircase access gained with a special "executive membership card". Heck, the people I know would even pay a monthly fee for such a service. Just imagine, a local Starbucks telecommuting centre!

Working from Starbucks and at times I personally am more productive and efficient can't be beat. I can choose to take today off and work tonight when I know I can pound out a 50 page report better at 10:00pm when things are cooler and quiet. I can work three hours this morning, and accomplish eight hours of work. This flexibility is so much a part of my life that I believe I am not unemployable any longer, at least not to any traditional firm. But guess what? I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm out of the rat race.

Recently I purchased a GSM modem that uses a cell phone network to provide me with wireless broadband internet. I've decided to start transitioning out of my long-time consulting practice, and back into FOREX currency trading. The FOREX market is open 6 days a week, 24 hours per day. I can work when I want to and take advantage of market opportunities. If I miss an early New York session, I can sleep in and catch the Asian or European sessions. Last week I took my beefy laptop trading station and GSM modem over to White Rock. After breakfast on the strip, I set up my trading station on a picnic table and traded FOREX as I watched the waves roll in. Life is tough, but some of us have to work at the beach! It sure beats a long driving commute and being held hostage in an offie tower.

We as people have options. Many of these options are not without risk. I really think the business community needs to take a bit of risk and empower some of their trusted employees to work from home. With nearly one job or every resident of Langley, combined with another chunk of the population working from home, we could greatly reduce our carbon footprint and make local and regional LRT much more viable. It would certainly be a great community environmental initiative for a company like Starbucks as well.

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