A Hitchhikers Guide to the Internet


"Where do you work?"

"Planet Earth."

Sound familiar? No? Well, it should. More and more people are working from home on the Internet, and there are two things you should know about your office when you work on the Internet.

First, your office will be very, very small and very, very lonely. Just you and your pajamas.

Second, your office will be very, very big and full of many, many people from every corner of the planet, mostly trying to sell things to each other. That is because when you work from home, Planet Earth is your office and theirs.

For instance, would you believe that a man on the Internet in the Ukraine delivers the local weather forecast in Sydney to Chicago? So much for sticking your head out the window.

I have a client in the UK who sells machine parts through a website selling ball and roller bearings to every country in the world ... except the UK, of course. Doesn't that make the local hardware store redundant?

With so many clients crowding into my office, I could use some stress relief strategies around now.

Office Politics in the Global Office

My clients live on almost every continent, and the only thing that occasionally gets in the way of seamless communication are time-zone differences. (If Columbus would have minded his own business, we wouldn't face even that challenge!)

What's more, my clients are not always English-speaking, and neither are all of my clients' websites. Can you say netzwerküberwachung? I do search engine optimization in four languages - English, French, Spanish and German - which tells you something about the global office in which some of my clients sit.

But there is more than just language that makes the global office a tricky workplace to navigate. Aside from the lack of water coolers and washrooms, most of the world works in metric, but the biggest Internet market works in imperial. So some customers won't know what a mile is, and others won't know what a kilometer is.

And everybody spells funny to someone else. Is it honor or honour? Center or centre? Folks or peeps?

Fortunately for me, I live in Canada. 95% of Canadians live within a stone's throw of the US border. (They are all folks, by the way.) So we officially learn to spell and to count the way the British do (but they are still not peeps). Nevertheless, Americanisms sneak across the border by osmosis, perhaps due to an attack dog budget shortfall at the illegal aliens department.. At least I'll know what a mile is ? it's that thing people want to take when I give them an inch.

And what about currency? I make it simple. I use US dollars, because that really is the currency of the Internet. But I also accept Paypal payments, so anybody can input their favorite currency and out pops US dollars on my end. I wish more people would do that. I could use more dollars.

If none of that phases you, consider time zones. Just as a client in Australia is waking up, your client in the United States is going to bed. And how will they reach you when you are not in the office. Tools like email to phone services can help. So can insomnia.

Nobody twenty years ago would have imagined that you and I could sit at home and type words into a TV screen to make a comfortable living. Welcome to my office ? Planet Earth.

Hmm. Right now I am reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...I wonder if I can work from home on the Internet on any other planets...

David Leonhardt

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