Future of Work and New Dial Tones

My friend Paul Kedrosky’s post on one of his main investment theses, the application of currently consumer oriented technologies to business (DropBox, Twitter, FaceBook, Yelp, …), got me thinking about how the future of work will look.

I’ve made a career of working far from where I live. I’ve generally considered this a significant pain - there are disadvantages and inefficiencies in being geographically separated from coworkers. Hence I’ve endured horrible commutes and frequent travel.

Lately, however, I’ve been reconsidering. My office is about 30 minutes from my house, but I end up not going in more and more these days. The 1 hour roundtrip is simply wasted time, and the traditional 9-5 is an artificial constraint on both work and non-work activities.

The turning point, not surprisingly, was technology driven - earlier this year I was working on a shared presentation and document with 2 colleagues. We met in person twice, and the third time we used Google Wave (rip) for shared document editing and iChat for voice and video communication.

I was shocked at how much more efficient the third session was. I despise video calls, but in this case it was background, mainly to see who was paying attention and who was tuned out. The shared document with real-time edits worked fabulously well - one could write stream of consciousness thoughts, and before finishing the paragraph have his work edited and polished by the other two.

These days I find my most efficient working relationships require little in-person interaction. What they do require is a host of enabling technologies we take for granted.

I’m still a huge believer in the value of in-person interactions - the best ideas generally pop up over lunch or other informal settings. But in-person interaction doesn’t require the traditional office setting and trappings.

The work style adopted by startups today will make its way to large business, and the services that are the lifeline of that style will become the dial-tone of business. As Paul points out this will drive the creation of a number of significant companies to provide those dial-tones. And with any luck I’ll have an opportunity to invest if a few of them ;-)