In 2006, based on the notion of seamless connectivity, portable devices and changing nature of what would drive primary economic activity, I started a sub-blog called WebWorkerDaily. It was a place to explore the idea of what is the future of work. For me, the future of work was distributed.
I was optimistic that the network would make geo-location, the idea of a fixed place as an office or the notion of a 9-to-5 workday would become moot. Turns out, the original premise of that blog was right, but I forgot my own life lesson — future either comes too soon or too late. In this case, it has come too late and we are starting to see a new level of energy being spent on thinking about the future of work.
WeWork might be a fiscal disaster and a museum-quality exhibit of greed, incompetence, and skullduggery, but let’s not throw out the actual idea of workspace on demand. The freelance nation is much bigger today than ever before — too bad the companies behind them have the empathy of a burnt core of a nuclear reactor. The tools that enable this future are turning startups into billion-dollar giants — just ask Slack and its co-founders.
All this talk about the “future of work” made me go back and start re-reading some of the articles from the old site. They are on Archive.org. I came across this 13-year-old conversation with Jason Fried, chief executive and co-founder of 37Signals, where we talked about many topics including the distributed workforce.
On the idea of a distributed workforce, some of Jason’s observations turned out to be prescient. Building a distributed workforce, startups across borders and teams that are virtual have become routine and commonplace. I can rattle off at least two dozen companies who are part of True Ventures’ portfolio that have employees in different geo-locations.
The tools have changed — Instant messaging and Campfire have now been replaced by Slack and some other messaging app. There are tools being developed by the day that allow distributed groups and teams to work as one and keep track of each other’s progress. If you look at Atlassian’s earnings, you can see big growth is coming from tools that are preferred by the teams.
And we are only getting started. It won’t surprise me that that the second life for virtual reality comes in the shape of a future version of Zoom or such collaboration platform. The generosity of wireless bandwidth, ever-powerful chips, and progress in software technologies will bring us to a point where even the phrase “distributed” workforce will be redundant.
Do let me know what you think is the future of work and distributed teams looks like. In the interim enjoy this interview with Jason from my old site. Here are some of the bits from the interview, which can be read in its entirety here.
Jason F. I’m not surprised. People are the most important thing. Why limit yourself to just some people when you can work with *anyone*? If I only worked with people in Chicago I’d never have started working with David. Then there would never have been Rails.
Om M. You don’t miss the physical proximity?
Jason F. Some people can’t work remotely. And if you are one of those people then you shouldn’t fight it. We prefer getting things done instead of bullshitting all day which is what happens when everyone is “hanging around.”
Om M. Are you going to do a voice application? I see that as a big part of staying connected.
Jason F. The best voice application ever built is the phone. It still is. When you are forced to write instead of talk you are forced to be concise. Since typing a lot [is] tiring. We think that’s a great constraint.
Photo by James Davidson.