Allow Your Employees to Be Digital Nomads

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

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As I write this column, all the talk is about the recession. There were 40,000 stories in Google News last week mentioning the R-word. In addition, a gallon of gas, now at $4, may hit $7 by 2010, according to CIBC World Markets. And layoff announcements are up 21% in 2008, executive-placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports.

Recessions often accelerate social shifts that are already percolating under the surface. One of the key trends I've been watching is the growing number of Digital Nomads.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
If you spend as much time on the road as I do, you're likely to run into them. This sector of the work force includes both independents and corporate workers. They use web-based tools such as Twitter, wikis, Google Docs, social networks and Skype to collaborate and work wherever, whenever and however they want.

Digital Nomads are already extremely influential. Many of them blog and hang out on sites such as Web Worker Daily. In addition, they shun traditional communication tools such as e-mail.

Luis Suarez is one such corporate nomad whom I met recently at a conference in Brussels. Suarez has a successful career in knowledge management with IBM. He lives in the Canary Islands and has virtually eliminated all business e-mail in favor collaborating via social networks. Suarez has chronicled this extensively on his blog.

Others are declaring free agency. Charlene Li, an influential Forrester analyst who tracks digital trends, blogged last week that she is leaving the research firm to go independent. Some believe that the growing ranks of free-agent analysts may spell trouble for traditional research firms.

Many tools workers need are free or low-cost. This extends into verticals as well. Google Ad Planner, launched in June, could theoretically allow anyone to become a nomadic media planner.

Digital Nomads are growing in numbers, and they will create ripples, accelerating the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the workplace. Over time, they may have some effect on marketing channels, potentially slowing the efficacy of e-mail marketing and accelerating the reliance on social-media engagement in marketing.

But it goes deeper than that. If you don't allow your employees to become nomadic, they may become so anyway and compete against you in the process.
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