Death of Commuting (not geography) Liberates Entrepreneurs as well as Freelancers

10 years ago, the internet was forecast to bring about the death of geography, but instead, it seems we are now looking at the death of commuting!

In fact, I have personal experience of this, as I moved to Spain in 2002 with the intention of running a UK online ebook publishing remotely.  As it turned out, where it not for Ryanair and easyjet, the experiment would have failed much earlier.

As it was, it was the advent of low cost flights that really empowered remote working, albeit, that this too was supported by the internet. So, what really happened was instead of a daily commute to the office, I replaced this with a monthly long distance commute – from Spain to UK, with a few nights stop-over.

The old forecast of the death of geography (eg. The Economist circa 2000) foresaw technology replacing face to face meetings such that travelling to meet people – or sit in the same office – would become redundant.

On this theory, all work would move to those best able to deliver it – at the cheapest price – and this was the argument behind massive offshoring – moving IT and legal work to India, Philipines and the like.

The kind of movement of work that struck fear into the hearts of all freelancers.

As you know, I moved to my own low cost location – Spain – to run my internet based publishing business and this move was enabled and supported not just by technology, but more importantly, by Ryanair!

Without the low cost flight options, the remote management would have failed.

That is because when things get tough, when projects go off the rails, when sales start to fall, when people get difficult to deal with or teams start to unravel – then you need to meet face to face.

In fact, it is more than that, you need to sit face to face with others too!

You see, nearly all technological communication gives us a single or incomplete view on a conversation – it is very hard for a wise head to sit alongside you as you interview someone and for them to advise you that you were harsh or wrong in your judgement – because with technology that conversation takes place on the phone – or in email.

Okay, there is three way-calling which makes it not impossible, but yes, there is a much greater risk of making the wrong decision.

This is part of the reason why many offshore projects have come back to the local area (where ever local is for you) because people / managers want to have a greater connection with the people doing the work.

It is also because the best work just occurs through great team work – you can’t pre-defined everything in a brief – sometimes you just need to make it up as you go along.

Hence, the human element of working together as a team is the critical factor for all successful projects – and whilst technology sets us free – to work whilst on the road, at home, from abroad etc… it never fully replaces the need for a team and for the team to include a face to face dimension.

That is why technology is destroying the value of the less attractive ‘daily commute’ – which is a pure and utter waste of time – unless you are glued to your mobile device for the journey!

The point here is that teams are much freer now to form where and when they need to.

And guess what, the challenge for any team meeting is – where and when!

So, for your regular catch up meetings, yes, geography comes right back into it!

That is why my businesses are now built entirely with freelance talent – the freedom of movement and thought – and the lack of office structures that requires wasted days in cars and trains – but…

… and it is an important but – the freelancers MUST all come from the SAME REGION!


Because, they must be able to meet – to form full human working relationships – to be able to look someone in the eye.

Technology gives us freedom on a daily basis – and with that we can rid ourselves of the daily commute – but it does not remove our geographic understanding – that is, our inherent knowledge of the landscape (virtual, business, physical, political) that surrounds us – and knowledge of your local city’ landscape is key to doing business – successfully – in that city.

So, technology frees us from the daily commute. It releases from rigid hours when everyone must turn up at 9 and stay until 5pm. However, it does not remove the need to meet entirely, because teams just work better when they work together.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders who understand this distinction have the opportunity to engage freelance talent and skills to huge benefit, whilst also maintaining the most basic of human co-operation, the team – with its necessary face to face meetings – occasionally.

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Written by Editor on December 7, 2010 and filed in Entrepreneurs, Featured, Freelancers, Opinion

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