A New Kind of Office for Business Nomads

Recent surveys show many of today's workers plan to launch a business soon. But many of them won't be "opening" businesses in the traditional way. Instead, they'll likely be business nomads.

These entrepreneurs are appearing in cities across Canada and around the world. They're sometimes also called home-office workers, although that can be a misnomer because their real offices are often the computer bags they lug from home to coffee shop to library to anywhere they can find an internet connection.

No one knows how many business nomads exist but it's undoubtedly in the thousands, often seen occupying public spaces of cities. Canada's business community is rapidly becoming a Nomad Nation. There are several reasons for this, including:

New tools enable it Smartphones, smaller laptops, cloud computing for business functions, social media for conversation, Skype for communication: All allow Nomad entrepreneurs to be completely mobile.

New attitudes allow it Once, a business was judged by its office: the more prestigious, the better. That still exists -- look at any banking district -- but a belief is emerging that the look of your office is immaterial. Today, it's more about the value you produce.

Knowledge business is growing The traditional concept of an office grew out of the industrial age in which physical workspace was necessary. Operators of knowledge businesses work with what's in their heads. It doesn't matter whether that head is in a downtown office, in a home office, or at a corner table in a cafe.

The rise of the solopreneur As more people flee the corporate straightjacket, they begin to find novel ways to apply their skills. Often this is in some form of single-person advisory or service business, usually online. Advice can be doled out from anywhere.

A new discipline Being paid for showing up, as in the traditional job, is becoming a thing of the past. Instead, workers are paid for what they produce, or the value they create for a business. Many nomads find they can get far more done if they're away from the distractions of a traditional office.

While it is more cost-effective to operate a nomadic business, it does have its price in the form of disconnect with the world. Nomads suffer from occasional loneliness, which is why some are banding together to establish shared work spaces.

One such place, Camaraderie, opened in Toronto's St. Lawrence Market earlier this year to fill an obvious gap -- while Vancouver has a few shared workspaces that have been around for a while, Toronto has had one or two come and go. Currently it has a shared space for writers and one for social entrepreneurs, but none for entrepreneurs in general.

"I've been self-employed for seven years, and working from home for the last two," said communications entrepreneur Rachel Young, who co-founded Camaraderie with application developerWayne Lee last February.

"But it was often lonely and hard for me to focus. My only other options were a library or a cafe. In the first you have to be absolutely quiet, can't bring in food, and when you need to use the washroom have to pack everything up. Cafes can be distracting because they can be loud. And it can still be lonely: You can't just talk to strangers."

They opened their space as a membership-based association after researching the need among Toronto nomads. It has about 15 core members, and several people who drop in when they are downtown. Those who use the space are startup entrepreneurs, freelancers, soloists and self-employed moonlighters.

While the price ($20 a day for drop-ins, $300 a month for full use) is right, it's the sense of collaboration that draws most people, Young says.

"People are respectful of each other and there's a lot of interaction. It's a place to work and there are always collaboration opportunities that appear when you talk to other nomads."


Tony Wanless, a Certified Management Consultant runs Knowpreneur Consulants ( knowpreneur.net),and helps knowledge businesses with strategy, innovation and planning.


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