It can be enormously confusing when you first set out to liberate yourself. Having a full-featured office that is not an office at all is a contradiction and a challenge — but also an enormously satisfying goal once it is achieved.
The first few times you hit the road (or a restaurant, airline or conference) with your mobile office set-up, you are likely to discover a missing ingredient or two. Mostly, it will be trial and error before you hit on the ideal combination. This chapter should help make it less of a trial.
Use a good laptop bag
The typical advertising image of carrying your new slimline laptop in a briefcase may be alluring, but it is not practical for an extended trip out of the office. It will force you to compromise on accessories, which will compromise your effectiveness. Get a laptop bag that will keep your machine secure, while providing space for power cables, USB devices and your chosen peripherals, like a portable scanner. It should also have internal sleeves for documents, allowing it to double as a briefcase.
Carry power adaptors
Don’t expect your standard plug to fit into power sockets wherever you go. Make sure you have an adaptor that allows you to recharge your laptop using either the two- or three-prong sockets available in South Africa. Out of the country, the best option is a universal power adaptor, which typically allows you to extend the appropriate prongs for the power sockets of whichever region you visit. For some regions, however, you may need to buy an adaptor specific to that region. Research the requirements for your destination on the internet before buying additional adaptors. If you travel often to the same country, get a power cord for your laptop that will plug directly into sockets in that country. It’s a small thing, but a huge convenience.
Rethink that portable printer
If space is at a premium, a portable printer is the last thing you should try to squeeze in. It sounds great in theory, but most entrepreneurs who fall for the idea find that, in practice, they seldom need it. If you don’t have space issues and want to cover those “in case” situations, then it certainly can give you the edge.
Let your work needs dictate where you sleep
More and more hotels are offering free Wi-Fi or broadband network access to guests. While the cost of using a 3G card or paying for commercial Wi-Fi access in a hotel may not be prohibitive relative to the cost of staying in a hotel, it is, ironically, often the more economical hotels that offer free Wi-Fi access, while the more upmarket hotels tend to charge for it. When travelling internationally, this can be enormously useful for your budget.
While you’re about it, check whether the hotel has a business centre or similar service that offers free or cost-effective printing. Sometimes this service is available via a Web interface, in other words, you log on to the hotel’s website and send documents to the hotel’s printer from your room. Such services also do away with the need for a portable printer.
Carry a spare, charged cellphone
It is amazing how often our cellphone batteries fade when we need them the most and there is no option to recharge. Most businesspeople have been through a few upgrade cycles, meaning they have a couple of spare phones lying around. Instead of giving the previous upgrade to the kids, keep it charged and available when you’re on the road. Another option is a small, portable, pre-charged recharger. I swear by my tiny Motorola P790 recharger, which is compatible with the Blackberry, among other phones, and carries enough power for one full recharge.
Choose a phone that can be recharged from your laptop
Cellphones that can recharge by simply plugging into your laptop’s USB port are becoming fairly common. This saves enormously on the luggage space usually taken up by the charger, plus all the adaptors needed to plug in anywhere.
No, you don’t have to have an iPod
If you insist on taking your music wherever you go, get a phone that has strong music-playing functionality. An iPod does do the job better than any phone, but the customs official going through your bags when you return is not going to believe that you had it with you when you left the country. It also saves on clutter if you combine the two devices into one (and that doesn’t mean you’re obliged to use an iPhone, either. Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson all make great music phones, and are superior for voice and messaging).
Use a walk-and-talk
If you’re going to be using your phone in restaurants, coffee shops and airport lounges, invest in a good walk-and-talk system — ideally one that uses Bluetooth (unless you have a thing about looking like a cyborg). Not only does it protect you from supposed radiation from your phone, but it will also enable you to hear what the other person is saying when there is bedlam all around.
Remember the human touch
If you decide to work from a coffee shop on a regular basis, it is useful to develop a relationship with the people who work there. This includes finding out what their attitude is towards people who sit there for hours nursing a cup of coffee, as well as giving them a good reason to welcome you back (like nursing several cups of coffee and tipping decently). You don’t have to be on first-name terms with the staff, but it helps.
It must work for you
Don’t let anyone browbeat you into using a specific mobile office set-up just because it’s what he or she uses. What works for one person does not necessarily work for the next. Your specific needs — and your personality traits — will dictate the set-up that works best for you when you are liberating yourself from the office.