Taking Your Home Office on the RoadBy
By guest author Joe Pawlikowski
If you’re reading this, then you’re likely already among the most fortunate group of people who work from home. It’s a great life, isn’t it? You can work when you want, take breaks when you want, rearrange your schedule so you can enjoy the things that matter in life when they happen. When you telecommute, you can plan work around your life, rather than the other way around.
Even with all the advantages, there are still limits to a telecommuter’s freedom. It’s just as tough to take a day off as it is in an office — and if you update a daily blog with timely material it might be even tougher (says the guy who hasn’t taken a full vacation in almost four years). There are yet other instances where you can’t go somewhere — possibly your child’s baseball game — because you have work which needs doing. There are many other scenarios, but it all comes down to one factor: your home office is immobile.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. There are ways to take your home office on the road: a day trip to the city, to a youth sporting event, heck, even to the coffee shop on the corner for a change of scenery. The issue with this kind of mobility, for the most part, is finding an Internet connection. In this post I’ll go over three ways you can pack up your office and bring it anywhere you want.
Mobile broadband with laptop modem
If you’re one of the many telecommuters who uses a laptop as your primary machine, you’re in luck. Over the past few years cellular carriers have introduced mobile broadband modems. These plug right into your laptop, usually through a USB port, and pick up signal anywhere you can get 3G cellular service. This gives you the freedom to travel and still do work.
The biggest advantage of mobile broadband, as stated above, is the freedom to go anywhere you can get 3G cellular coverage. Traveling by train? Just plug in your modem and you’re free to surf and work. At your kid’s soccer game? Even though you surely don’t want to have your head in a laptop, it’s better than not being there at all. Best of all, mobile broadband service is available from all four major cellular providers — Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile — and you can just add it to your existing service.
There are downsides, of course. The price is foremost: $60 per month. That’s a lot to add to a bill, especially at a time when many are looking to cut costs. The best way to determine if the cost is worth it to you is to determine how much your time is worth. How much do you earn per hour? How much more could you earn per hour if you could work while on the road? If it works out, you might want to consider adding this plan to your cellular bill.
The other major disadvantage is usage level. The major carriers impose a 5GB limit each month. This typically is not nearly enough for the typical Web worker, what with downloading images, streaming video, and uploading data of all kinds. It should suffice for the times you are working on the road, but by no means is it a substitute for your current home broadband plan.
Speaking of home broadband, understand that mobile broadband is not faster than most home connections. It ranges from 800 Kbps to 1,500 Kbps, with most services hovering around 1,000. This is a bit slower than DSL, and considerably slower than cable. It’s not about speed, per se. It’s about convenience.
Turn your BlackBerry into a workstation
More and more Web workers are turning to BlackBerry devices. This helps them keep up with email even when they’re not at the computer. Personally, I like it for the peace of mind it brings. Beyond the best email system in the biz, the BlackBerry is a powerful device which can perform a number of functions. Among them: allowing you to leave your home office while continuing to work.
While your BlackBerry alone can perform basic functions like Web surfing (and with new mobile Web browsers, that’s becoming even easier), but it also has word processing capabilities. In fact, with the swath of software available for BlackBerry, you can do most anything with the device. All you need is a little ingenuity.
For instance, check out this post on how to turn your BlackBerry into a virtual workstation. It goes over all the hardware and software that will allow you to do so — including a Bluetooth keyboard which will save your thumbs some agony.
The advantage here for current BlackBerry users is that beyond the one-time cost of the software and hardware, this won’t be any more expensive than your normal monthly plan. You might not get all the functionality you get on your laptop, but it’s more than enough to get by.
Get a netbook
Netbooks are all the craze these days. For those unfamiliar, they’re the tiny laptops you might see in your local coffee shop or on the train. They’re geared mostly towards Internet usage, but can also handle low-level tasks like word processing. Perfect for the work at home type.
Netbooks work the same as mobile broadband, so there’s no need to go over service again. The major advantage they have over laptops is size. While laptops, even the smallest ones like my Macbook, require a carrying case of some sort, Netbooks will fit in tiny bags and backpacks. They’re lightweight, too, which makes them easier to tote around.
The upside to netbooks: they’re becoming incredibly cheap. This isn’t because of the decreasing cost of technology, though. Instead, they’re subsidized by cellular carriers, just like cell phones. In exchange for signing a two-year agreement you can get a netbook for under $100 — and sometimes even virtually free. That’s the trade-off. You get a cheap machine, but two years is a long commitment, especially for a service that costs $60 per month.
While telecommuters already enjoy an incredible level of freedom, there’s still more for the taking. So what will it be? Will you continue to tie yourself down to your desk? Or will you decide to take advantage of modern technology and get out there?
Joe Pawlikowski is the editor of Wireless Internet Reviews, a site which provides information and news on wireless Internet services.