The tools for making your work location irrelevant

December 29, 2011

A few years ago it ocurred to me that it would be good to work and be productive regardless of my physical location.

That meant being able to be away from my office and still work at a high level, without having to explain to everyone with whom I deal that I am “away from office.” For real efficiency reasons, family reasons and particular quirks of my personality and temparment, working away from the office is critical for me.

When I began considering my mobile strategy, the tools for doing this either existed or were quickly coming into existence. Today, I believe I have accomplished what I set out to do: I can work efficiently and effecitvely from just about any physical location. My analysis below assumes a person who is comfortable using email and browsing the Internet.

Below are the tools I use to essentially make my work location irrelevant:

1. Laptop Computer. For me it is the 15″ Apple MacBook Pro (mid-2010 version). But you don’t need an Apple laptop, any solid and reasonable sized PC Lapton (Dell, HP etc. . . take your pick) will work fine. This computer is your work station in your mobile office. The machine needs to be able to most of what any desktop computer can do.

2. Smartphone. Since I usually don’t have access to a landline, having a working telephone connection is a must. There are many options. My phone of choice is the iPhone 4 through Verizon. The smartphone has to work for voice calls (which are still at times a necessity). It also needs to provide quick and easy access to email, texts and any other regular forms of communication you use. Often, when I am working on the MacBook Pro, the phone is notifier when I have a new email or other message. I can also send quick replies to multiple messages easily, using the iPhone.

3. Mobile Internet Device. Free WiFi is ubiquitous but I still find it problematic. Coffee shops, restaurants, libraries and even the local automative parts store offer free WiFi. How secure is a free network that doesn’t require a password (not very)? Is the free WiFi fast enough to get anything done? Do you have the free WiFi everywhere you need it? For all of these reasons, I replaced free WiFi with my own personal Internet device. Originally, it AT&T USB modem, then it was Verizon’s MiFi and know it is Verizon’s Intelligent Mobile Hotpsot (like the MiFi but with 4G LTE). With the Hotspot, I have super fast Interent accesss whereever I am (I wrote about it here). No worries about security, whether there is a connection or how fast it is. From the car, the courthouse or the case, the Hotspot allows me to focus on getting my work done rather than on the quality or security of my Internet connection. As alternative to the dedicate device, many smartphones have a hotspot feature that for [quite] a few extra dollars, you can share your phone’s Internet connection with your computer.

4. Digital Documents. Maintaing and dragging around a bunch of paper is the arch enemy of making location irrelevant. If all the documents you need are in file folders in the file cabinet at your office, then you need to within walking distance of the file cabinet. I eliminated this issue by going most paperless for the documents with which I work. This means all correspondence, pleadings, memos, research and the like are maintained as digital files, accesible anywhere. I use Dropbox which is a seamless and simple solution regardless of what device you are on. Dropbox allows me maintain one file system for all digital documents across all my devices. I am always working on the “most recent version” of the document.

5. Browser-centric. The browser is the centerpiece of my work. Browser tabs are often how my tasks are organized. This means that most of my applications are web-based. While technically an application can be “web-based” but independent from a browser, I find an advantage in using applications within the browser. My browser of choice is Google’s Chrome on the Mac (and when it gets buggy I switch over to Safari). Google Chrome for Windows is an equally good if not superior choice. Many of the applications I used in my business and personal life (which are sometimes inextriablcy intertwined) run in a browser tab. For instance, Gmail, Google Reader, Bill4Time, Twitter, Westlaw (for legal research) all run through my browser. The advantage is that regardless of my location, I open the browser and see the same interface and have same experience with the service. This uniformity leads to efficiency.

6. Mobile Power. Nothing short circuits [pun intended] my productive like the laptop, Hotspot or phone dying from a lack of power. To combat this issue, I try to work within range of an outlet or charging source. If its at the libary or a cafe, the source is a wall outlet. If it is in the car, the with a car power adapter. The nice thing about my mobile devices is that they can all be charged through the MacBook Pro: the phone connects and so does the Hotspot with its USB adapter. If there is a plug in for the computer, everything else is good to go. One thought if you are working in your car or on the go: get power connector such as this one that fits into your drink holder and charges a computer, a phone and most other devices. You also avoid some car-cord-clutter with this setup.

7. IP-based phone management tool. To me, no mobile connection beats the quality and consistency of a good landline connection. Even the best cellphone is a bit flaky at times. However, if you are going to work mobile you need to be able to talk and manage call and messages remotely. There are several premium Internet-based phone options, but I use Google Voice. Google Voice is a complement to my landline phone system, it does not replace the phone (Read my review here). It is my go-to service for managing communications, both spoken and textual. Google Voice allows me to have one telephone number that can forward to multiple numbers and the ability to text from the same number. The ability to manage my Google Voice account to a granular level from the web (on a computer or smartphone) is also a plus. No more calling into the office to check messages, the messages are transcribed and on your phone and computer.

8. Head-Phones. This is only a requirement if you will not be working in a noise-insulated, sound and visually distraction-free environment! For rest of us who work in locations with some noise, it is nice to have heahphones to block out the distractions and through music and talk create the environment you need to be productive. I am not picky about what I have been using is the ear buds that come with almost every Apple mobile product. However, there are many higher quality options that will sound better and more effectively eliminate outside noise. I received a great set of Sony Headphones for Christmas.

Shawn Roberts

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I write about and try to answer practical Oklahoma legal questions. I tend to focus on estate planning and business issues. I make a living as an attorney working for Resolution Legal Group in Oklahoma City. I am husband to Amy and the father of Sam and David. We live exactly in the path where the "wind comes sweeping down the plains."