High gas prices promote 'digital nomad' lifestyle

ATHENS, GREECE -- Evolutionary biology teaches us that evolution happens not by constant, steady change, but in sudden leaps and mutations. Likewise the evolution toward being able to work from anywhere. A recent tectonic shift -- in this case, high gas prices -- is making the world safer for extreme telecommuting.

A Reuters report today highlights organizations that are cutting back the number of days employees are required to physically show up at work because of soaring gas prices. Even employees who are required to be on-site in order to work, such as janitors, are being cut down to four-day workweeks to save gas. White collar workers, of course, are being allowed, encouraged or forced to stay home once a week or more often and telecommute.

One thing leads to another. High gas prices prompt employers (including the federal government) to allow employees to work from home once a week. Once that's accepted culturally, an elephant appears in the boardroom: If it's OK once a week, why isn't it OK five times a week? (This is what happened with "casual Friday" -- its once-a-week acceptance lead to the current trend of casual wear every day.) Once telecommuting is accepted, "extreme telecommuting" -- working from the Bahamas or Paris or an internet-connected shack on the Australian Outback -- becomes acceptable, too. After all, once you're out of the office and connecting to the company over the Internet, it doesn't really matter where you are, does it?

The last remaining barrier to the general acceptance of "extreme telecommuting" is purely cultural -- it's our irrational clinging to obsolete rules for how we work. As the cultural barriers fall, more of us will be freed to work from wherever we please, something which mobile technology and Internet communication already enables.

To me, that's the silver lining in high gas prices.

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