Getting Started: Tools and Tips for Going Mobile

You're armed with your laptop, cell phone and Blackberry, and you're ready to roam. Not so fast. Here are a few things you need to know before you hit the road.
A seasoned road warrior knows that laptops, cell phones, Blackberries and PDAs are only the basics when it comes to staying productive on the go. Workers who frequently find themselves on the road have more options at their disposal for keeping in touch with clients and colleagues than ever before. The capability to send off a quick meeting reminder, update inventory, or transfer data helps mobile workers be more efficient and responsive, which can lead to increased productivity and higher profits. Here are a few tips to make your nomadic life easier.

The Balancing Act
When preparing for a road trip, there's often a tendency to pack for every possible contingency. Beyond a basic arsenal of a laptop, cell phone and a Blackberry, many items only serve to create bulk and are best left at home. As for which items don't make the cut, Damian Herrick, worldwide product marketing manager for Lenovo's 3000 notebooks, says it's going to vary. Anything that can be classified as a peripheral, such as printers and scanners, generally won't be worth the bother.

Herrick says that the equipment mobile workers ultimately take on the road will come down to trial and error: After you've headed out enough times, you'll come to realize what's truly vital and what never leaves the bag and be able to pare things down.

Safety First
Mobile workers must keep security in mind at all times, both in regard to the physical whereabouts of equipment and the safety of vital data. Herrick says physical security is key. "Travelers should make use of cable locks, many of which have audible alarms that sound when someone attempts to move the device attached to it," he said.

He also noted that many devices offer fingerprint readers to ensure that classified data doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Enable your system's firewall, and make sure it works properly. Also, set your system up so that it doesn't allow file sharing. This way, no one can crack into your computer and steal data.

Avoid conducting sensitive transactions on the public networks you find in cafes and airports. A VPN — a private network that allows workers to remotely access their company's network and data securely — is your best option for working with important data. And be sure to use strong passwords (i.e., a combination of letters, numbers and symbols).

Chat for Cheap
Spotty cell reception and expensive overage charges can be unwelcome surprises while you're away from home. Skype is an increasingly popular way to communicate with the folks at home via a broadband connection and VoIP (Voice over Internet protocol).

There are several versions of Skype, and the one that's best for you will depend on exactly what features you're looking for and how much you're willing to shell out. The most basic version is free. Basically, it allows you to chat with a microphone and speakers with another person who has the same setup.

A paid version, Skype Unlimited, lets you make unlimited calls to any phone — traditional or Internet securely — in the U.S. or Canada for $29.95 a year. International calls start at 2.1 cents per minute. You can pay a bit more and get features such as message forwarding and voicemail, too. No matter the route you choose, all of Skype's plans are reasonable. This is especially true if you make a lot of overseas calls.

Separate The Wheat From the Chaff
The ubiquitous Blackberry is a frequent traveler's constant companion, but for those who receive high quantities of e-mail, managing the incoming missives is key. For a one-time $20 fee, Web Messenger does just that. It sorts the legitimate messages from the junk and can even alert you when an important message arrives. This kind of functionality can allow a Blackberry to moonlight as a pager, thereby eliminating the need to tote the latter around. WebMessenger can also sort by subject, sender or by message content.

Playing Nice
Many people rely on Microsoft Outlook while in the office, but while you're on the road, you may not always have access to it. Nice Office, a Web-based product from eAgency, can fill the gap.

Nice Office
NiceOfficeDesktop: Nice Office is a secure Web-based application that's designed to allow you to access to the information you need while on the go.

Bob Lotter, CEO of eAgency, said that while everyone has e-mail these days, not all employees have the capability to check their work accounts from the road. "Nice Office combines the abilities of Microsoft Exchange and CRM with Outlook and extends those capabilities to wireless devices, all for $20 a month," he said. The company offers other plans, as well, depending on your company's exact needs.

Lotter said the software works over the air to ensure that your information is always in sync. "This product is ideal for a smaller business that might not be able to afford IT departments that would otherwise set up and monitor such connectivity," said Lotter. Also, he noted that as a company grows, Nice Office can scale up to meet those needs.

Nice Office has the same security as that used with online banking and has full audit capabilities. Lotter said that the applicaiton lets you to do anything you can do with Outlook. It also lets you securely check inventories and download forms from your company's network.

Quick Tips
A few final thoughts to help you ease on down the road.

Put the most sensitive, essential files on a password-protected flash drive. That way, should your laptop or Blackberry get lost or stolen, you'll still have access to important data.

With airlines cutting costs, space is getting tighter and tighter in the cattle car that is coach. Consider using a privacy screen on your laptop to keep files safe from wandering eyes.

Hotspots are great for many things, but for secure transactions, they're not the best bet. Make sure your security software is securely in place.

Be Prepared
Being able to work from any corner of the earth has its advantages and disadvantages. But with some planning and the right tools, you'll be just as efficient, if not more so, as you would be while chained to a desk.

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