Sunday, March 5, 2017

Working out of office: My "on-the-go" setup (2016 version)

(Why 2016 version? Just because some new parts have not been extensively tested in 2017 - read below for more info!)

I usually have the opportunity (and I say so, because I consider it to be a great opportunity) to work away from office. Don't get me wrong; I like my working environment - I still love changing setups and have found that new working environments improve my productivity.

My current office setup consists of a desktop Windows 10-powered PC (not the fastest around but does the work) with two screens connected (a habit that I got a couple of years ago, when I was using a 17-inch laptop at work with a screen attached), a Logitech mouse and a Microsoft keyboard, along with piles of printed documents and hand-written notes, newspapers focused in agriculture (stored in a bin behind my desk), a weird smartphone stand and pens/pencils/post-it notes. I also have a diary where I keep my daily notes (To-Do lists, notes taken during meetings - I avoid using notebook sheets for that - etc.).

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My work (especially in the past) included several days/weeks of work outside the office - including trips abroad for project meetings, Conferences and Workshops, meetings with customers and collaborators, field visits, training opportunities etc. Therefore, I had to adapt to a digital nomad approach, where I could have access to all my work (e.g. emails, documents and notes) all the time, even when I was away from office. I therefore tried and tested (under real circumstances) different tools, setups and approaches, in order to ensure that being out of office would not affect my productivity. Some of the key components are the following:

1. Backpack: I cannot imagine a trip abroad without a backpack - and I mean a good one! This is where all important stuff goes, including my laptop (or tablet) and charger, mouse, documents related to the trip including passport and maps, boarding passes, things to read or review during the flight/trip, pens/pencils/markers/notepads, my diary, smartphone and wallet etc. For such kind of trips you need an elegant but still durable backpack (water-resistance is also an essential feature). I currently use a Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Collection Backpack, which is suitable for laptops up to 17,3' and has plenty of pockets for all stuff I need to have with me.

2. Laptop: One of the most essential companions during a trip. I am not processing video when I am on the go, so I do not need the most powerful laptop available. I have used several significantly different laptops, each one having advantages and drawbacks: my 17-inch Toshiba Satellite provided ample working space but was bulky, heavy and short on battery power, my 11,6-inch Acer netbook was ultra portable but lagging to catch up with basic tasks even with Linux installed, my 15,6-inch basic Acer Aspire laptop providing a balance between portability and performance, with surprising good battery - for a €300 laptop!).

I recently started traveling with my 10,1-inch Windows Tablet (Z3735F @ 1,33GHz, 2 GB RAM and 32GB storage), accompanied by a bluetooth keyboard (Logitech K480), a travel mouse and an external hard disk (where most - if not all - of my work is synced). By using a tablet with a detachable keyboard I have the flexibility to use tablet only (lighter) when reading e.g. at the airport or during a flight and easily convert it to a mini-laptop during the meeting or at the hotel room. Performance of the tablet is adequate for typical usage (e.g. editing slides and documents, web browsing and social media - even for watching movies if there is time for that!) and tiny screen is usually not an issue: sometimes I even have the option to plug it to larger screen (if available) or the hotel room's TV (not as frequently as I would like, I have to admit). Battery life time is usually adequate for a half-day meeting but power sockets are usually available.

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3. Documents (digital): A connection to the internet is not always available (e.g. in airports, hotel rooms and even meeting places), but still I need to have a copy of my work as a reference at all times. My work exists in Dropbox, so I only have to copy my Dropbox folder to an external hard disk before the trip. All changes of documents are then synced with my Dropbox on the cloud - it is a great convenience! On top of that, all photos taken with my Windows Phone (ranging from event photos to scans of receipts) are available on OneDrive and synced with my laptops.

4. Software: I like to travel light (not that I manage to do so in all occasions), so I tend to reduce the amount of printed material I carry with my while travelling. To do so, I have to replace traditional tools of the trade with digital ones. For example, I keep in Google Calendar all important dates (deadlines & milestones for project tasks, dates for events like Conferences etc.). I use Trello for organizing my work/tasks and efficiently allocate my time to each, Google Docs for keeping notes during meetings, working on large documents and allow collaborative work with colleagues, as well as Evernote for check lists and for draft blog posts (I like the formatting better). These eliminate the need to carry around diaries, notepads and even printed versions of documents.

5. Tools of the trade: It is obvious that it is hard to skip all printed versions of documents; for example, I personally still find it more convenient to go through documents in their printed form, take notes with color pens, highlight parts with color pencils - and the fact that you don't have to care about the status of your reader's (e.g. laptop/tablet) status is a bonus! So I always carry blue/black/red pens with me, a couple of markers for highlighting text, post it notes etc., as well as a number of USB sticks (to share files when internet is not an option), a laser pointer (not only it is a handy tool, usually overlooked, but also makes you look more professional), business cards in an neat aluminum case etc.

This is more or less what I use to keep myself productive while being out of office - and it has been successfully tested in numerous occasions. As a gadget-junkie and a curious mind, I tend to find new tools and ways to improve my setup, testing and integrating them in my workflows. Traveling might be challenging, but only if you are not well-prepared for it!