Many of us have to travel for our jobs. This episode is about things to consider when working on the road. How do we create the best virtual office while on the go?
Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to episode number 120. Today I want to talk about how to set up your office while you’re on the go. And originally, it was just going to be an episode about how to set up your virtual office, but there was so much information and difference between setting up a home office than setting up an office on the go. I decided to just focus on one piece. So in another episode, we will focus on setting up a home office, but today we’re going to focus on setting up an office while we’re on the go. And if you hear some banging and clanging in the background, there is a company setting up a scaffolding on the building next to mine, so I’m doing my best. But every once in a while, you’re going to hear us [inaudible – 00:59] in there. Okay, your virtual office on the go. Originally, I got this idea because my husband is obsessed with Switzerland and mountaineering. So we are often going to Switzerland to climb mountains and go on adventures together. And he can’t work from anywhere all the time, but he can do it some of the time. So we took advantage of that and went to Switzerland, found an Airbnb, and then set up where we could try to… We called it a work holiday. And we would set up where we tried to maximize our time in the mountains and yet still get our normal amount of work done. And our work holidays varied anywhere from two weeks to three weeks. We haven’t really done anything longer than that. But I know that I in the last year had to travel all over the world to give workshops and presentations. And many of us in our jobs traveled quite a lot. And while we’re on the go, we still need to get some of our regular work done. So this episode is dedicated to what do we need to think about when we’re on the go.
I want to start with a whole bunch of very practical things that we need when we’re on the go. Now of course you might not need all of them, but these are the most common things that got brought up in the interviews. In terms of equipment, you want things like a power converter if you’re traveling to other countries, a headset. And if you’re on the go, treat yourself and invest in a noise-cancelling headset. I have the Bose QC20, and I am a better person when I travel because of this headset. It cuts out all the external noise. And especially, if you’re in airplanes a lot, it cuts out the airplane noise, the engine noise.
Another thing to think about is lighting. Sometimes when we get to a place, it can be really dark, unexpectedly. And then we have to have a phone call with somebody who is in a day-time time zone. So think about lighting where you go. I have the Chat Light. If you go to chatlight.com, you can check it out. It’s just a portable light that clips onto the back of my laptop. Now I will say the lighting isn’t awesome. You kind of have to play with it and put a filter on it sometimes. You can be too white, too bright. But I think they’re fixing that. But it’s small. It’s easy to carry with me. And in a pinch, it’s better than nothing. So I always have it with me, and it’s $20 or something. I have a mobile router that allows me to have Internet anywhere in the Netherlands and then also in Europe if I want, so that’s very handy. It’s not like it has a ton of data on it, and it’s not super fast, but it’s fast enough. And for looking things up and sending emails and just doing a few quick things here and there, a mobile router is very handy to have, opens up all kinds of options.
So for example, I travel quite a bit in the Netherlands between [inaudible – 03:43], which is about a 1.5, two-hour train journey. And I have my mobile router with me. And I go at times when the train is not very crowded. And I actually get two hours of very solid work done on the train. So that’s definitely a kind of situation where a mobile router is very handy.
And then the last thing that I’ll say in terms of equipment when you’re on the go, if you’ve got extra room in your luggage, I recommend a travel monitor. There’s actually a company called Packed Pixels, packedpixels.com. And they sell travel monitors, essentially. Just go to the website and check it out. You’ll be glad you did. But what I went and did is I went out and bought a very lightweight monitor that fits in my backpack. So that gives me the option to carry it anywhere I need. And I have actually carried it with me to Switzerland and in London, and it comes in very handy. So if you’ve got the room in your backpack and you’re going to be somewhere a while or you really need the external monitor, then just get a very lightweight monitor that fits in a backpack, works in a pinch.
Okay, let’s move on from the equipment and talk about privacy considerations for a while. When you’re on the go, you want to think about is this a place where I can have business conversations. Is it okay for somebody else to overhear this? And depending on how you travel, you may need to think about how early or late will you be working and is it socially acceptable to work those hours in the place that you’re going to. For example, if you’re staying at an Airbnb and you also have roommates at that Airbnb, if you need to work until 1:00 in the morning, is that going to be a problem for the other people living there?
We don’t have to think about that so much in places like hotels, of course. But you know, I found in some hotels, unless you’re staying in a really good one, the walls are very thin. And if you’re up in a phone conversation at 2:00 in the morning, the person in the room next to you is going to be able to hear you. So I still think wherever we’re staying, that’s something to consider. And speaking of bothering other people, there are also lots of places where there’s going to be a significant amount of background noise. Cafés, for example, and co-working spaces, both of those places are renowned for having lots of background noise. So if you need to have a lot of online conversations and online meetings, think about that because that background noise really interferes with the comfort of everybody on the call during those online meetings. And don’t forget to think about if it’s possible and if you need to, can you lock the door. Often, when I’m traveling, I’ve got a lot of equipment with me. I’ve got a Kubi telepresence robot. I’ve got a 3D camera for the presentations that I do, my laptop, my phone. That adds up to quite a chunk of change, actually, that’s sitting in my backpack. So at the place where you’re at, how safe is your stuff?
Oh, and one more thing that I almost forgot, which is background. If you’re going to do a lot of video calls, consider what your background looks like. So on my first work holiday that [inaudible – 06:41] and I went on, we went to Switzerland where we always go. And we rented an Airbnb with an artist. The price was really good. We checked that the Internet was very high-speed. And it was in a particular part of Switzerland that we wanted to explore.
One thing that I didn’t think about was what the background would look like. And when we arrived at this Airbnb, there had been gold, squiggly lines, spray-painted on every wall with all kinds of random symbols and just stuff. And on a video call, it just looked terrible. It looked like I was sitting under a bridge or something instead of in beautiful Switzerland. Now that doesn’t matter so much if you don’t have a lot of video calls. But in my work, I have tons and tons of video calls. So I scrambled to find something a little more professional. Luckily for me, she had one of those pull-down movie screen. So I just set that behind me and it looked like a perfectly white background on the video calls that I had with my clients. In my home office, I have one of these room dividers, so I have experimented in places where I can drive to, taking the room divider with me so that no matter where I am, the room divider always stays the same and it looks the same. So people don’t even think about that I might be on the go, and that has been very handy too.
Okay, so now we’ve discussed equipment and we have discussed privacy considerations. Now I want to talk a little bit about the location considerations when we’re on the go. Is the place where you’re going to be going to be blazing hot or really cold? We once worked from a little hut on a camp site in Switzerland. And let me tell you, it was very, very cold on some of those days, which definitely affected my productivity. Conversely, when it’s really, really hot, it can also slow us down. So just think about your location and what temperature it’s going to be. Also think about whether or not you need to look professional while you’re there. So for instance, when I was in Switzerland, I was really bundled in some coats and some scarves, which was not exactly the most professional look for my client meetings.
Another thing to think about is how big of a space that you might need for working. When I did these work holidays with [Florian – 08:53], one thing that we didn’t consider, oddly enough, was the fact that we would need two separate rooms while we were working. I have video calls and workshops during the day, and he at the time was running a help desk, so he needed to be able to take client phone calls any time, and that just didn’t work out, so that we learned when we did our work holidays together, that we would only go to places where we had our own, separate rooms.
And then something else that I didn’t really think about until I was there, which is how far away are all the amenities, like the grocery store, restaurants cafés, because sometimes you can end up in the middle of a very suburban neighborhood and it takes a long time to get to the center of town if you don’t have a car or aren’t near any public transportation. So just think about what amenities are available where you are. It’s also good to be aware of that when you’re on the go, of course.
Okay, but in general, some of the things that I’ve learned from the interviews about setting up home offices on the go, one is pay extra attention to your source of Internet and make sure that it’s a great connection whenever possible. I know that it’s very hard on the go, but have that be a focus. If you Google speed tests, you’ll find speed tests. And there’s also a website called hotelwifitest.com. So you can look up your hotel’s Wi-Fi in the location that you’re going. That’s very handy. Next, realize that it takes a little bit of time to get your space set up. If you travel a lot, you’ll start to have a routine. But if you’re just trying this for the first time, just remember you have these plants being very, very productive, and you will be. But in the beginning, it just takes a little bit of time to get into the rhythm of things. Really think about what it is that you need to work your best. I really like to be all by myself. And my husband, for example, really likes to be around people. So plan for that when you’re going to places. I tend to rent an entire Airbnb that I can just be at by myself. And he will tend to go to meetups and coffee shops and all kinds of places where there are people.
The next is very important, and that is keep a healthy sense of humor because the weirdest things will happen like the gold, squiggly lines at the artist house. [Florin – 11:08] and I got to one location where we had emailed in advance. We knew the location. We knew the Internet was good. And the hosts of the camps I got the date wrong, and the Internet was turned off for three days after we got there. There’s nothing we could do. We had to immediately think of plan B’s which were to explore the local hotels and see what kind of deal we could set up there. We got ourselves a mobile router from one of the phone companies, and we checked out a bunch of co-working spaces. So weird things will happen. Setbacks will happen. That’s just part of being on the road. But keep as much as possible a healthy sense of humor and breathe deeply.
Okay, so those are my tips for setting up your office while on the go. There were several podcasts in the past where I interviewed people that specifically talked about this. And I want to refer you to those. One was with Adrian Avella. I interview her in episode number 49, and it’s called how to be efficient on the road. Another, of course, is the interview that I did with [inaudible – 12:11], a digital nomad. I interview him in episode number 30. And of course one of my favorite interviews was with [inaudible – 12:19] in episode number 29 where he talks about working wherever we are most productive.
Okay, that’s it for today. I hope you found something useful. And I would love to hear your tips for what you do on the go. You can send me an email. You can send me a sound file. And I will include it in a future episode of the podcast. Tell me what your virtual office looks like and how you get things done. Get in touch at collaborationsuperpowers.com.
A big thanks to our awesome producer, Nick, the podcast monster. Nick, you are awesome. And you can hire Nick to make you a star at podcastmonster.com. And another shoutout to the dazzling designer, Alfred Boland. You can hire him to make you look cool at bolanden.nl. All right, everybody. Until next week, let’s be great on the go and be powerful.
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