If you could work remotely, would you spend more time traveling? If the answer is “yes” then you are where I was just over a year ago. I knew I wanted to travel, but I still had to keep a business running, so I set out to find the remote office tools I needed to free me from my desk.
Today I spend over 25% of my time away from my home office, and contrary to what my Facebook friends think, I’m usually very productive while I’m gone. I strive for efficiency so that I’m not spending all my time glued to the laptop while I’m on the road. I mean, the whole idea of traveling is to be able to enjoy life more, right? For more on efficiency, I suggest reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. Not all of his suggestions will work for you, but there is a bunch of good info in the book making it a worthwhile read.
It took a lot of trial and error to find remote office tools that would allow me to remain productive for weeks at a time on the road. Actually, it’s still a work in progress. As I write, my remote login solution is down and I’m waiting for my computer guru to let himself into my home office to fix the problem.
In spite of my immediate dilemma, overall I have a good set of tools to free me from my desk. Each business has its own needs, so this list won’t be for all of you. Just so you have some perspective, I write freelance, and manage a small real estate brokerage, all while traveling throughout the US and Mexico. These tools work for me with some limitations.
HP Probook – I only carry this on trips longer than a week or if I have a ton of stuff pending. Otherwise, I pack my iPad.
Internet – I need it. I try to locate free access, but I also have a small data plan on my iPad ($14.95) so I can check email. I would have to call my trip a “vacation” if I had no internet connection. I have considered a “hotspot” device, but it’s rare that I can’t find free access somewhere. It might mean sitting in a hotel lobby or café, but so far, I’ve been lucky.
E Fax – This was the first remote office tool I put in place. The concept of waiting for a fax at the office when I could be out in the field making money (or doing something fun) didn’t pass the smell test. For $16.95 per month, my faxes now follow me and I gave up my more costly dedicated fax line. E Fax also archives faxes and copies my partner, two more reasons to ditch the traditional fax.
Real VNC – This is my current remote login provider. It works great when it’s set up correctly, but that can be tricky. In full disclosure, my computer tech is not a fan of Real VNC and suggested LogMeIn, but I used it because a tech-savvy friend swears by it. Real VNC allows me to login to my home PC, transfer files, work using the programs on my PC (like Photoshop), and even print. I frequently draft contracts and send them to the office printer for my partner to pick up.
Dropbox – This is one of many file-sharing programs available. I like that it downloads files onto synced devices when they have internet access. Once the files download you don’t need a connection to view them. I sync files to my home PC, laptop, iPad, and phone so I always have what I need. They take up room, so only keep the files you currently need in your Dropbox folder.
Genius Scan – This free iPhone and iPad app allows users to scan multi-page documents to PDF and email them. It does more, but that all I care about… It’s perfect for contracts that can’t wait for a trip to Kinko’s. I even use Genius Scan when I’m in town just to save a drive back to my office.
SD Card Reader for iPad – I need the ability to shoot, edit and upload photos while traveling. If it’s an iPad-only trip, this little tool, plus an editing program, gets the job done – even with RAW files.
Evernote – I need lists and notes to stay organized, but Post-It Notes and white boards won’t work because I don’t sit at the same desk day-after-day. To solve the problem, I use Evernote, a free note-taking app that syncs between devices. It also allows tagging and sorting into “notebooks.” It stores photos and links in addition to text, making it more powerful than a white board.
Batchbook CRM – This is my contact database storing not only names and addresses, but notes, emails and documents. Because it’s a web-based program, I periodically save a contact report to my Dropbox in case I need a number when I don’t have internet access. Batchbook is a syncing program that keeps both my business partner and I up-to-date on each other’s notes. Companion iPhone and iPad apps make it a fast and simple to access information in the field. It also syncs contacts to my Gmail as another little convenience.
A computer guru you can trust – This is the most valuable tool I have. I’m nearly 2,200 miles from home and need someone who knows what he’s doing and can be trusted in my home alone. I’d be lost without Brian (my guru). However, you can’t wait until you’re gone and have a problem to find someone. You need to establish a relationship before you leave. If you find the right tech but don’t trust him in your home, have a plan before you leave to have a friend or family member act as an escort. If you’re in the Orlando area, I can give you my guy’s number.
In addition to these tools, I have a printer/copier/scanner both at my home, and in Salt Lake City where I often spend weeks at a time. I currently do not carry a mini-printer, but I have considered getting one. So far, I have always found a place to print, such as a hotel business office, UPS Store, Office Max etc. My philosophy is to avoid adding gear to my bag unless I can’t do without the item. So far, I don’t need a printer on short trips.
Have you noticed a reoccurring theme? Synchronizing data is a big deal for me. It means no matter which device I pick-up my data is there. Honestly, I don’t have the time or focus to download files to a flash-drive before every trip, so syncing is my crutch.
I’m certain that I’ll fine-tune my system over time, and when I do, I’ll write an updated post on the latest tools in my remote office toolbox. What solutions do you use that I haven’t mentioned here? I’d love to hear your ideas.