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palmtreo.jpg“If only I had that netbook/iPhone/Blackberry/miFi/VoIP/Macbook/digicam/other-cool-gadget, then I would be able to work from anywhere.”

I used to believe that I was comfortable working from anywhere, because I grew up in an era where the tools to do so were readily available to me. But then, I started noticing that there were people around me, who had access to the same tools, but that were not using them to achieve location independence.  This led me to a realization. Tools don’t make a workshifter.  Giving a man a hammer and a saw does not make him a carpenter. Similarly, giving him a smartphone and a laptop does not make him a workshifter.

Workshifters are a special breed.  While many romanticize the idea of telecommuting and location independence, a small minority actually take advantage of the opportunity.  Perhaps this is because not everyone has that luxury.  Maybe some people would like to workshift, but don’t have the tools.

I don’t buy it.  Look back through history and you will find workshifters in every era.  Do you think Plato wrote the Republic from the office?  Da Vinci may have painted the Mona Lisa in a studio, but his sketchbook was filled with sights from all over.  Workshifting.com’s own AJ Leon talked about how Winston Churchill was the greatest workshifter of all time.

None of these men had access to the internet, Blackberries or Basecamp.  The workshifter’s greatest tools are his own personal traits.  Here are just a few of the traits that a workshifter needs to be successful:

1) Flexible

Workshifting means being able to work anywhere under any circumstances.  If you need rigid routines and structure to accomplish work, then you need to work on your flexibility before you can consider the workshifting lifestyle.

2) Ability to deal with uncertainty
The challenges of working from outside an office usually aren’t obvious until they arise.  Dead batteries, spotty internet connections, sudden mobs of teenagers invading the Starbucks you’re working from, bumping into old or new friends.  Any of these can happen at a moment’s notice while workshifting, so workshifters need to be able to deal.

3) Being on the cutting edge
Plato may not have been a big technologist, but I bet he knew exactly which inks and papers travelled best.  A minimum amount of tech savvy is required for being a workshifter, because you need to be able to solve tech problems when they arise, and also because being at the cutting edge gives you an advantage, and lets you stay competitive.

4) Being comfortable with solitude
The typical workshifter doesn’t enjoy the camaraderie of a packed office. Instead, he works alone. Even when he is surrounded by others in a cafe, or other public place, the people around him are usually strangers, and while being surrounded by them might be comforting to some, the work of a workshifter is generally solitary. This means fewer people to bounce things off of. Less moral support on a particularly difficult day. A true workshifter needs to be comfortable in his solitude

5) Self-motivated
Workshifters are self-starters by nature, or they learn to become self-starters.  If you depend on the 9-5 clock to get work done, you’ll be in for a nasty drop in productivity once the clock no longer holds any real power.

6) Creative
Workshifters are generally creative people, because they often work in creative industries, but the creativity goes beyond the subject of their work.  They also need to be creative in problem-solving, find creative ways to motivate themselves, and generally just need constant creative stimulation to keep them fueled.

Anyone who has worked in an office has seen the legions of workers with their laptops and Blackberries, all of whom come in at 8, and leave at 6, and who essentially use these devices as ways to not pay attention during meetings.  Give someone who’s not a workshifter by nature the tools to workshift, and s/he will use them from the office.

There’s nothing wrong with this, in and of itself. But it’s important to realize that those tools, while they may help in the workshifting process are not essential to it. Having the tools, does not a workshifter make!

What are your thoughts?

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  • http://www.adamdistefano.com Adam Di Stefano

    Hi All –
    Thanks for the kind words, and apologies for the missing trait in the original post of the article. As you can see, that’s since been rectified (and hopefully #4 did not disappoint).
    Tom – I definitely think you got the point that it’s not about the tools.
    Janelle – How to sell workshifting to a 9-to-5er could probably be a book unto itself, but I think the best way to do it is to prove that it works. Show that by workshifting you can be just as, if not more, productive than an office worker, and I really think the only argument ever advanced against workshifting goes away.