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High-Tech Homeless

Some companies are taking this outsourcing and mobile computing thing too far. I say that because I have joined a sub culture of which I was previously unaware. I am now one of the High-Tech Homeless. Oh, I have a house, and I even have a cubicle somewhere, but I don't go there. I wonder the streets and corridors of Seattle looking for an electric outlet and Wifi.

I started a contract as a program manager last fall. My employer handed me a laptop and assigned me a desk in a building where none of my co-workers sat. Also, I was not allowed to have a telephone. Contractors are not allowed to have a telephone. The company made $6 Billion last year, so it is not a money thing. I am just not allowed to have one. Recently they moved my desk to a building 9 miles away from my co-workers, plus my entire development team is 13 and a half timezones away in India. This isolation and lack of a phone has freed me from my desk. I just go to wherever my co-workers are, or wherever I feel like working. I find an empty office, an unused cube, or a cafeteria. Sometimes I book conference rooms just for a place to work. They are quite nice, you know. Very large and they often have windows. They even have telephones. I have found that some buildings have "Focus Rooms" which are really just very small or oddly shaped offices that are too small or oddly shaped to put a real employee in, so they put a sign on the door that says "Focus Room" and a person can use them on a first-come, first-served basis.

I have discovered that there are hundreds of high-tech homeless wondering the halls of this company. I have some contractors doing some work for me and they have no office, either. They just book conference room after conference room and shuffle from one to the other throughout the day. There are certain advantages. I have absolutely zero junk accumulating on a desk or in a file cabinet. Everything I do is electronic - no paper. I work wherever the mood suits me. Earlier today I spent a few hours in meetings, then I found a "contractor bay" that has very nice window views, and now I am sitting in a nice coffee shop in downtown Seattle. I can work on the bus, in the library, and at home. I don't get interrupted, either.

It is all very pleasant, except that nothing ever gets done. Everyone on the team and all of the business customers are so distributed, so outsourced, so empowered that it is almost impossible to make any progress. How can that be if the working conditions are so pleasant and there are so few interruptions? The reason is that no one can make a decision. No one can say, "We are doing this, and not that, and we are starting now." On the other hand, empowered managers make arbitrary rules for their fiefdoms that block your every move, or add another layer of red tape. Emails are traded, Live Meetings are held, documents are posted. All very nice, but nothing happens. At the end of the day I am a firm believer that there is no substitute for everyone getting together and working it all out together in person. There is this thing that old timers used to call "talking." I don't mean talking on the phone, either. In person-to-person conversation, only a fraction of the communication actually happens by voice, and everything else is what is dropped when we deal with each other virtually. Odd that a guy who has had email since 1986 would turn out to be in favor of talking, but there you go.


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