Telecommute Toolkit: 10 Things Mobile Workers Need

By Joseph Moran

February 05, 2009

Whether you're traveling for work, working from home, or doing double-duty by working during your vacation, these ten things will make your life so much better.

Being out of the office is no excuse for being out of touch or not getting your work done. Having the right technology can be a big help though, so check out our list of products and services that can help you stay connected, protected, and productive the next time you hit the road.

HP Mini Note 2140
For getting basic tasks done while on the road, HP’s Mini Note 2140 makes a perfect lightweight traveling companion.

Netbooks

You don’t necessarily need to lug around a full-sized notebook to stay productive on the road. HP’s newest pint-sized netbook, the Mini 2140, (prices start at $499) packs a lot into a petite 2.6-pound package.

Inside the Mini 2140’s durable 1.05 x 10.3 x 6.5- inch aluminum case sits an accelerometer that can protect your hard disk data from damage due to excessive shock or vibration (a solid-state storage drive is also available), and an ExpressCard slot will accommodate a cellular modem for times when Wi-Fi isn’t available. [For more netbook recommendations, read "Best New Mobile Devices for Small Businesses."]

Portable mouse

Let’s face it--the ubiquitous notebook touchpad pointing device is no substitute for a real mouse, especially for long periods of use. Kensington’s $49 SlimBlade Bluetooth Presenter Mouse connects to a PC or Mac via Bluetooth (so no transceiver required), runs on ordinary AAA batteries, and automatically puts itself into power-saving mode when you shut down your notebook. Switch the SlimBlade to Presenter mode, and the left and right buttons let you easily navigate back and forth through presentation slides.

Kensington SlimBlade Bluetooth Presenter Mouse
Kensington’s SlimBlade Bluetooth Presenter Mouse is a lot more comfortable to use than a notebook touchpad, and it doubles as a remote control for your slide presentations.

Secure storage

Portable hard drives make it easy to take vast quantities of information on the road with you, but they can also make your data vulnerable to loss or theft.

To keep sensitive data out of the wrong hands, the Maxtor BlackArmor pocket-sized USB hard drive (available in 160 and 320 GB capacities for $60 and $135, respectively) safeguards the entire contents of the drive (not just certain files or folders) using 128-bit hardware-based encryption. 

Maxtor says that the encryption can’t be circumvented even by a professional data recovery service, so you’d better not forget the password.

Smartphone

A smartphone makes a good stand-in for a PC while traveling, and Nokia’s E63 is a solid business-oriented phone that lets you avoid the ball-and-chain of a long-term mobile carrier contract, as well as the stratospheric price tag of buying a smartphone without one.

 Nokia E63 smartphone
Nokia’s E63 business smartphone has a full QWERTY keyboard and a price tag that won’t break the bank or lock you into a carrier contract.

The $279 (unlocked) E63 provides a QWERTY keyboard, a large display, and it comes with a one-year subscription to Nokia’s Files on Ovi service that lets you remotely access files from a PC. The GSM-based E63 works with T-Mobile or AT&T in the U.S. (though it doesn’t support 3G data connections here), and since it’s a quad-band device you can use it overseas, as well.

Online applications

Taking advantage of hosted online applications can save you money and improve productivity because there’s no software to install, upgrade, or patch. Better yet, your software and data are always as close as the nearest computer with an Internet connection.

A subscription to Google Apps gets you the Google Docs office productivity suite, which consists of Microsoft Office-compatible word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications, plus e-mail, a calendar, and other communications tools, such as voice and video chat. Google Apps can also simplify sharing and collaboration by managing document versions and revisions when multiple people work on a document at the same time.

The standard Google Apps package is free, but supported with advertisements; a subscription to Premier Edition ($50 per person, per year) lets you forgo the ads and provides features, such as added storage, secure access, and technical support via phone or e-mail.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Whenever you use a Wi-Fi hotspot, all of your online activities—e-mails, IMs, sites you visit, etc--are potentially visible to anyone on that shared network. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) like WiTopia’s personalVPN software/service ($39 annually, available for Windows and Mac) will keep all the data you send and receive from hotspots or any unfamiliar network, well, private. [For more on how to surf safely, read "Hotspot Safety for Business Users."]

YouMail

It’s easy to miss a bunch of calls while on the road, but unless you have an iPhone, constantly checking your voice mail gets laborious and time consuming. YouMail’s free service works with most mobile phones and carriers and will convert your voice mails to audio files and send them to you via e-mail. You can also check them online—either way, you get to deal with voice messages in whatever order you choose, not simply in the order in which they came in.

D-Link DWL-G730AP Wireless Pocket Router/AP
Keep the pint-sized D-Link pocket Wi-Fi router in your bag, and you’ll be able to convert any wired network connection into a wireless one.

YouMail also lets you set up custom greetings for different callers, block unwanted messages from certain numbers, and (for an added fee) will transcribe your voice mails into text or e-mail messages.

Mini Wi-Fi router

If you ever find yourself somewhere with only a wired network connection—like maybe a hotel or conference room—having a Wi-Fi router/access point on hand will let you convert it into a wireless connection that you can now share with co-workers or clients.

Traveling with a Wi-Fi router doesn’t have to take up a lot of space in your luggage. The $68 D-Link DWL-G730AP Wireless Pocket Router/AP has virtually all the features of a full-size router and it fits in the palm of your hand.  [Click here for a full review.]

Remote PC access

Remote access is invaluable when you need something off of your PC back at home or the office. For $13 a month (or $124 a year paid in advance) WebEx PCNow will let you view and control your faraway PC as if you were sitting in front of it, and you can do it right from a Web browser.

PCNow lets you transfer files to and from a remote PC, print out remote files without having to transfer them first, and access a Web cam so you can keep tabs on things while you’re away.

Starbucks card

Although not quite as ubiquitous as they once were, chances are good that when you have some downtime between appointments there’s a Starbucks with a Wi-Fi hotspot somewhere nearby. Wi-Fi access (two consecutive hours) normally costs four bucks a day, but if you buy a stored-value Starbucks Card, register it online and use it at least once every 30 days, you can get it for free. (Besides, you could probably use the caffeine break.)

Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in Naples, Fla. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). Article courtesy of SmallBusinessComputing.com.



Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.