How to Set Up an Effective Mobile Office

Sep 24 2010 by Oleg Mokhov | 26 Comments

Have you ever wanted to get your work done while overlooking a beautiful park, a breathtaking sunset, the calming sea, sitting in an aromatic cafe, or simply while on the train but going to somewhere you actually want to go (i.e. not to the office)?

It’s possible if you set up an effective mobile office.

I’m just your average guy — I don’t have any special privileges in life. But I’ve been able to make electronic music, write for web publications, and do business and freelance work all on my laptop during beautiful train rides, breezy ocean sunsets, and in cool city spots.

And you can as well.

Now, before you say, "Psh, it’s not possible because of [insert reason here]," yes, a mobile office isn’t possible for everyone. There are a couple of requirements for being able to work from a mobile office:

  1. You need your work to be primarily computer-based (but that’s most of us these days) and not work that is reliant primarily on non-movable equipment (like, say, factory equipment).
  2. You need to either have a flexible work-location arrangement with your job (i.e. you’re allowed to telecommute), be a freelancer, or own your own business. In essence, you need the ability to dictate where and when you work.

Are you able to do those two things? Yeah? Awesome. Keep reading, because your work life is about to get a whole lot better.

Reasons Why You Want a Mobile Office

Here are some reasons why you would want a mobile office.

Less of the Suffocating "Office Time"

You won’t feel pent up in the same ol’ cubicle, day after day. All the while, you’re going to be getting the same work done but even quicker, because you have…

More Flexibility

Having a mobile office frees you up to work whenever and wherever you want. Now, that doesn’t mean you can be lazy and not do any work when you don’t feel like it, just that you’re not bound to a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday schedule.

If you want to go on a hike on a Wednesday afternoon, you can do that.

On the flip side — and this is the main point — you can work when you want as well. Not a morning person? Sleep in late and work at night. Early riser? Get your work done before lunch time.

Autonomy Results in Productivity

Studies show that people who work from home get work done more effectively — either faster, of higher quality, or of more quantity.

A Penn State study done by Dr. Ravi S. Gajendran and Dr. David A. Harrison suggests that telecommuting has a positive impact towards productivity because workers are able to control their schedule more.

"Our results show that telecommuting has an overall beneficial effect because the arrangement provides employees with more control over how they do their work," the researchers said. "Autonomy is a major factor in worker satisfaction and this rings true in our analysis. We found that telecommuters reported more job satisfaction, less motivation to leave the company, less stress, improved work-family balance, and higher performance ratings by supervisors."

With a mobile office, in addition to getting work done whenever you want, you can also do your work wherever you want. Have pockets of inspiration throughout the day? Bam, get some quality work done in a 30-minute chunk. Or not. It’s up to you, and the freedom you get from a mobile office offers you that sort of power towards dictating your work style and schedule.

Constant Supply of Fresh Inspiration

With a mobile office, you can get a constant change of surroundings. New sights, new sounds, new smells — all of this breeds inspiration into your work.

It’s that stimulation of senses. Sameness is boring; change is exciting and energizing. Even if it’s only rotating between a few spots, that’s more stimulation (and thus inspiration) than if you stayed put all day, every day.

Ingredients for an Effective Mobile Office

Okay, so are you convinced and excited to set up your mobile office and start using it? Awesome.

Here are five things that you need in order to have an effective mobile office:

  1. A laptop (or equivalent mobile computer)
  2. Mobile internet access
  3. Headphones
  4. Digital equivalents of physical necessities
  5. A really, really comfortable bag

A Laptop

This is a no-brainer, but I’m mentioning it just in case someone asks "how the heck am I gonna move my desktop computer from my office around with me?"

Laptop

Your computer must be mobile. This may mean a compromise in terms of power and resources versus your desktop computer, but I think for most people, that’s a negligible tradeoff for the benefit of not being tied down to one spot.

Mobile Internet Access

This is easy to have because of the increasing number of free WiFi hotspots available around your city, state, and country.

Additionally, you can also get a mobile WiFi hotspot using a monthly data plan if you need to have your internet needs covered at all times.

Headphones

You’ll need a solid pair of headphones for music while you work, for Skype calls, and for cancelling the noise while you work.

Earphones that come with your MP3 player are fine. Good headphones or earphones are even better. If you can afford it, noise-reducing in-ear earphones are best.

Why are earphones the best? Their noise reduction functionality means less distractions and being able to play music at a lower volume, which in turn protects your ears from constant exposure to high volumes of sound.

EarphonesEarphones (left) are better than headphones (right) simply because they are more compact.

Why earphones over headphones? Smaller size for easier packing. Tossing in a tiny case is preferable. Trust me: stuffing big headphones into your bag gets old. Even if headphones are more comfortable, I can’t go back to those giants eating up so much of my backpack space.

Digital Equivalents of Physical Necessities

Always look for software and web services to replace your hardware.

Basically, you want to lug around as few things as possible. That’ll increase the chances you’ll actually use your mobile office, since your setup will be very grab-n-go.

For example, instead of carrying a detachable hard drive (even though there are ultra-portable ones available in the market) use an online storage service like Dropbox.

A Really, Really Comfortable Bag

A bag that looks good on you and that you wouldn’t mind having on you for large portions of the day is a good investment. This is the equivalent of having a super-comfortable chair for your stationary office.

Why does having a comfortable bag matter? Because if you dread something as simple as strapping on that heavy and uncomfortable bag, you won’t feel inspired to go out and use your mobile office.

Useful Online Tools for Your Mobile Office

Here are a few web services you can avail of to complement your mobile office.

Dropbox

Dropbox

Dropbox is great for file-sharing, collaborating, and automated backup of your work (no need to carry around external hard drives or USB thumb drives).

Freshbooks

Freshbooks

Freshbooks is wonderful for near-effortless electronic or paper invoices. No printing or postage needed on your end; they’ll handle all that for you if you need to send out a paper invoice.

Basecamp or Google Docs

Basecamp or Google Docs

A simple project management tool like Basecamp (or even a web-based office suite like Google Docs) can be valuable for collaboration, tracking milestones and deadlines, and file-sharing.

These three web services are all you really need to get most of your job done (80-20 principle and reductionism applied to software use and dependence).

The best part? All of these have free basic accounts, so you can start using them right now with no excuses or money up front.

Avoidable Traps to Watch Out For

Watch out for these three signs that will keep you tied down and not using your mobile office. These problems are all easily avoidable.

Superfluous Accessories

Replace your physical devices with online equivalents that work offline when internet access isn’t accessible. For example, using Dropbox will allow you to work on local files that will be synced automatically when you get online. Otherwise, you won’t feel like lugging around a bunch of stuff and will feel more inclined to stay put.

Though technically portable, big mobile devices can be cumbersome.

Reduce as much hardware as you can. For example, even if there are iPod nanos that are super tiny, it’s one additional thing you need to worry about (Did I remember to pack it? Did I lose my iPod nano? Where’s my iPod nano?). If you can, store your music in your laptop.

Short Battery Life

The longer your laptop’s battery life is, the less you have to worry about your laptop running out of juice. Extend your computer’s battery life however way you can. Either have battery life be the primary factor if you’re shopping for a new laptop, or consider buying an extra battery for your existing one.

No Power Outlets or They’re too Far Away

If for whatever reason it’s not possible for you to have long-lasting battery life or if you want a backup to your battery, get an extension cord, an outlet multiplier, or an extension cord with multiple outlets at one end.

That way, you can reach any outlet no matter how far or filled up your location is. Too far away? An extension cord solves that problem. Outlets all used up? Ask someone if it’s okay for you to plug your multiplier/extension cord into one outlet.

Setting Up an Effective Mobile Office is Easy

Assuming your work arrangement allows you to work wherever you want: are you ready to take advantage of an effective mobile office? The benefits of having a mobile office are that you’ll have less of the suffocating "office time," more flexibility, and a constant supply of fresh inspiration.

To recap: In order to set up and start using your effective mobile office, you’ll need:

  1. A laptop (or equivalent mobile computer)
  2. Mobile internet access
  3. Headphones
  4. Digital equivalents of physical necessities
  5. A really, really comfortable bag

With these five ingredients, you’ll be well on your way to using your mobile office to do your work anytime and anywhere you want.

Now go out there and start using your mobile office.

Do you have a mobile office? What are some of the coolest, most inspiring places you’ve done great work?

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About the Author

Oleg Mokhov is the world’s most mobile electronic musician and co-founder of the royalty free music store Soundtrackster. He was born in Russia, but raised in the US. Follow him on Twitter as @olegmokhov.

26 Comments

Giacomo Colddesign

September 24th, 2010

Thanks for the article, it’s a very helpful article..

Sebastian

September 24th, 2010

The one I missed in this realy good article is a view over the security. Like using VPNs wheter you use public WIFIs or so.

xm

September 24th, 2010

Interesting article and certainly worth thinking about!

What about design jobs? Working in Photoshop with a small screen and a touchpad is not productive, I can tell you. Don’t forget ergonomy either!

Also, a printer isn’t always easily substitued by digital means (for contracting and invoicing our customers, for instance). Any thoughts on that?

Rashid Rupani

September 24th, 2010

Bag should not be big and should able to carry your laptop and other stuff.

Jon Gamble

September 24th, 2010

As a web designer/developer, I love being able to move around and work from anywhere I choose. One thing that I always take with me is a legal pad and a good pen. Sometimes ideas flow better for me if I am writing them down or sketching them, and for a dollar or two you can get an awesome brainstorming tool… and it hardly takes up any space at all!

Josh

September 24th, 2010

I find I think better when I’m at a coffee shop or bakery or somewhere that just isn’t by desk. I’ll usually lose track of time as well…

OfficeCavalry

September 24th, 2010

Good article, with relevant points, but would you not also need a mobile phone to liaise with clients? and then you run the risk of having no network coverage, losing battery. There is no printer and security issues are raised as mentioned earlier.

I think the negatives outweight the benefits in my opinion.

Tom | NewEvolution

September 24th, 2010

A good alternative to DropBox is MobileMe.

If anyone doesn’t know, MobileMe is by MAC. It syncs all of your devices, and even offers an Internet hard drive.

Kevin Tomasic

September 24th, 2010

I am the personification of a mobile office!

I’m a freelance web designer and Internet marketer. I have a 17″ MacBook Pro and Starbucks is my office. I have both a messenger bag which fits all my necessities quite nicely, as well as a backpack for when I’m in the mood for cycling to my “office”.

Besides my laptop and power cord, other items I carry at all times is: mouse, notebook, pen, a good book, outlet multiplier, in-ear phones (I really want noise canceling headphones), and a locking cable.

My digital equivalents for hardware include: MobileMe (for cloud storage as well as sending files to clients & vendors), Freshbooks and Basecamp. I even have an Adobe Acrobat Connect account for screen sharing with my clients. If I really need to print something in a hurry I run to FedEx Office. But that hardly ever happens since I set myself up to be pretty much paperless.

There are only two hassles I deal with, one is the limited bandwidth you get from Wifi spots (Starbucks has pretty decent Internet service), and the other is the noise. I guess if I spend the $100 or so for a set of noise canceling headphones I can stop complaining about that.

naren

September 24th, 2010

Any suggestions for a ‘really comfortable’ bag – for laptop and other electronics?

Matthew Odette

September 24th, 2010

I use Dropbox on a daily basis, and I love it. Also, for the coders out there an online Git or Subversion service is priceless.

There are several free options for open source projects (google code, git repository). But for those of you who want to get your feet wet without making your code open source try http://unfuddle.com/ they have free private accounts for 200mb.

Nice topic Oleg

Bon Vallite

September 25th, 2010

Instead of dropbox use the skydrive. Advantages for windows user.

Robert

September 25th, 2010

Nice write up. Drop box is a big key in making this type of mobile office model work . I’m also starting to use my ipad more then my notebooks when I travel. The other great site I have found is myVBO.com it links in all of my social media (twitter, facebook, etc) and business information like web stats, quickbooks, etc into one site.

bruce decker

September 25th, 2010

Good article. I agree that Dropbox is wonderful. I absolutely love it. I have the pro account which is very reasonable for about $100 / yr. I use it daily.

Also, I never was a huge fan of Basecamp. I thought the interface was cluttered and hard to use. I have been using Projecturf for some time now and personally, as a MAC user who likes things to look good, I have to say it’s the best looking project management tool out there. I love it. And my clients love it too, which is ideal. Plus, as a designer and developer, I can post designs and get clients to sign off in the app and also put code snippets and bugs in the tool. All around, it’s the best I think.

Anyways, good stuff here!

Young

September 25th, 2010

I think I was a little misled by the title. This covers a lot of good technical and ergonomic grounds, but I was more interested in seeing how people deal with disadvantages of not having an office – things like not having a physical address, fax, landline phone, or viable and permanent internet. As Kevin said, noise becomes an annoyance at cafes too, and noise canceling headphones aren’t going to cancel the noise / elevator music your client has to hear on the other end… Either way this article was more “suggestions” than a “how-to” for me.

Gabriele Maidecchi

September 25th, 2010

Really nice article indeed. Fortunately I am in no real need to cut off my office time, mainly because it’s not really a cubicle office but more like a google-office, so to say (ok I exaggerated on that one but yeah!), but I still find it very useful to keep an “on the move” mentality.
Even at night, it’s very nice to be able to get some work done with your trustworthy laptop sitting comfortable on a couch, using online services to avoid having to move paper at all, or to plug hard drives or whatnot.
The only difficulty I’d really have working from home 24/7 would be to get my mind to focus on the task at hand for a consistent amount of time. I tend to have a lot of distractions if I stay home during the day, but if you got a stronger willpower, why not ;)

Theo

September 25th, 2010

One thing i do not want to miss in a mobile office is a good foto camera. Nice article.

designbyarm

September 26th, 2010

I always use skydrive and Gdrive :)

Jacob Gube

September 26th, 2010

@Young: That wouldn’t be a bad follow-up, actually. Common problems with mobile offices and how to deal with them. Oleg can definitely answer those questions for you because he works with a mobile office often.

Oleg Mokhov

September 26th, 2010

@naren, I personally use the 22 liter Yerba backpack by Patagonia (their smallest daypack). It’s flush with your body so it doesn’t make you look like the hunchback of Notre Dame, but it has a generous protected laptop section and a good amount of small organizer pockets for electronics. You should also check out Booq, they make laptop/electronics-specific traveling bags.

@Young, in terms of distractions, it’s up to the individual – for me, visual activity in the background is fine, and my in-ear earbuds w/ music playing cancel out much of the noise. But a library is an excellent place for some distraction-free focus. Regarding talking to clients, yes, that’s one difficulty you face – what I’ve done is actually take my cell phone or laptop (if it’s Skype) outside the library and talk. It’s usually really quiet around libraries – much more so than a busy street outside a cafe. Another option is co-work or shared working spaces, or sometimes libraries let you reserve and use study rooms for free.

Jacob, I agree, there’s a lot here for a followup article. I would love to do it.

charger world

September 26th, 2010

As a web designer/developer, I adulation actuality able to move about and assignment from anywhere I choose. One affair that I consistently booty with me is a acknowledged pad and a acceptable pen. Sometimes account breeze bigger for me if I am autograph them bottomward or abstraction them, and for a dollar or two you can get an alarming brainstorming tool… and it hardly takes up any amplitude at all!

Stefan Rynkowski

September 27th, 2010

Nice read. Sitting on the beach and do my freelance work , beautiful :)

Julian

September 27th, 2010

1. gateway laptop – check
2. wimax usb dongle – check
3. headphones – check
4. digital replacements – check
5. unassuming string bag – check
6. comfortable remote location to work – not found :-/

Working by the beach sounds awesome but too far away without a vehicle and working a laptop in restaurants is too conspicuous for me. I need more location suggestions.

Irina

September 29th, 2010

I know many designers and developers who take their laptops when leaving work/home. But the purpose is not to do an entire project and worry about battery & finding other power sources. A client could ask a developer to do a critical fix, quick changes to his code. For a designer: paper sketches and wireframes, mock-ups, changes to an existing design. These things usually take less than one hour.

Frank

September 30th, 2010

Great comments and some awesome suggestions! As a possible alternative to Dropbox, might I suggest Filesdirect? It’s a simple, secure way to send large files and store them online. I’m quite fond of it! :)

Giovanni Numpaque

November 28th, 2010

Thank you so much for the article is usefully for me!!

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