Telecommuting, which has been around since the 1970s, has become an increasingly popular work practice. However, forty years of technological advancements, worldwide interconnectivity, and sky-rocketing adoption rates has transformed what it means to “work from home” in the new millennium. Today’s generation of workers, recognizing that the flexibility and productivity associated with working offsite extends beyond the home office, are seeking to define and redefine their working lives. Most office workers are now able to access information and communicate with others anywhere via smart phones, suggesting that the term “telecommuting” will eventually become obsolete.
For example, the nature of my present work necessitates my being in the office for some portion of the week; other days, I can accomplish my tasks at home. But throughout the week, and on some weekends as well, I attend to work-related matters as needed—wherever I happen to be when my iPhone beckons: in the car, sitting in a restaurant, visiting family and friends, at the mall. With technology constantly closing the gap between innovations and consumer needs (as with the burgeoning number of smart phones apps and wireless networks with speeds comparable to those of broadband) we can now work from virtually anywhere. And as cities become increasingly connected and no one is ever off the grid, we will soon work from everywhere. New technology has transformed home-based telecommuters into anywhere, anytime teleworkers.
It’s no secret that today’s cube-farm environments are rife with distractions, such as office noise, hallway meetings, and unanticipated visits by coworkers looking for advice on a project, or for a sympathetic ear. Although strong professional relationships and networks are key to one’s professional health, constant interruptions fragment our focus and run counter to productivity. Unlike previous generations of workers for whom a 9-to-5 job involved regular interpersonal contact with a fixed “family” of coworkers that was often their primary social outlet, today’s teleworkers are supported by lightning-fast technology, mobility, a growing number of green-minded employers, and a social network that includes but is not limited to the workplace. “Meet me at the water cooler” has given way to “Meet me online.” With the aid of abundant and robust technology, we can spare ourselves all the annoying workplace distractions, intrigues, and politics and focus on what we were hired to do.
The workplace will certainly not be the center of the universe for the next generation. Broadly speaking, Millennials tend to form “urban tribes,” moving to cities together, living and working together, and socializing together. The tribe is a foundational component of the Millennial mindset; friendships become segues into new families—into other tribes that represent even more opportunities for social and intellectual interactions. Maybe it’s from watching too many “Friends” episodes, but this generation is forging a new social path. Instead of creating nuclear families, Millennials are more inclined to live and travel together and start businesses together. The tribe organically fosters a body of common attributes: optimism, diversity, open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, and technological mastery. Because they are multitasking aficionados who demand creative freedom and seek a work-life balance that prioritizes their well-being over their careers, Millennials are naturally suited for the practical and ideological transformations that teleworking has to offer.
Tools like video conferencing, smart phones, wireless, and cloud software and storage empower access, and access invites freedom. Teleworking generates unique and exciting choices in the way we work, creating a building force in corporate environments characterized by flexibility, creativity, and new social priorities.