While more and more baby boomers migrate south in search of high fiber breakfast burritos, their tech-savvy offspring migrate in search of a different kind of fiber: strands of glass carrying high bandwidth internet. Seattle-based author and seasoned traveler Ron Gompertz reflects on this new wandering workforce. He calls it, Bandwidth is the New Black, and perhaps to prove his point, he sent it to BoomerCafé from Machu Picchu in Peru.
Have you ever been tired of that open office? Suffered from cubical cramps? Maybe someone should have told you to pack up your laptop and ramble.
In my retirement travels I’m finding professionals of all ages who have discovered the cultural and economic benefits of working (very) remotely. As I wander through Mexico and Peru, I continue to meet skilled individuals who turn on, log in, and drop out.
Initially, this phenomenon seemed limited to programmers like the young woman I met who was launching her second web startup while sitting poolside at an AirBNB in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. She was Ruby on Rails personified. No office needed: Her collaborators were scattered around the globe.
Is she the vanguard of a mass cube dweller exodus? Probably not. In spite of their potential mobility, most knowledge workers aren’t racing off to remote islands or mountaintops. And most organizations aren’t as supportive of remote work as they pretend to be. “Working from home” is still wrapped in air quotes.
I once had an employee, one of my most productive, who I saw twice a year. It takes a lot of trust to manage someone you don’t see daily, trust that many companies and bosses can’t muster.
Working (way) remotely isn’t limited to the young and the restless. I recently met a sixty-something consultant in COBOL, a.k.a. “Common Business-Oriented Language” (remember Y2K?). He is a consultant to a Texas hospital chain who lives and works abroad six months a year. Every time he’s tried to retire, the mothership raised his pay rate to retain his hard-to-find skills.
The opportunity to work from increasingly remote places isn’t limited to computer jocks. “Have WiFi, will travel” applies to soft skills as well.
I recently met a twenty-something English teacher who lives cheaply in Ajijic, Mexico, and wakes up early to tutor China-based students online. She’s a certified middle school teacher who left behind low pay, high rent, and long commutes. Given her reduced cost of living, she claims to be making more and stressing less in Mexico than she did in the States.
A therapist I overheard (ok, I was eavesdropping) in a small village in the Peruvian Andes charges $50/hour for Skype consultations with American clients, which is far cheaper than a stateside shrink. He only needs one client a week to make rent. The second client covers his remaining expenses, the third is gravy. I don’t know if he is rich or poor, but he seemed pretty relaxed.
In my observation, these remote working wanderers share a combination of marketable skills, supportive management (or clients), cultural curiosity, and a strong desire for independence.
Are you one?
Back in the late nineties there was a book predicting that breakthroughs in telecommunications (e.g. the internet) would result in “the death of distance.” Since then, our tech and collaboration tools have rendered distance obsolete even as our organizations keep us glued to our shrinking cubes.
You’re already connected 24/7. Do you really need to report in to the office next Monday?
Ron’s book is, “Life’s Big Zoo.”