Dialogue: Flying solo in the corporate world

By SANDY BURGHAM

Who would have thought that the House of Commons, the White House and several international corporate powerhouses would be thrown into red alert status not by the threats of a Middle Eastern nemesis but by a mischievous computer hacker.

And who came to the rescue? The Feds? The United Nations? Men in black? No. The hero was a 19-year-old Swedish schoolboy who used his home computer to trace the source of the virus.

That's the beauty of computer technology. The playing fields are level when it comes to power, putting it directly into the hands of the everyday man, challenging years of fiefdoms and corporate structures. And hence the phenomenon of the solo player.

Beyond the new realisation that most businesses in New Zealand can be classified as small to medium-sized enterprises, many employing fewer than five people, is the emergence of the solo player. These people have broken the shackles of the corporate environment and decided to go it alone. Thanks to the silicon chip, it's an easy transition. Have cellphone and laptop, will travel. Futurists predict that within 20 years, 80 per cent of all employees will perform their role using some degree of telecommuting.

The solo players created the cafe society, ensuring that these enterprises are not just busy during weekend and lunch hours. The solo player has many offices, everywhere and anywhere, even internationally.

It used to be that a title of "special projects" meant you were going to be fired soon. But the future looks different, not only because a number of management gurus say so, but because there is plenty of work to keep an escalating number of freelance agents and consultants busy on a continuous basis.

Corporates are clogged with wannabe-masters-of-their-own-destinies trying to pluck up the courage to jump from the bungi platform. Every week I get a call in hushed tones from a corporado wanting take to the plunge. When they do jump, it's exhilarating - the sense of freedom, adventure, adrenalin and fear underpinned by the security of their belief in themselves.

Their initial concern is about isolation but the flourishing network of new soloists ensures that this is not an issue. As an independent myself, while I work in a variety of settings, including cafes, client offices and a shared city facility I have access to, I enjoy the days I choose to work from home the most.

It is said that you are more creative when you break routines, so I enjoy challenging the rules ground into me by years of working as a corporate drone. I work on the computer while still in my nightie, talk to clients while unloading the dishwasher and, if tired, I take a siesta.

Sounds inefficient? Try keeping the wheels of a 150 person-plus corporate organisation turning, with staff at various levels of self-motivation, and skilled at looking busy in the eyes of other people. We've all been there - dragging ourselves into work with a hangover barely enabling us to make invalid contributions to meaningless meetings. Reviewing 14-hour workdays and realising that four hours were spent on idle chit-chat, two hours politicking by the photocopier, and one hour on personal Net surfing. That's why company directors welcome downsizing and the new breed of flexi-worker. They simply get more bang for their buck.

There is only thing that irks me about working for myself. When I call a large company to speak to someone, the receptionist never wants to put me through unless I reveal the name of my company - as if I was a peddling telemarketer.

As one of the many sole trading independents working under her own name, I always ask why a company name is relevant. Well, because, we always just ask that, the receptionist replies with some suspicion. So I say, with some sarcasm, it's Sandy from Sandy Burgham Global Incorporated, and I am always hurriedly put through.

I asked one talented person why he decided to leave the comfort of his six-figured salary and inner city car park. What was the moment of epiphany?

"I just got sick of being paid ridiculous amounts of money to do something that didn't matter. I just got sick of being a corporate pet."

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