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Leave the Driving to Microsoft


At Microsoft (MSFT) headquarters in Redmond, Wash., more than 35% of employees have given up the dreaded stop-and-go commutes in carbon-spewing single-occupancy vehicles. Instead, with cash and subsidies from the company, they bike, carpool, hop on public transit, or avail themselves of Microsoft's new fleet of Wi-Fi-enabled luxury coaches. Other companies are on an eco-transport drive, too. Qualcomm (QCOM) provides hybrid and electric car charging stations. And riders on Google's (GOOG) shuttle buses can bring their bikes and dogs. But arguably no company is pushing harder than Microsoft. By 2015, it expects 40% of its workforce to use greener modes of transport.

Want to spend the summer at the cabin with the kids, sans BlackBerry? Aside from tax-time-addled accountants, seasonal work has usually been a blue-collar, laborers-in-the-trenches affair. Now, in a bid to nab and hang on to the best and the brightest, some companies are letting white-collar workers redesign careers so they can take longer chunks of time off. At Ernst & Young, a movement is afoot to promote seasonal schedules. Megan Hobson, a leader in the firm's mergers-and-acquisitions due diligence unit, spends all of July with her husband and two girls, 8 and 5, on Cape Cod at full pay, using vacation time. She does check e-mail in the mornings or evenings, but "I'm basically in a bathing suit, shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops the entire month," she says. More than 10% of E&Y's staff is on an alternative schedule.

At Accenture (ACN), a program called Future Leave allows workers to take up to three months off without jeopardizing their jobs. The leave is unpaid, but the firm picks up the tab for health care and other insurance. Sabbaticals, bundling vacation time, and taking 80% paychecks in exchange for summers off, are also on the rise.

Google's (GOOG) AdSense--which uses an algorithm to pop relevant ads next to online content--is creating a new career: the AdSensarian. Everyday Webmasters are using AdSense to turn online passions into revenue streams. Retiree Gail Bjork, a digital photography aficionado, was being hounded for her advice. So she started putting up all her easy-to-understand tips on Digicamhelp.com. Thanks to AdSense ad placements from the likes of Amazon.com (AMZN), her site now pulls in more than the average Social Security check (about $1,000) monthly. Google pays site owners like Bjork a little something per ad click. "AdSense levels the playing field for small Web sites and allows them to make money like a big corporation," says Bjork. Another AdSensarian is Danielle Friedland. After watching the Golden Globe awards in January, Friedland realized she knew too much about pregnant celebrities to keep it to herself. Today her celebrity-babies.com gets ads from the likes of McDonald's (MCD) and Eastman Kodak (EK). Friedland now has a staff and appears regularly on TV.


Silicon Valley State of Mind
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