by Paul Mah

The Digital Worker’s Guide to Doing Business on the Go

Oct 21, 20147 mins
LaptopsMobileMobile Security

Today's workers must do an increasing amount of work outside the office and home. If you're one of them, these six tips will keep you productive, secure, comfortable and secure -- all without scrambling to find a power outlet.

remote worker bathroom
Credit: ThinkStock

Take on a new job that requires extensive travel? Looking to streamline things when you work at the office? This simple six-point guide will help you become a digital guerilla in no time at all – whether you use the Windows, Mac, iOS or Android operating system.

Choose the Right Laptop

The bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon means that end users increasingly make the final decision on their choice of laptops. While office-bound users may favor aesthetics, those who travel or otherwise work remotely may put more weight on work-friendly features.

[ How-tos: Switch Your Business from PC to Mac and Pick the Best Portable PC ]

With that in mind, here are some important travel-friendly features to consider if you want a new laptop.

  • The presence of a built-in fingerprint scanner makes it much easier to unlock a laptop. This increases security by ensuring the feasibility of aggressive timeouts that automatically lock an inactive laptop.
  • Meanwhile, a Kensington lock can secure devices against opportunistic thieves.
  • Fast-charge capability can recharge a laptop to 60 percent (or more) of its charge in as little as 30 minutes.
  • Look for “full day” battery life rated at eight hours or higher from the laptop’s built-in batteries.
  • Also consider the capability to either swap out or tack on an external battery when more life is desired. (Other options for power are covered below.)
  • A matte screen provides more comfortable viewing in cafes, airports, hotel lobbies or other areas blanketed by harsh sunlight.
  • Laptops weighing fewer than 3 pounds (roughly 1.35 kg) offer better portability.

Pack Things to Go

Booq Cobra Slim

Laptop bags such as the Booq Cobra Slim offer a classy look and many, many pockets.

Once you get a laptop, you need a bag to stow and protect your computer gear – and only proper laptop bags offer adequate internal and external pockets to hold your various gadgets and electronic knickknacks. Bags such as the Moshi Urbana and Booq Cobra slim look classy, though there’s no beating a backpack for storage capacity and comfort if you plan to do a lot of walking.

TSA-approved bags are useful when shuttling through airports, though their usefulness may be limited depending on where you travel; airports outside the U.S. will likely ask you to remove all electronic devices from bags anyway.

Though most good laptop bags should offer ample pockets and, the Grid-It organizer remains a good option to keep you organized (and sane). If you prefer something more normalized, Relief Pod and WaterField makes a number of high-quality pouches.

Privacy protectors are a necessity if you work at crowded locations. The idea is to stymie shoulder surfing so a hacker or busybody can’t get ahold of private information when sitting next to or behind you. 3M makes some high-quality privacy filters, such as the Gold Privacy Filter, for common laptop models.

[ Tips: How to Protect Personal, Corporate Information When You Travel ]

Finally, keyboard protectors can protect against an accumulation of grime and crumbs. MacBook users can check out the keyboard protector from Moshi, though most Mac and Windows laptop users can find protectors for a few dollars on Amazon or Newegg.

Monitor Power Use

Modern microprocessors throttle back to an idle power state when not in use to conserve energy and ultimately extend the battery lifespan of laptops. This means that tracking them can be important if you aren’t plugged into a wall socket, since a rogue or power-intensive app can drain your juice at a significantly faster rate.

OS X Mavericks monitors this automatically. It also tracks historical power use to identify apps that use more than their fair share of power. Note that some apps have a poor record on this front, including Google Chrome and virtualization apps such as VMware Workstation.

Mac OS X Mavericks Apps Drain Battery

The battery icon in the Mac OS X Mavericks menu bar tells you which apps are eating your device’s battery.

Apple has it down into a science, but figuring power consumption on a Windows device can be trickier. Generally, apps that persistently command high processor utilization are suspect, along with crashed or hung apps that just won’t close normally. Cooling fans that kick in even for sedately tasks such as word processing or checking email are also a telltale sign. Identify and knock errant apps off the task list by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del and selecting “Task Manager.” Do a quick restart if all else doesn’t work.

[ How-to: Boost That Battery: Tips and Tricks for Laptop Users ]

Finally, don’t forget that the display consumes a large portion of the power. Bringing the screen brightness down will stretch the lifespan of your laptop. This means a café with softer light is more battery-friendly than an al fresco setting where you work under direct sunlight or a meager shade. (That’s why sitting with your back to a wall should give you a longer run time when using your laptop’s battery.)

Keep Things Powered Up

Frequent travelers may want to keep an additional power adapter in their travel bag to avoid the stress that leaving it at home is sure to induce. Travelers determined to carry less stuff can consider slim-line universal laptop adapters from the likes of Kensington and Innergie, which typically comes with a built-in USB port for charging a second device.

[ More: 6 Gadgets to Improve Your Next Business Trip ]

This advice applies to Mac users, too, though there are no third-party power adapters available for MacBooks. The PlugBug adapter though, snaps onto the official power adapter from Apple to add a 2.1Amp USB port for recharging your smartphone or tablet.

Bringing your own power source helps if you work at locations where power outlets are scarce. Smartphones can be easily powered by many of the external USB battery packs out there, while business laptops typically offer interchangeable battery packs.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 battery pack from Mikegyver

A battery pack with Surface Pro 3 power cable from Mikegyver.

In the absence of official battery packs, third-party battery packs are the only way to keep laptops powered for extended hours without a wall socket. The Poweradd Pilot Pro 32000mAh works for a variety of laptops; it includes the flat USB-style power plugs used by Lenovo in its latest ThinkPad Ultrabooks. Mikegyver Computer also offers battery packs with the option of specially assembled power cables– spliced from an original power adapter – which work with these battery packs to recharge a Surface Pro 3 or a MacBook.

Deck Out Your Hotel Room

The hotel room deserves special mention for travelers, given the long hours you may spend in there when you’re out of town. Today’s rooms are generally comfortable, but they may not necessarily have all the requisite tools for a digital worker.

[ Feature: Latest Gadgets Ease the Cruelty of Travel ]

One essential device is a Wi-Fi router, which can provide Internet access to a plethora of devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops. This works in hotels that provide Wi-Fi capabilities too, and makes it easy to offer wireless connectivity without having to reconfigure every single Wi-Fi device.

Bringing a short Ethernet cable may be a good idea, too. Since some hotels do run out of them, while badly handled Ethernet cables can cause intermittent connectivity issues that are hard to diagnose.

Anker 40W

The Anker 40W can charge up to five USB devices at a time.

Consider packing a desktop charger such as the Anker 40W 5-port desktop USB charger, which can charge all your portable devices overnight. Bring along a couple of static multi-plug adapters for your laptop and USB charger, and you should be good to go.

Pack Some Final Accessories

Adding a number of accessories to the travel kit can help make things more comfortable for the digital worker—and can even increase efficiency. An external mouse can be useful, for example, even for MacBook users. Where possible, get a wireless one that offers the ability to track on shiny or mirrored surface. Both Microsoft and Logitech offer these types of mice.

Finally, good headphones can help you focus at locations that have high levels of ambient noise (though earphones are much more compact). If music helps you unwind, consider bringing a portable speaker that you can set up in your hotel room.