Given the rise of the Internet of Things (#IoT) and the increasing number of electronic devices we use daily, the cloud is becoming more than convenient, but necessary. The cloud has also prompted the existence of jobs unimagined before, giving countless people the ability to work online from the physical location of their choosing. There are certainly appealing aspects of working from home: you can remain in a space in which you are comfortable, and you can do all of your work without wearing pants. However, what about digital workers whose offices are virtual but whose homes are not ideal working environments?
           As the media manager for a technology company, I have to be connected to the Internet at least 8 hours a day. Even if I’m not actively blogging or tweeting, I have to communicate virtually with my team and remain continuously connected. I recently woke up just 15 minutes before I had to begin working for the day, and I drowsily wandered into my living room to login to my work email. That’s when my WiFi connection went down. I tried, with no success, for fifteen minutes to fix it before getting properly dressed and going to McDonald’s for the free WiFi. I ordered coffee and a soggy hashbrown, began connecting my laptop to the WiFi, only to be told that their wireless, too, was not working. An hour of my day was taken up due to insufficient connectivity.
           I eventually landed at a local coffeeshop with a fast internet connection where I was able to work the remainder of the day. The irony and frustration of the situation—being unable to access the Internet on which my livelihood depends—led me to think about community space and accessibility. The cloud creates jobs where people work remotely, and more and more such people are utilizing connectivity. What if communities created local spaces where entrepreneurs and digital workers could do their jobs, converge, and share ideas?
           A co-working space or “incubator” could positively impact economic development in any given community. Such spaces would not be limited to big cities, and in fact would work better in rural areas given the smaller populations. Broadband makes it possible for this workspace of sorts to exist within rural communities. Either build it because people will come or build it because they are already there. Living in a rural community should not necessitate poor connectivity and a lack of resources for digital workers.
           Mark P. McDonald of Accenture recently published an article entitled “The Digital Worker Redefined.” In it, he speaks of the efficiency of machines and the ability we often have to get everything we need from a computer. However, he makes the argument that contextually complex situations often call for qualitative information, a weakness for many machines when compared to their human counterparts. McDonald writes, “While it’s possible for machines to know the data and even infer human emotions from interactions, there are times when people need to work with people.” In this view, a technology incubator as previously described could allow digital workers to primarily work digitally and remotely without sacrificing necessary human interactions.
           According to the Harvard Business Review, people who work in co-working spaces are statistically significantly happier with their jobs than people working in traditional office environments. This seems to be primarily due to scheduling flexibility while retaining some form of structure and opportunities for community engagement. Cities and towns with popular co-working spaces would be happier, healthier, and, thus, more productive.
           An integrative approach to independent work can stimulate community growth, and a technology incubator in a rural community could change the entire economic landscape of the region. Utilizing an existing building and adding broadband would be relatively inexpensive, and it could increase the amount of digital workers and networking opportunities in the area. A resource like a co-working space would be invaluable to any town looking to stay relevant and sustainable for people living in the digital age.