Celebrate the Bedouin

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 2/18/2011 | 24 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
How did your celebration go? You did celebrate National Telecommuting Week, didn't you?

Here at Enterprise Efficiency, we've had a number of discussions about mobile workers, but perhaps it's time to look at optimizing the effectiveness of a telecommuting work force by looking at the habits of people sometimes looked at as models for the tele-working tribe: the Bedouin.

I first read about so-called "high-tech Bedouin" back in 2007. The notion that people were carrying laptop computers to places like Starbucks and working from the tables there wasn't new even then, but there was a flurry of articles and books studying these mobile workers in a sociology-based way. The analogy frequently used then was the Bedouin of the Arabian peninsula. In the years since that wave of coverage, the terms have changed, but it's worth considering whether there are management lessons that can be taken from the Bedouin label.

Agility: The Bedouin have long been admired for their mobility. In the 20th and 21st centuries satellite phones and Land Cruisers have supplanted the traditional camels, horses, and shouted greetings for transportation and communications. If you have work teams that are tele-working, take advantage of the mobility this offers and bring them together in different places, and different combinations of people, to get projects completed faster and more effectively. The combinations of individuals are probably more important than the specific locations, but pulling the people together effectively requires the next lesson...

Communication: When one group of Bedouin approaches another's camp, they'll fire a shot in the air. It lets the visited group know that they're not being snuck up upon, and sets the stage for hospitality. I don't recommend touching off a 12-gauge load outside your local Starbucks, but letting the people working remotely know what's going on is a solid idea. Much has been made of the difficulty in developing a culture among remote workers, but much of that difficulty boils down to trouble with communications. Use any medium that makes sense, whether email, Twitter, instant messages, or wikis, to keep the most remote workers as much "in the loop" as those in the corporate headquarters. Then, you can insist that they return the favor with...

Transparency: The point behind the Bedouin shot in the air is that the approaching group is transparent about its proximity to another group. When working to gain trust among mobile workers, or between mobile workers and those who work in a traditional office, transparency is a key virtue. In an organization of any size, it's far too easy to develop cliques and sub-cultures that define other groups as enemies. Transparency -- of motives, operations, plans, and results -- will go a long way toward removing barriers between groups and may well result in more creative solutions to issues that are now widely known. Who knows? More transparency could even lead to greater...

Hospitality: One of the hallmarks of the Bedouin culture is hospitality. In a hostile environment, guests are treated well by social contract, even if there is natural distrust or even enmity between the groups. In an enterprise, hospitality can take the form of discussions to fully explain the reason behind policies, taking the time to talk about the changes in an employee's family, or including those outside the core group in project work so that job skills can be transferred and mentoring can begin. We often talk in terms of succession and politics, but simple courtesy and hospitality can go a long way toward building the sort of culture that is both effective and pleasant.

If you missed National Telework Week don't be discouraged. I'd bet that you could head down to the local coffee shop Monday morning and find plenty of folks willing to help you with a belated celebration. I might even be one of them.

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Technocrat   Celebrate the Bedouin   3/1/2011 12:33:15 AM
Re: Going Bedouin

@ Curtis This is a great topic sorry I was late to the party!  Anyhow, I have lived the life of a Bedouin and probably will again some time, but I love your point of Agility, I love to be on the go, I would love a position that would let me do that effectively, unfortunately or fortunately I do not work remotely now.

But I do miss the “absolute freedom”(puts a smile on my face just thinking about it) that only the life of a true Bedouin can provide.

And I must say I don’t like StarBUCKS all that much but I agree with @identity when she says, “I sure do miss that extra 20mins of sleep!”   

CurtisFranklin   Celebrate the Bedouin   3/1/2011 12:12:06 AM
Re: Going Bedouin
You know, @Z., a good and wise friend of mine once told me, "We're all self-employed; some people just choose to have a single, large client." Keeping that client happy is critical -- as is making sure that you stay happy with your client. It's a different way of thinking about the job to go along with a different way of thinking about how to work.

There are a lot of differences in work and relationships being worked out right now, and the urban high-tech Bedouin tribe is part of that.
sechristiansen   Celebrate the Bedouin   2/28/2011 11:54:11 PM
Re; Celebrate the Bedouin
There is a culture for everyone these days.  :-)

Zentropist   Celebrate the Bedouin   2/24/2011 10:08:35 PM
Re: Going Bedouin
Ultimately it's my belief that with the de facto shifts in the "social contract," everybody is a Bedouin and a hired gun regardless of their official employment classification (i.e. an employee versus a freelancer). As such, it's best to understand that you are of value to your employer/client so long as you can produce tangible results and demonstrate an ROI sufficient to justify the expenses associated with utilizing your services. If you can't, you can bet that your employment/contract will be terminated at the company's earliest convenience. 

In my view, it's less about the notion of loyalty (since that presumably has to be a two-way street) and more about maintaining both a tacit and overt understanding that so long as the two parties derive benefit from the association, it will likely continue, but once that is no longer the case, either party may elect to move on. 

People that have grown accustomed to relying on a single employer to take care of their financial needs and career progression for extended periods of time are increasingly in for a rude surprise, thanks in part to advances in technology and the commoditization of many jobs and professions...

Terry Sweeney   Celebrate the Bedouin   2/24/2011 11:15:04 AM
Re: I hadn't thought of brandishing a firearm
My last response to a heavy sigher: "First time here? Welcome!"

That sort of gushiness is usually enough to defuse any issue and has even been known to clear the immediate vicinity ;->
Steel2179   Celebrate the Bedouin   2/24/2011 11:07:30 AM
Re: I hadn't thought of brandishing a firearm
The heavy sighers don't make it too far anyway!  In general, I find that most people are very kind and thoughtful.  Sitting in coffee shop for hours at some point you'll need a restroom break.  I am always pleasantly surprised when I ask people to watch my netbook and it is actually still there when I return!  There are good folks out there.
nimanthad   Celebrate the Bedouin   2/24/2011 3:42:39 AM
Re: I hadn't thought of brandishing a firearm
This really is a good post mate.... Theres fun, stuff to learn and soo much moe to talk about. Good stuff being pointed out. I also like the stabucks incident... Would love to read more if there are any.. Just keep on posting if u have stuff like this 
Terry Sweeney   Celebrate the Bedouin   2/23/2011 11:23:06 AM
I hadn't thought of brandishing a firearm
Fun post, Curt... I could probably write a blog-length reply on the etiquette of asking another tele-worker at Starbucks to share their booth or table when there are no other empty seats available. I've been greeted with a full spectrum of responses from the eye-rolling heavy sighers to gracious folks who are kind enough to make room.
CurtisFranklin   Celebrate the Bedouin   2/22/2011 1:45:05 PM
Re: Going Bedouin
...it does take some focus to be productive especially when no one is there to watch you and make sure your're working. It really depends on the individual and even more so, the type of work they do.

That's absolutely correct. Since I'm a fairly talkative person by nature, I find that I'm more productive when I'm a bit more isolated. When there are people around, I'm going to talk to them.

When I'm working by myself, I still find distractions but I get to control what those distractions are. As for productivity, it's simple: Either I get work in on time, or I don't. If I do, it doesn't really matter if I did all the work in the two hours right before deadline after doing research for a day, or if I wrote 1/10 of the words each hour before.

The worker productivity is one thing; the manager's ability to trust the worker to be productive is quite another. You really need both to make tele-working possible, and too many companies end up with one, but not the other.
identity   Celebrate the Bedouin   2/22/2011 11:29:54 AM
Re: Going Bedouin
But hell, I still want to check my personal e-mail, grab a cup of coffee, ect while at home. In my world the dishwasher is 5-10 minutes above and beyond the normal workday breaks.

Though I completely agree with you and I've mentioned in other posts how important I think the proper working environment is while working from home in order to maintain focus and be comfortable but productive. At one point, I found myself without a proper desk to work at which forced me to sit on my couch or the kitchen table all day. Let me tell you, I was getting up to stretch, rearrange my stuff, ect, far more often.
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