Working from Wherever: Some tips for your mobile office when you wish you were home

The year 2020 was the year we traveled around the world. It wasn’t out of choice. The reality is we got caught in a burocratic web which closed countries’ borders around us and kept us hopping for eleven months from Europe to Asia to North America and back to Europe again…and then North America, etc. etc. in the midst of COVID19.

All this traveling didn’t mean I had quit my job. I kept working, just in a different way than I had been for the past years. And what I had to work with, and live with, all had to fit in my backpack. So, if I were to take the trip again, how would I prepare my mobile office?

I don’t think you are hoping for another year like 2020, or to be stuck hopping from country to country as we were, but perhaps you are ready to do a bit of traveling as soon as lockdowns ease. I would recommend doing some preparation to get your mobile office ready to go, so you can capitalize on the remote working environment as soon as you can book a flight.

What can ease the transition to a mobil office?

1. Laptop: We nearly always start with the laptop. It is the staple of the workforce. However, I would like to challenge you to reconsider. Is it possible to do your work on an iPad or other tablet? It might not be, but for me, it works. There were just a couple of daily tasks which took longer, or felt more awkward on the iPad than on my laptop, but it was worth it. The combined weight of the computer and the charging accessories were eliminated from my backpack, and with that physical weight, the worry weight of losing it or having it stolen. An iPad can be replaced in nearly any country and all my documents will sync over from iCloud.

Not only did I eliminate the computer weight, but I also enabled myself to bring my preferred reading device, my iPad. I do not like non-research books on my laptop. Relaxing with a laptop on my lap is not my idea of enjoyment. Nor do I like spending a lot of time on my phone. So not having a laptop freed me up for my device of choice, my iPad.

Challenge: Try to work for one week from just your tablet. See what you can do, or you can’t do. Look for apps that can compensate. You will lose time. You will not be as productive. But you might find out that you can adjust with a bit of learning and actually free up a lot of time, energy, and money which have been invested in keeping your laptop updated.

2. iPad: If you are going to move from predominately laptop to iPad, you need to make sure you have the right device and accessories. Depending on your daily work load these will differ. I use the iPad Pro from 2018, Apple Pencil, and a Logi keyboard case, which I am fairly satisfied with (it has this annoying glitch where I have to unattached and reattach the keyboard after I shut my iPad off. I don’t know if it is a setting with the iPad or keyboard. If anyone has an answer, let me know). I do like the keyboard and case because it needs no batteries or charger (runs off the iPad), and is not bluetooth, but uses the smart connectors. This is one less device to pair and charge.

Challenge: Make a list of what you like to do and don’t like to do on your tablet. Try to find where you are using it ineffectively and then change those uses. Maybe you need to drop it for reading a hard copy book, or maybe delete the Netflix app. Maybe you should try using it for design work or YouTube production. Try something different on it.

3. Phone: I work within the Apple ecosystem because of usability and stability. Whichever system you use, get the corresponding phone/tablet. This eliminates frustration in syncing and you can pick up where you left off if one device is doing an update (which always takes longer than planned!).

4. Headphones: I always travel with the standard corded earbuds that come with the iPhone and also my noise canceling Bose headphones. Depending on where I am working, I use the corresponding headphones. If I need to block primary noise, but would still like to know if there is a Sasquatch destroying the coffee shop behind my back, I use the earbuds. If I don’t care about the havoc behind me, I use the Bose. In my opinion, the larger Bose headphones are worth the extra space in my backpack. There is a sense of calm that immediately comes over me when I put them on, whether I’m sitting in a sketchy AirBnB in Shanghai, or the Heathrow Airport lounge.

5. Notebook and pen: I try to always have my notebook and pen with me. On long flights I can’t be looking at a device the entire time. Handwriting is better for getting ideas down quickly and going back to drinking my ginger ale. I have used the Moleskin pocket notebooks for years, mostly because I thought they looked simple and I would look more sophisticated using them. I am also trying out the Luchturm 1917. Using whatever you have near at hand is better than buying something new. My pen of choice has been the Sharpie pen. I don’t have any plans of changing that anytime soon since I ended up with fifteen or so of them and they may be multiplying in the drawer.

The key to the notebook system is how to transfer ideas from my notebook to digital. I don’t want to hang on to these notebooks for a variety of reasons. In another post I will share the simple workflow I have have to digitalize them.

Challenge: Try carrying a small notebook for a few days and pulling that out instead of your phone to take down a note. Weird, isn’t it!

6. The backpack: I use a two pack system. I carry everything in my Eagle Creek backpack which is a great pack, pretty much perfect for me. And then I toss in a little stowable pack we got from a garage sale. That way when my Eagle Creek pack is loaded down with all my travel possessions, I can put my office supplies in my small pack for under the seat in front of me, or on my back when I am not crammed in an airplane.

Challenge: Make an inventory of what packs you might use. Is there one that is perfect? Or are you fine switching between a variety?]

These are my suggestions for preparing yourself for a remote office. What have you found helpful in your own setup?

I also wrote a piece about my travel essentials under $20. You can check that out here.