May 4, 2011 / 5:05 PM / 9 years ago

Winnebagos and sailboats: Entrepreneurs going mobile

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Self-employed baby boomers Patricia and Renato Faustini are selling their 2,000-square-foot house in Prescott, Arizona - taking their life, their 16-year-old son and their jobs on the road in a 24-foot Winnebago.

Business consultant Alan Goldberg stands on the deck of his 47-foot catamaran in Miami, Florida in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/HO

The Faustinis will pack up and head for Montana later this week with no specific destination in mind. Patricia works as an online tutor and blogger, while Renato runs his own architectural design business. Neither is dependent on a permanent spot to fulfill workplace obligations.

“You decide from day to day, week to week, where you want to do it,” said Patricia Faustini, a 61-year-old former schoolteacher whose mobile setup requires little more than a laptop and a cellphone. “There’s no reason why you have to sit in the house and pay the mortgage.”

It may seem outlandish, irresponsible, cramped - even scary - to those who find comfort in convention, but more small business owners seem to be embracing this type of remote arrangement. They’re only too willing to break free of the constraints that once limited the office to a Dilbert-esque cubicle marked by a predictable nine-to-five routine.

“I’ve got the basic bells and whistles I need to function,” said Patricia Faustini. “The whole issue is about a good time and an open world view.”


For the past decade or so, telecommuting - once viewed as taboo and nonproductive - has steadily risen in popularity as businesses and employees look for ways to lower costs and juggle a more complicated work-life balance.

The remote work trend is now going a step further, helped by improved portable technology that allows for productivity in unusual locations. Wireless networks have facilitated makeshift offices on the road, at a local library or at so-called “hot desks” in shared temporary workspaces popping up in cities throughout the U.S.

“With today’s tablet technology and smartphones you can be anywhere,” said Charles Grantham, a social scientist who studies the impact of technology on work. “You don’t have to be in a corporate office.”

Grantham, who co-founded the Prescott, Arizona-based think tank Work Design Collaborative, estimates that more than 15 percent of knowledge workers engage in some form of mobile office behavior.

“I almost can’t imagine not being mobile,” said Janna Kimel, a Portland, Oregon-based consultant who conducts customer-focused research for companies such as Intel.

On any given day, she might work in her home office, in a shared space with other creative types or on site at a client’s location. “I kind of thrive on things being different,” she said.


The loneliness factor remains a challenge for mobile workers, but Skype and social media have taken some of the edge off a largely solitary existence.

“You don’t feel the isolation that you used to,” said Chuck Woodbury, a self-employed writer who began his stint as a road warrior nearly 25 years ago in an RV outfitted with a manual typewriter. “You were completely cut off.”

Still maintaining his roving work style today, the 63-year-old writes RVTravel Newsletter, a popular email bulletin on the recreational lifestyle, and runs a small publishing house that produces books on the topic. Even with four employees and a warehouse outside of Seattle, Woodbury still works from the road a large portion of the year.

“I can get up and move whenever I want,” he said. “I thrive on being on the road.”

Gary Swart, the CEO of oDesk, a global jobs marketplace targeted at businesses that outsource work, expects remote work opportunities to continue to increase, facilitated by the economy, the Internet and increasing globalization.

Business consultant Alan Goldberg stands on the deck of his 47-foot catamaran in Miami, Florida in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/HO

“More and more people want to work this way,” said Swart, whose own Redwood City, California-based firm augments its staff of 55 full-time workers with 160 contractors working remotely throughout the globe. “Companies are trying to do more with less.” One byproduct of the change in work style is a lessening of the stigma once associated with professionals who dare to work outside traditional office convention.

Miami-based consultant Alan Goldberg, for one, said his clients care little about where he’s working, just so long as he’s getting an often-difficult job done. On any given day, Goldberg, a 60-year-old turnaround consultant who works with troubled companies, could be analyzing financials from his home on a sailboat, in his car or at his traditional office in the city.

“They know the type of work I do,” said Goldberg, whose 47-foot catamaran is equipped with satellite TV, WiFi and single sideband radio. “At the end of the day you walk down the pier - its cathartic. Your chest expands three or four inches, you get the sea breeze and you question what the real world is.”

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