latest American Community survey data, about 2% of Americans - some 2.8 million people - say that their home is their primary place of workWith the Internet has come a new breed of worker: the telecommuter. A business owner, employee, or freelancer, someone who telecommutes is able to work from home rather than from a designated office building. According to the
But to say that the telecommuter only or always works at home doesn't quite paint the full picture. An estimated 20 to 30 million people work from home at least one day a week. And with the rise of mobile and Internet technologies, not working at the office doesn't mean you're necessarily working from home.
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As someone who works this way, my options are pretty open. Work from home? Sure. Work from a library? Maybe, but it's too quiet to take calls. Work from a coffee shop? That's probably more like it. Work from any city, anywhere? Yes, that's the plan
Of course, "any city, anywhere" sounds a lot more free and open than the actual reality. Just because there aren't the requirements of cubicles and seat-time doesn't mean that there aren't certain requirements a location must meet. Even equipped with mobile technology - a laptop, a smartphone, for example - there are certain things one needs to telecommute.
A Virtual Workplace: Even if you work online and have little face-to-face interaction with your co-workers, telecommuting does still require some sort of virtual workspace. Cloud-based apps like 37 Signals's productivity suite or like Google Apps allow employees to still collaborate and communicate. Here at ReadWriteWeb, for example, we have an Editorial Room, but it's simply a Skype chat.
Location-based Social Networks: These are great for those who telecommute, particularly since many of these allow you to leave tips and recommendations. "Slow Wi-Fi," for example, or "Barista will boot you out after about 90 minutes." Or "quiet table in the far back." Or the tragic - particularly if all the other pieces are in place - "lousy coffee."
Social networks built up around locations are one thing. But there are also a number of networks catering solely to those who telecommute. There are numerous co-working facilities, and a service like Liquidspace - the AirBnB for office space - helps match those who need a good place to work with those who have an available desk or office.
Wi-Fi: Good Internet access is crucial. It needs to be free. It needs to be fast. If you telecommute, you'll probably learn to keep track of the places where you can find it. The ubiquity of the Starbucks coffee chain may make some people squirm, but with its free Wi-Fi access, you can always find a place to work in just about any city.
That's not always sufficient, and so you'll probably want to outfit yourself with an aircard or Internet stick. After all, even if there's free Wi-Fi, it's not always reliable, particularly if you find yourself working at a place with a lot of other techies.
Power: I carry a USB stick for back-up Internet emergencies, and so Wi-Fi isn't ever really a problem. Power, on the other hand, is at a premium. Even with the promises of longer-lasting laptop batteries, there's really only so much you can get done before your battery's dead. So finding an available power outlet is typically one of the first things I look for when I decide where to "set up shop" and work.
Bonus points as a friendly fellow telecommuter if you carry an extension cord and/or a power strip.
Telecommuting opens a lot of possibilities to work anywhere, but the experience of doing so is actually a lot more varied than simply moving the office into the home. You can indeed work anywhere, but it can still be challenging to find the right place that meets your requirements.
Photo by en-k-a