Even before world war I, the economy of most western countries was moving toward manufacturing. Farming was still important, but people left the farm to work in the new factories in hope of a better income. This trend was happening prior to WWI and WWII, but each war – with it’s emphasis on mechanised warfare – hastened the move to industrialisation.
In a manufacturing economy, people go to where the tools are. And a factory is a giant tool. So people moved to cities, started using mass transit (and eventually the automobile) to get to work. That was not always the case. Once upon a time, people woke up at work. Framers lived on their farm. Hunter/gathers went out to the hunting grounds, but they carried their tools with them.
Today, if you have a laptop, you can login to a company website, an external website, or create content on the laptop. That changes the economy back to how it was. But the infrastructure is set for a factory mentality. We drive to work, we sit in cubes … but work on a computer to produce our labour. Increasingly we work on a computer to provide the value to our organisation. Yet the computer, does not need to be “at work.” And so this changes how society supports it’s workers.
If someone has a laptop, they can create. About 30% of people in the United States work as freelancers. In the UK, this particular work forces are on the rise at 14% increase per year since 2011. And the trend in the EU, is a 45% rise. And a lot of freelance work is completed with a computer. Think web design, graphic design, writing … the list goes on.
This means that companies can allow workers to work from home, or hire from an increasingly large pool of freelance talent. Coffee shops like StarBucks, Costa and Nero in the UK, offer freelancers the feeling of working with other people, yet working on their project – all for the cost of a coffee. I wrote this post from Costa Coffee central London.
It makes no difference if a person works from home or office, the energy to run their computer is the same. But getting to the office, for many workers, is a massive waste, summing up: 1h morning / evening commute, time 4 week, times 11 month (1 month break)… equal 440 hours or 55 days ! This changes the economics of how society works. And as a result, many people are moving to walking communities. It may be downtown, it may be into cities that are walkable.
This remote work force has generated new needs and new services. I particularly like the work of Lisette Sutherland. Lisette is a specialist in creating online collaborative communities with over 10 years experience with web-based collaboration tools and online community management. Her goal is to get the best people working together regardless of location. She recently co-authored “Engagement Management: a step-by-step guide to building a thriving social network“, and helped over 40 organisations and businesses setup and run online communities.
This also means that computer savvy workers have employment options. At the same time, workers in other countries can compete for jobs, like web design, graphic design, and writing. As the laptop becomes the new factory, workers are at work, where ever they are.
When people needed the factory, companies had a lot of power over workers. If the laptop is the new factory, some power moves back to the worker. This trend will reshape society.
Have laptop – will travel.