Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Home Office That Travels

Those of us who have a home office may not commute regularly to an office, but often we are required to leave our home offices and travel out of town, either to far-flung clients, to industry events, to project meetings, or even to a distant “parent office.” Regardless of the reason for travel, we often have to do it, and few things are more disruptive to productivity and establishing a working rhythm—or basic mental health—than travel. However, hare are a few tips for maximizing productivity—or at the very least sanity—when we have to take the home office on the road.

#1 Get as Portable as Possible

You have probably tried using a laptop computer in an airplane, so you know that unless you can splurge for first or business class, you’ll be stuck in ever-shrinking airplane seats, and typing on the seat-back tray is best accomplished by contortionists. And then when the person in front of you reclines all the way, well, suddenly you have a computer wedged in your ribcage. Happily, tablet computers can take a lot of the pain out of this process. The small form factor is ideal for airplane seats, but is still large enough that typing is relatively comfortable. Until turbulence hits… If you take the train, where seats are a bit more spacious, you can use a laptop a bit more practically (you may even be able to spread out at a table in the club car, if there is one)—but even so, a portable device is still far more convenient.

#2 Use Travel for Read-Only Tasks

Most of us fall behind on the things we need to read for our business whether it be trade articles, reports, studies, or even books. Travel is an ideal time to catch up on reading. Online articles can be bookmarked or saved to an app like Instapaper (or even PDF) for offline reading on mobile devices. Studies can be saved to PDF (if they are not in PDF form already), and even books can be downloaded as ebooks. All of these files can be loaded on a tablet or iPhone and conveniently taken along. And sometimes—space or weight permitting—hard copies of books, periodicals, or other materials can be taken along. (I have print books in which you can tell when the turbulence started by the sweat stains on certain pages…)

#3 Stake Out a Table in an Airport Restaurant or Bar

If you have a long layover, a delayed flight, or even a lot of time to kill between checking out of a hotel and flight time, an airport restaurant or bar can serve as an ideal office-away-from-home-office. You may also have access to WiFi. Even if it’s crowded at first, airport establishments have a very fast turnover of customers, unless there are mass delays, so there is never a long wait for a table or a seat at the bar. If you are a member of an “admirals club” and have access to the club room, far from the madding (and maddening) crowd, that can be a nice option—but those can also be very crowded and impractical. (Richard and Joe both tend to favor Southwest Airlines which offers no such club service. And besides, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, they wouldn’t belong to any club that would have people like them as members.)

#4 Get a Portable Charger

You don’t realize how fast your mobile devices lose their charge until you go on the road and find yourself in an airport with two hours to kill and <20% power left. And while charging stations are not uncommon in airports (especially near Southwest Airlines gates), they are often crowded, and even random outlets strewn around the airport are often taken. A portable, battery-operated charger is a great solution for a quick top-up of power when you are running down.

#5 Practice Your Networking Skills

Airports are full of bored people with little else to do than chat people up. This can be a great way of practicing your “elevator speech” or talking about your business. It will, however, require a bit more of a conversational tone than would a dedicated business networking mixer. I was in an airport bar one time with a colleague, and a stranger next to us turned and said, out of the blue, “Do you like ground turkey?” A bizarre conversation opener, to be sure. Turns out, he was a sales rep for a company that sold turkey products, but it provided more a sense of amusement for me and my colleague, which continued to be a running joke for months afterward. So be careful not to make a bad first impression—although the chances of running into the same person again are pretty low. But, anyway, who knows, there is a very good chance you may be able to drum up some new business, depending on the business you are in. (Some people do like ground turkey.)

#6 Just Chill

As entrepreneurs or as people otherwise running our own businesses, we are often on-the-go and juggling many different tasks simultaneously. On top of that, traveling can be stressful in and of itself. Sometimes, getting deeply involved in a work project can allay the stress of traveling, especially when there are delays (there have actually been times when I have been writing in an airport and thinking, “Boy, if my flight could be delayed 30 minutes I can finish this article and sleep on the plane”). But other times, work can be one more “brick in the wall” of travel hell. So, unless you are facing a major deadline, it can be preferable to use traveling as “chill time.” Read a novel, work on creative writing, sit in the meditation room (many airports have one), take a walk around the airport and visit shops and other attractions if there are any (the Atlanta airport has big art and history displays between gates which are great to spend some time checking out), engage in friendly, non-work-related conversations with other travelers—or just sleep.

Travel doesn’t have to be stressful, and it can be a great way to get work done uninterrupted—or take a break from work entirely.

Any other travel tips?

Today’s Home Office Links

Three home office myths debunked. If the Mythbusters folks want to do a segment on us, we’re available! (Business2Community)

We blogged about bad weather and working at home last month, and it was interesting that there is now data available: “research by Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino [found that] workers are more productive during periods of inclement weather vs. a warm sunny day.” No argument there! (Business2Community)

Why employers should allow workers at home. However, the slam on millennials was uncalled for. (Zawya)

Tips on preparing your workforce to work remotely when weather prevents them from getting into the office. (CIO)

The Sword Sometimes Wins

Richard here. They say “the pen is mightier than the sword” (but don’t try using “pen is mightier” as your Web site URL, because when you take out the word spaces, the meaning changes entirely)— Anyway, sometimes the pen doesn’t win…

In The Home Office That Works! we talk about attending client or colleague meetings, and the danger of relying too much on technology. After all, how many times has someone brought a tablet or a smartphone to a business meeting to take notes or present ideas—rather than a more reliable medium, like a pen and paper—and been flustered when there were technical problems? And then they have to say those dreaded words, “this isn’t working correctly,” and it just reflects badly on them.

Then again, older technology sometimes is no picnic either. I was at a media event last week, and I still rely on pen and paper to take notes. However, as the first presentation was starting, the pen I had brought with me ran out of ink. Doh! And naturally, it was the one time I had neglected to bring a backup. But I noticed that the hosts had conveniently supplied a pen—one with their logo, of course. However, they must have gotten the pens on the cheap because as I tried to write with it, the pressure forced the point back up into the barrel of the pen. I kept having to push the top of the pen to get the point back out (yes, I often have a hard time getting to the point when I write), and then the top of the pen just popped right off and over my shoulder. So I had to admit, “this isn’t working correctly” and borrow a pen from the person sitting next to me.

We often take pens for granted, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I actually bought one. I just seem to acquire them from hotels, corporate events, and other sources where they are given out as specialty marketing items—and in the book we even advise using pens as promotional items. Still, a good pen is not hard to find, and I have become convinced that it may be worth the investment.

By the way, here is a fun question to pose at your next cocktail party: which is the older technology, the typewriter or the ballpoint pen? Well, the first successful typewriter was patented in 1868 and built commercially in 1874. The first ballpoint pen was patented in 1888, but the first successful one wasn’t developed until 1941. (You could even argue that the computer is older than the ballpoint pen.) The inventor of the first successful ballpoint pen? László Bíró, which is why ballpoints are known as “biros” in the U.K.

This useless knowledge brought to you courtesy of The Home Office That Works!