The New Work Environment: From Office Drones to “Co-Working” With “Digital Nomads”

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Pink Floyd and Ronald Reagan would be happy: Some walls are being torn down. The walls of office cubicles, that is. The recession has quite literally pushed millions of workers out of their cubicles due to layoffs, and when people bounce back and do find work, they’re now more likely to land in an nontraditional workplace—perhaps in a spot shared by multiple small businesses and entrepreneurs, or simply wherever there’s Wi-Fi.

If nothing else, the recession has prodded businesspeople to get creative. Entrepreneurs are doing things like pitching their ideas during open-mike nights over beer and pizza. They’re also getting creative in how and where they work.

Start-up businesses are particularly attracted to the situation known as “co-working,” in which they rent an office with other professionals and share printers, Wi-Fi, desks, and even conference rooms and espresso machines. Some entrepreneurs say that they like being surrounded by other businesspeople doing exciting things. The atmosphere sure beats working in your basement, and it shaves off the cost of renting a more traditional office with a long-term lease. A WSJ story reports on the trend of shared work spaces.

In the age of Wi-Fi, netbooks, and smartphones, however, any office at all is unnecessary. A new breed of workers is being referred to as the “digital nomad.” A snippet from an LA Times story:

For nomads, the benefits are both primitive and practical.

Primitive: Tom Folkes, an artificial-intelligence programmer, worked last week at the Java Shack in Arlington County, Va., because he’s “an extrovert working on introvert tasks. If I’m working at home by myself, I am really hating life. I need people.” He has a coffee shop rotation. “I spread my business around,” he said.

Practical: Marilyn Moysey, an employee of Ezenia Inc. who sells virtual collaboration software, often works at a Panera Bread cafe near her home in Alexandria, Va., not at her office in the “boondocks.” Why? “Because there is no hope for the road system around here,” she said. Asked where her co-workers were, Moysey said, “I don’t know, because it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Nomad life is already evolving. Those who want co-workers gather in public places or at the homes of strangers. They work laptop-by-laptop, exchanging both business advice and idle chitchat with people who all work for different companies. The gatherings are called jellies, after a bowl of jelly beans the creators were eating when they came up with the name.