While the internet has bridged the gap many times over in terms of communication, it seems like even in this day and age, a good old face-to-face meeting is the best way to conduct business. In my case, I am what I could only classify as a traveling tax specialist. Essentially, I take trips around the US to different client sites for interviews about work they do and to facilitate the collection of data. I do spend time at my home office getting all the calculations and writing done, but about 30% of my time is spent on the road. I find that though I miss the office environment, my productivity hasn’t decreased over the last 4 years and I can honestly say that a lot of it has to do with the environment I create for myself while on the road and working at home. So today, I am going to share with you some of those products, tips, and tricks for making your home/hotel office your own.
If you don’t have a smartphone by now you need to figure out how to get one and escape the 90’s… For those that don’t know, smartphones offer a plethora of useful features and applications that will help you coordinate all parts of your home, road, plane, and hotel offices. Let me school you… My day starts and ends with my iPhone 5. When I wake up, I check email from my corporate server. I dial into calls via the appointments my support staff has added to my calendar. I check into flights, store boarding passes, coordinate car rentals, and even order food for delivery all at the touch of a few buttons. Don’t worry, all the major carriers offer great phones at $200 or less. iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry OS all offer enterprise support in one form or another and are all good options for productivity despite what reviews will tell you about their respective shortcomings. Other than that, it’s all a matter of personal preference. My personal favorite in the status quo? The Galaxy S4 by Samsung.
One thing every home office needs is a decent pair of speakers. Now, if you’re a traveler, you want both a solution for your office and one for the road. Let’s be real, the speakers on your laptop, they suck… Yes, even you $3,000-Macbook-Pro owner sitting next to the window at Starbucks lost in thought, hands clearly resting on the keyboard, but not moving. One solution I’ve recently took advantage of was the Bose Soundlink II Mobile Bluetooth Speaker. When I’m on the road, I pack it into my roller and not always have to worry about finding an open outlet (it has an internal lithium ion battery). At home, it sits on my desk running Coffitivity and the latest jam from my Google Music account. Starts at $299 @ Amazon
The cardinal rule of the frequent flyer is NEVER CHECK BAGS. God forbid they lose them, I’ve literally seen bags fall off carts on their way to the plane and get run over or knocked more than a couple feet. Keep your packing down to a minimum using the alloted two carry-ons to the best of your ability. As far as you’re concerned, you want to be in and out. There are a wide variety of luggage manufacturers that sell their wares online and your usual brick-and-mortar locations. I use the Alpha Wheeled Carry-On Garment Bag by Tumi in conjunction with the Wheeled Briefcase by fūl. Why two you ask? Well, one is for all the clothes (the Alpha is actually a folded garment bag that can accommodate 3 full 3 piece suits), and the other, is for all the stuff I may need while working including the computer, writing pads, pens, pencils, etc. Added bonus? The Wheeled Brief by fūl comes with an internal device charging system with a full USB out, microUSB, miniUSB, and iPhone 4S chargers. $645 @ Nordstrom and $249 @ fūl respectively.
What’s the worst feeling after leaving a site visit? Not having the information you needed to get does it for me. To circumvent this, I always carry around a voice recorder to record all meetings. Not surreptitiously of course, but having a recorder there is like having a safety net. This guarantees that at least there is some sort of record for everything that is being said. Don’t forget to let your clients know that you will be recording before you start! I carry an Olympus WS-801 voice recorder. It only uses one triple A battery and is compact enough to slip into a coat pocket without bulging. It also has a handy, retractable USB interface that allows direct connections with any computer. Once connected it appears as a flash drive and you just pull the recordings you need off of it. $60 @ Amazon.
Mobile 4G Router
Anyone that travels regularly knows that while there are many places that offer free WiFi, most often, you find that connections are painfully slow and signal isn’t always reliable. This includes WiFi options at various airports, hotels, and cars. Of course, if you do travel, the internet is often the only way for you to keep connected to your office and deliver work in a timely, efficient manner. Some people choose to use the wireless hotspot feature of their current-gen smartphone to supply their all-important internet connection, however, depleting your battery to nil is a surefire way to miss calls and messages from clients and colleagues. Why not try a wireless 4G router? I currently use the Verizon Jetpack but any 4G device will suffice and the growing ubiquity of this new piece of tech is making purchasing one a painless and inexpensive proposition. $0 on contract @ Wirefly.
Tips and Tricks
One of the most surprising things I miss while working from home is background noise. I’m not just talking about music of course because that’s never lost to me, but the sound of people around me, just doing… things. Well, a few months ago I discovered Coffitivity. A site that allows you to inject some coffee shop ambiance into your work experience. I find that when I play my music over the white noise, I focus more easily and get lost in my work. It’s pretty crucial. http://coffitivity.com/
Frequent Flyer / Renter / Guest Cards
Whether your firm has a policy of staying with one airline, car service, and hotel chain, or not, all the frequent user accounts are free to create. Time to let your job give you the added benefit of rewards. Now, if your company doesn’t make it a habit of keeping you on the same airline, start one for all the carriers you use. Then make sure you make a frequent stay card for the hotels you stay in, those might come in handy when you’re thinking about how to utilize your PTO (Paid Time Off). Even parking structure chains offer frequent use cards now. As a side note, some airlines now offer quick security checks for frequent business flyers wherein you don’t have to remove your shoes and belt or submit to any bag checks. Time to start stacking those miles!
Inevitably, there are going to be times you are on the road and you won’t have the time or presence of mind to go out and socialize. After a long, stressful day out at a job site, a run and a quick workout is just what the doctor ordered. For the most part, the bigger hotel chains will have fitness rooms that will suffice and if not, there’s always running. Make sure you bring some athletic wear that wicks moisture and dries quickly. This way, you can hang sweaty clothes in the shower of your hotel suite and they’ll be dry the next day for packing. I find doing a quick rinse and wring of clothes soaked with perspiration goes a long way to eliminating any unappealing odors as you pack them in your bag. If not, most hotels have dry cleaning bags which you can take to pack your dirty laundry in.
One of the things I miss most about working is having coworkers to talk to. Those who have worked with me in a professional setting know that I love conversation, especially as the day is winding down, with coworkers about their non-work-related-life-happenings. Ever since I started my work@home gig, this has been pretty much impossible. So, now, I go out of my way to schedule lunches and dinners with people in my area. To make sure that I get my conversation fix on a day-to-day basis. I may have even gone as far as convincing my housemate to call in sick one day just so I didn’t have to work alone.
Sidebar: I’m writing this at 12:30 from a hotel room, blasting some Swedish House from my Bose Soundlink II asking myself why I’m not sleeping. Clearly, I need a way to knock myself out cold without having to worry about waking up on time the following morning… Any suggestions?