The road to a successful business can be long and bumpy. If you actually take your business on the road, these bumps can be hard on your equipment, too. When planning your mobile office, you need a flexible and compact office equipment system that fits in a small space and weighs little.
A computer is the central piece of many small businesses. A laptop with a few accessories becomes a fax machine, scanner, copier, library, calendar, and full service communications tool. Protecting your investment, and business, on the road takes some planning. The three things to consider when planning your mobile office are flexibility, stability and durability.
The Mobile Office
Technology is changing and evolving very fast. Things are getting smaller and lighter, making it easier for the mobile office. Cell phones can reach anywhere and the technology is available to pinpoint your position almost anywhere on the planet to within a few feet. Cars talk and direct you to your destination. Many RVs now feature microwaves, satellite TV, and all the technology of a home and office. It takes a lot of work to really get away from civilization.
With all these overwhelming choices, the process of deciding which bits of technology are flexible and durable enough to take on the road have not changed:
- Do you really need it?
- Did you buy it because it was a cool gadget? Does it really help your business? Will it help you make money? Think serious about your purpose and use for each office item you purchase.
- How much space will it take up?
- Decisions about weight and space are serious in a mobile office. It can add up fast. Paper and books are the heaviest items and consume a lot of space. How do you want to store things. Can you scan documents and files onto a hard drive or CD-Rom? Many reference books are now available on CD-Rom. Instead of a whole encyclopedia, we carry Britannica on two CD-Roms.
- Does it do more than one thing?
- Multi-purpose products are a way to get it “all in one.” A computer with a fax/modem becomes a fax machine. Add a printer/scanner like the Canon BubbleJet printers with add-on scanning module and you’ve created a fax/printer/copier/scanner system. Why buy four things when one or two will work just fine.
- Will it take a beating?
- Remember the old Timex watch commercials? Consider every business product you buy like a Timex watch: will it take a licking and keep on ticking? Really examine how durable it is and how much juggling and slamming around it will take. Make sure it is padded and protected when traveling. Get a full warranty when appropriate. Keep those records with you with copies in a safe place outside of your RV.
- Will this help me make money?
- Don’t forget the purpose of taking your business on the road is to make money. If you are spending money on things for your business that won’t help you make money, reconsider the purchase.
Equipment for the Road
Technology is changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up, especially when you are living on the road. Handheld computers (PDAs) are revolutionizing the way people communiate and use and get information. Cell phones are now inexpensive and available worldwide. Wireless Internet technology is booming and the need to be physically connected is no longer an issue. Technology is finally catching up with the traveler, especially the traveling worker, but there is still room for improvements. Let’s look at a few of the standard “must have” devices for the techno-junkie traveling worker.
- A few years ago, the mobile business had only one choice: a desktop computer. Today, 10 times the capacity of those old systems fits inside a slender, lightweight laptop. Many come with 14 inch and larger monitor screens, easing eye strain. With USB and other easy connections, you can add a wide range of accessories.
- Hand-held Computer
- A “Palm” or other brand hand-held computer doesn’t quite replace the laptop or the desktop computer, but it comes very close. When you need to make a note about your travels, carry a book, maps, track yourself on GPS, make lists, look up an address, and the numerous other “quickie” things we need to do on the road, a small hand-held computer does the job. Many new ones also feature built-in telephones, giving you more power for your punch. There is even new technology on the horizon that will allow the hand-held to project a “picture” of a keyboard onto any surface and it will track your fingers as you “type”, allowing you to easily write letters, notes, and whatever. Amazing things! The power of a small computer in your hand – perfect for the traveler!
- Wireless Capability
- Wireless access to the Internet is popping up incredibly fast. You can now surf the Internet at most McDonalds and Starbucks across North America and expanding throughout Europe. Wireless access to the Internet is cheap to set up and many people are setting up wireless network hubs in their homes and business and allowing others to “surf” the Internet for free, since it doesn’t really cost more to share. This technology is spreading, but do you have the capability to jump onto the wireless highway? There are currently two popular wireless technologies available: Bluetooth and WIFI. WIFI is winning the battle in the United States, but Bluetooth is not giving up throughout Europe and Asia. Find out which wireless network service is most available in the areas in which you travel, and make sure your laptop, cell phone, and handheld computer are ready to go wireless.
- A compact printer/scanner combination, like Canon offers, takes up little space and works great if your needs are few. For high volume printing, a laser printer holds up generally much better on the road than an ink jet, but with care and proper storage in a concussion resistant compartment, an ink jet will work fine.
- Cell phone
- Once a luxury item, cell phones are cheap and access is available in most places. Today they come with myriad capabilities including email, news alerts, and web access. Keep them charged on a regular basis and bring extra batteries.
- Back-up and Storage System
- To protect your investment and business, make sure you include a system for convenient back-ups and storage of your computer data. Back up your data on a regular basis and make sure your emergency system boot disk is up-to-date, and the instructions for restoration of your hard drive are handy. The system can be with CDs, tape drives, mirrored, hard drives, removable hard drives, DVDs or any other technology, just as long as you can easily backup and restore your system.
- File Storage
- Metal filing cabinets are usually too heavy and cumbersome for most RVs. Consider scanning information onto CD-Roms. If you must store files use lightweight plastic containers or a custom designed system built into your RV. Make sure there is a locking system on the drawers as they tend to fly open, spilling their contents, when the vehicle is moving.
Setting Up the Office
- Put small fragile equipment like laptops on the bed while traveling, padded with pillows and cushions and strapped down to keep it from going flying.
- Strap and tie things down if they will bounce around. Don’t forget to put the keyboard and mouse in secure places, too.
- Use concussion proof cases for delicate equipment and keep all sensitive covered and protected from the grit and grime of traveling.
- Do not put heavy things on top of your laptop or strap it down too hard. The pressure on the top can damage the LCD screen.
- Put padding and/or shock absorbers under fragile equipment that is too heavy to move. Closed cell foam pads work well for this purpose, too.
- Put latches and locks on all cupboards and drawers so they won’t fly open when traveling.
- Double check everything before you move. Make sure everything is protected and stowed securely before you head down the road. One bump may be one bump too late.
Where you put your work area is dependent upon the equipment you have, the space available, and the position in the RV. Weight and balance are important to keep your vehicle safe on the road. If you put all the weight of equipment, files, printers, and computers on one side of the trailer, is it too heavy on that side? Distribute the weight evenly. Is there really room for you to work? Or do you have to compete with the dirty clothes and shoes? Make sure your workspace is comfortable and conducive to concentrating on the job.
If your work area will stay set up, is it visible through a window or from the doorway of the RV? Is there a way to keep your equipment out of site? Working with a laptop makes it easy to set up and put away quickly, but how about your other equipment? How do you want to work?
Today there is a variety of accessories for the traveling worker. We’ve listed some web sites under our Connect the Dots links at the left of your screen. Mobile Gear makes a wide range of accessories for the traveler including file storage and a unique platform for using your steering wheel as a desk for your laptop when the vehicle isn’t moving. New products are coming out all the time to make the life of the worker on the road much easier.
Security and Stability
Whether buying a unit with your mobile business in mind or conforming one you already have to meet your needs, you need to consider the security and stability of your system.
To protect your office equipment from theft, don’t become a visible target. Make sure you have solid locks on all the windows and doors of your vehicle and/or RV. Keep valuable equipment out of sight. When you aren’t using your laptop, put it away. Consider creating a special locking cabinet for your equipment. If thieves want to break in badly enough, they will. The key to protecting yourself from theft is to make it difficult to break in and make it take a lot of time to do so. The longer they work to break in, the more likely they will be caught or scared away.
Power in foreign countries can be troublesome and unpredictable. Make sure you carry surge protectors for your computer and modem for your protection as well as the sake of the equipment.
Not all cell phones work in all countries, even between neighboring countries. There is a solution. Make sure your cell phone will work across most international systems, and consider buying prepaid service chips to insert into your cell phone (make sure they are capable of using these chips) in each country. We discuss this more in our newsletter issue on Travel.
The security of your office equipment also means protecting it from damage. Living in an RV, you are dependent upon someone else to supply you with electricity and water. A generator will keep you going away from electrical hookups, but even that can have repercussions on your delicate computer and/or electronics. Invest in a quality generator and inverter to keep your electrical power stable. A battery powered computer backup system is great, but if you travel frequently, you have to remember to turn it off every time you disconnect the RV from power. The best investment for protection against brown-outs, power surges and unstable electricity is a good surge protector right at the electric hookup, protecting the entire RV, not just your computer equipment. Unstable power has fried microwaves and televisions as well as computers.
Keeping your equipment secure from the damage rough roads can cause is a bigger challenge. If the equipment is large enough to be fixed in place, like a monitor or recording system, make sure it is on special supports and is cushioned from the impact of travel. Keep your equipment covered and protected from the dust and grime of traveling. Here are some tips for protecting your equipment from the abuses of the road:
Whatever your business, when you take it on the road everything becomes more complicated. Make it easier by starting off simple with the very basic equipment. The less you have and have to rely upon, the less that breaks down or causes you stress. Make a list of everything you have to check and prepare for moving and double check it before you start the vehicle.
When you get your mobile office set up and finally leave, remember the real reason you decided to take your work on the road. Pause for a moment, look out your window and marvel at the constantly changing view.