Most of what I do for a living, I do from home. I have a home office that's stuffed with enough technology to make NASA engineers drool in envy. I get a lot done here, and I really can't see any way that I could do the work I do without the equipment I have.
But sometimes, I just don't get to work from home. There are times, for example, when I have to work on the fly. I have to squeeze in some writing time at a Starbucks, or do some graphics work on an airplane. How many times have I sat at a desk in a hotel room and posted a column or polished a piece? Proposals, ad copy, logo designs -- I've done all of this and more from remote locations.
I used a laptop, of course. But I've found that a laptop alone isn't always enough. So I've developed a sort of "virtual office" that I carry with me when I travel. I'll be covering this a bit more in my upcoming book on the subject, but I thought I might give you, faithful reader, an opportunity to nab a few pearls.
The tools of the trade -- Like I said, I have a laptop. Mine is a Presario X1000 and I actually snagged it for free (perks of being a product reviewer). It's not the "top of the line" in mobile computing, but it's not exactly junk. The important part is that it has a lot of the functionality I need.
My line of work is mostly writing, but I also do some graphic design and some video editing. So the computer I use has to be able to handle these things. Most of the video editing happens on my studio computer, which has more horsepower and more hard drive space. But the laptop can handle some minor of the shorter editing projects such as commercials, promotional videos, etc.
For what I do, Microsoft's Office software is essential. Roll your eyes all you want about Microsoft's on-going bid for world domination, but they make a pretty good product most of the time. Office includes Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets (good for invoicing!), PowerPoint for presentations and Outlook for e-mail, scheduling and keeping track of contacts. Outlook can also be synced up with Yahoo's mail service as well as a PDA.
Which brings me to... you guessed it, the PDA. I use a Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC. Yeah, I know, there are plenty of newer models out there, and they have lots of nifty new functions and gadgets. This one was another freebie a couple of years ago and it hasn't failed me yet. I can sync it up with Outlook for contacts, scheduling and e-mail, and I can even sync it to certain web sites such as USA Today for quick news on the go. Some PDAs come with built in wireless, Bluetooth and other useful technology. And, as in the case of mine, you can often use an external keyboard with them to do some writing and other office work on the go. This is very convenient when carrying a laptop is too cumbersome (think airplanes).
Isn't it hard to believe that only ten years ago e-mail was still a rarity in the workplace? Now it's so common that when it goes down it practically stops workflow all together. there are plenty of e-mail solutions out there, and frankly if you have an internet service provider (ISP) then you have an e-mail account. But traveling poses a few problems with some e-mail systems. That's why I always recommend that people use Yahoo.
Yahoo is great. For one thing, it's free. And I know there are a lot of free e-mail services out there, but Yahoo has consistently been the best in delivering virus protection, anti-spam and other innovations. You can check up to three POP e-mail accounts using this service. Yahoo is a pretty powerful, free, web based e-mail system. But believe it or not, that's not the biggest reason I recommend it to the virtual office worker.
Yahoo has an excellent scheduling system and one of the best contact management systems around. And it also has Yahoo Instant Messenger. Buddy lists like this one have been around for a very long time, and everyone has their favorites. Yahoo IM shares some of the same features as other leading chat tools. But so far it seems to be the easiest to use, and it has fewer problems with firewalls and other limiting software.
Yahoo IM checks your Yahoo e-mail account for you and alerts you when there's a new message. It also alerts you of upcoming events on your calendar and can inform you or anyone on your contact list of appointments. For communicating with co-workers or clients who might be in far off locales, Yahoo IM is a tremendous resource.
And then there's voice chat. With the free voice chat, you can talk voice-to-voice with any other Yahoo IM user on the planet, bypassing those pesky long distance bills. Yahoo also offers a web phone service that's actually not too expensive, especially for over-seas or long distance calling.
Ah, the virtues of Yahoo. I sing its praises often. But there are other services out there that can be just as helpful. MyEmail.com, for example, lets you log in, send and receive e-mail from your POP account by simply entering your username and password. No sign-ups for any sort of service, and no harassing advertisements or other problems.
The Internet has many free or cheap resources that make a virtual office possible. There are ways to send and receive faxes, buy office supplies, track packages, order take-out... you name it.
I'd love to go into more detail, honestly, but I have to give you SOME reason to buy my book when it hits the shelves! Keep coming back here for updates and I'll let you know when it's published.
Until then, keep an eye on local coffee shops or hotels. You might just see me in the office.
J. Kevin Tumlinson is the Editor & Publisher of ViewOnline (www.viewonline.com), the author of the weekly syndicated column ViewPoint, and the owner of Hat Digital Media (www.hatdigitalmedia.com). He is virtually a Yahoo employee.