How to Run a Mobile Office for under $1500

I am a Bedouin, a Nomad deep down inside, I long to be freed from the constraints of the office, of the cubical, of the bondage of a desk and swivelling chair.  As a consultant and an Engineer, there are plenty of times that I do need to be in the office, but when it comes to crunch time and I need to get work done, there is nothing better than weighing anchor and saying farewell to cubeville. I’ve written about these desires deep within me before, but today I thought I’d offer a how-to on this.

Bedouin WorkshopBut, to do this you have to be prepared, these are my tips to keeping productivity high while out of the office.

The Tools:
A widescreen wireless laptop, with all the software needed to stay productive.   I usually pack a mouse and spare mousepad depending on the surface I’ll be working on.  If I’m going to be out for longer than my battery will last, I’ll either pack a spare, or a power cord.  I also pack a headset for VOIP with Wengo.
In my case my software list includes;

  • OpenOffice – opensource MS office equivalent, free,
  • OpenWorkbench – opensource project management software for Windows, free,
  • Thunderbird – Email Client, free,
  • Firefox – Internet browser + extensions, free,
  • 12D – Civil Design software,
  • Drains – Stormwater Design Software,
  • ProgeCADLT 2006 – Free CAD software, and
  • Wengo, (opensource Skype Alternative), free,

I am tied to windows for the Engineering software and CAD programs, as well as OpeWorkbench.
12D and Drains software are hardware-lock dongle driven, and the company I work for provides these and are not included
in the $1500.

A good Mobile phone, so you can be contacted on the go, in my case, I use a Motorola L7 with a bluetooth handsfree. I try hard to limit my mobile phone usage, and try to call landlines from Wengo, a solid, free VOIP client that allows you to make calls for free, or as little as $2 cents a minute.

A notepad. For the phone calls, for random ideas, and for reminders.  I keep a few spare sheets of A4, but generally I stick with my HipsterPDA, and my Chrome Fisher Bullet Space Pen.

Spare change for coffee.  Don’t forget loyalty cards, or your mug for discounts if applicable!

The Method:
Firstly, you need to decide if you need to be connected to the internet, for many professionals this is not negotiable these days, but I can usually go about half a day without any access.  Generally, if I know I’m going to be out of the office, I’ll get the admin staff to call me on my mobile if it is urgent, (I make every attempt to keep my mobile number away from the hands of clients).  If you do need internet connection, a free wireless cafe is the go, here in Newcastle, I only know of one, and fortunately their coffee is great, (Crown International Cafe – run by YWAM).  If you can’t find a free connection, getting a plan with a service provider might be your next best option for guaranteeing a connection in multiple locations.  For some people having accounts with different providers gives almost uninterrupted coverage while travelling.

Once you’ve identified a location to inhabit, (as a nomad of course), don’t instantly go for the “best” seat in the coffee shop.  Pick a seat that no one is really going to mind if you are occupying it for a few hours.  Generally, I aim for a seat near the rear of the coffee shop, away from the service area if possible, but trying to make sure it is some where that is interesting to work.  At the Crown International, there are a row of bench seats that are great for working, there are power points, the windows can open out to the streetscape, which is always interesting.  Power points are essential if you don’t have any other backup power and you’re going to be there a while, so pick your seating with this in mind.

My rule is one coffee or purchase per hour to an hour and a half, but this may change from location to location.  For instance, I’m going to Sydney tomorrow, and will be able to use wireless internet for free at the Westin Hotel in the CBD, I anticipate being there for about an hour, and one purchase will be plenty.

Its great to be able to tee up with other nomadic workers in your city.  Generally I find the greatest benefit from working wirelessly comes from not having the interruptions of co-workers, but sometimes it pays to have friends around. It’s nice to have the ability to converse with likeminded wireless workers, but more importantly, it gives you the ability to get up stretch, go for a walk, or go to the toilet.  Some staff are really good if it’s not too busy, but you can’t expect busy staff to look out for your equipment, they are not paid to do that.

Overall, its not difficult, it can be lots of fun, and (for me) its productive.  I’d love to hear if you have any experiences of working remotely from the office, and what your setup is.

This post is also part of ProBlogger’s group writing how-to project, for more entries check here.

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Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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