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how the net is transforming the way we work and earn

Why I won’t be leaving the office anytime soon August 6, 2008

I wish I could tell you that my days are spent basking the sun as I paint my toe-nails a cherry red and read The God of Small things. Or that I spend them hitch-hiking from one corner café to the next unknown destination. But the banal truth is that I spend many hours in a computer lab which is covertly hidden in the Rhodes University Journalism department. In fact, it’s so covert that you could easily have worked in this department for years without ever knowing of its existence.

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See, it’s the unlabelled lab. The one that got away. The one that escaped the department’s obsessive labelling. This department is big on labelling, doing so with precision and political correctness. But, nonetheless there it is. Hidden down a little corridor is my lab with its reliable air conditioning that I now co-ordinate my outfit to suit. And then there are the several rows of florescent lights that make you feel as though your day somehow got frozen at midday. Don’t let me get started on these lights.

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What a perfectly acclimatised, self-sustaining ecosystem, don’t you think? OK, so you may need to add some Vit D capsules as you probably won’t be getting much sunlight in these labs. See, there aren’t any windows, something which amuses me.

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So there I sit. In front of a computer. Tucked away in a lab hidden down a little corridor in a section of the journalism department which few have probably ever noticed.

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I’m sure you are dying for me to get to the point. To stop rambling. But for this blog post, I want you to have a sense of where I sit as I write this. Try to imagine it. There is the constant drone of the air-conditioning which after a few hours begins to sound a bit like the ebb and flow of the sea. A reassuring constant. Then there are the clicking, clacking and odd tapping of keyboards as work gets done. Irritating but somehow this begins to sound like the comforting chatter among friends.

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If you ignore my melodrama you’ll probably find you won’t have to try too hard to imagine such a working environment. Isn’t that what the typical 9-5 office space looks, sounds and feels like? I know I certainly didn’t grow up thinking that a day at the office would involve me lying on the beach with a laptop and some suntan lotion.

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But for some, working is something which takes place wherever they choose. Anywhere, except a dreary office or lab. It’s called telecommuting or remote working something which is becoming increasingly attractive with the advent of the internet. And all you need is laptop and internet connectivity.

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Research from the Pennsylvania State University suggests that telecommuting can increase productivity by giving employees more control over how they spend their time and helping them to maintain a work-family balance. And, of course remote working has been linked to a boost in morale. Remote working can also fit in with a company’s green agenda by cutting employees petrol consumption , decreasing traffic consumption and cutting down on redundant office space.

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Sounds great doesn’t it? Working as and when you want. That was until Microsoft entered the picture. It is developing software which can be used by employers to monitor not only the productivity of staff members working remotely but their physical wellbeing. The system:

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would allow managers to monitor employees’ performance by measuring their heart rate, body temperature, movement, facial expression and blood pressure. Unions said they fear that employees could be dismissed on the basis of a computer’s assessment of their physiological state.

Who would want to be linked to their computer via wireless sensors that detects when you are stressed and unable to cope? As that is what this new software would entail. I know I certainly wouldn’t. I think I’d rather remain cooped up in this lab.

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For those of you who aren’t put off there are employment agencies online which deal specifically with telecommuting jobs. And there are some novel jobs available to you as a willing telecommuter not all of which involve Microsoft’s new monitoring software. I came across this , the Best Colon Cleansing, a blog about … well Colon Cleansing that is looking for people willing to spend some time on the loo doing what is so innately human : pooing. The only snag is you have to blog about it:

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This is just a fun colon cleansing blog that is looking for its next poop colon cleansing star.

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Perhaps that isn’t your thing. Have no fear. The possibilities seem endless when it comes to telecommuting. There are groups of telecommuters who refer to themselves as New Nomads .These are individuals who are not only sick of the predictability of 9-5 but love to travel. And so work happens on the go, while travelling and experiencing the world. Work is something which fits into your schedule; it happens wherever they happen to be:

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There is an immense feeling of freedom when you realize you are not tied geographically to your income source. The idea that I could work on a beach in Thailand as easily as in the center of Paris or traversing Canada is incredible.

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But here I am. Still in the labs. And it’s not because I have a persecution complex. See, the nomadic life sounds inviting. It is even made to sound minimalistic and some refer to themselves as Laptop Hobos. I have to chuckle at that for one thing these itinerant workers are not is hobos. You see, you need money and quite a bit of it at that to be a travelling laptop hobo. And don’t be fooled, becoming a regular stay at home telecommunicator can also be expensive and is not without its drawbacks. So, I think I’ll just stay put.

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