Do you need help with your mobile office setup? With remote work opportunities on the rise as companies provide safe working environments and look to save costs, many workers are searching for essential tools to stay productive and connected in a mobile office. Whether your employer or client requires you to work remotely, or you want the freedom to travel more, we’ll share what you need to know about your workspace location(s), productivity tools, and internet connectivity, no matter where you go. While creating the right mobile office setup can be tricky, this article will give you the guidance you need to simplify that process.
Where Do You Need (Want) To Work?
Working remotely has so many benefits. When thinking of the newfound freedoms of remote work, some see the white sandy beaches of Florida, or even sitting peacefully among the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. While these work scenes may seem idyllic—and you may feel like you’re living the dream—they’re entirely possible in this new age of remote work.
To make it a reality, you’ll first need to decide if you’ll be working from an RV, van, Airbnb-style home office, or even a boat. They’re all possible. It really just depends on the lifestyle you want.
It’s important to consider how you work best. Are you able to block out noises and distractions? Do you have the energy to be at your best following a big travel day? Do you need a consistent and familiar workspace? And in the midst of a global pandemic, when workspace options like public libraries, coffee shops and co-working spaces may be limited, it’s even more important to figure out where to work.
Try to envision your lifestyle, including how you’ll work. For many people, their mobile office setup requires a dedicated space where they can focus, eliminate distractions and create confidence in themselves. You will also need your employer’s or client’s trust that you will succeed while working in this space.
Once you’ve determined where you’ll work and how you work best, you’re on your way to success as a remote worker. The next step is to satisfy the basics of your mobile office setup, which we’ll cover in the next section.
For tips on how and where to find remote work, click this link to watch my FREE masterclass, “How To Find Remote Work in 90 Days or Less.”
What Do You Need for Your Mobile Office Setup?
Setting up a mobile office can feel overwhelming, especially with technology changing so rapidly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By focusing on the basic technology requirements, you’ll create a strong foundation that can support more advanced requirements you may have over time. The good news is just about anyone can learn to work remotely with just a few productivity tools such as a laptop, cell phone and internet access. While some workers require additional hardware, such as a printer, headphones or a microphone, we’ll discuss the key necessities to help you choose a setup that works best for you.
Computer and Smartphone Operating Systems
The competition for computing hearts and minds has been going on since the 1980s. In one camp, you have Apple enthusiasts who use laptops calls Macs. On the other side, users prefer PC laptops (made by manufacturers such as HP and Dell) which run on Microsoft’s Windows Operating Systems.
Everyone seems to have a preference—often based on what they learned on or which operating system best suits their needs. Both platforms are very capable. The best advice is to use the system that best meets your computing needs AND then stick with that “ecosystem” for the rest of your devices. If you have a Mac, then also use an iPhone and iPad which synchronize with it. Or if you have a PC, use an Android smartphone (from leading manufacturers like Samsung or LG) and Android or Windows tablet.
Your profession may dictate which of these systems is best for you. For example, many writers and accountants who need to work extensively with Microsoft Office software often prefer Windows-based PC systems, whereas some artists, videographers and photographers prefer the design tools offered by Apple. Think about those you collaborate with, such as a spouse or partner, business associate or employer. Sometimes the need to collaborate will necessitate compatibility between systems. It really comes down to personal preference and the applications required for you to do your job.
In either case, make sure you’re buying the latest operating system with your Mac (macOS Catalina) or PC laptop (Microsoft Windows 10).
Tips for Purchasing a PC or Mac
Buying a new computer is a very important decision. I remember researching and purchasing my first desktop computer back in the early 1990s for around $4,000 (along with a modest printer). The good news is you can now get a very powerful laptop for less than half that amount. Whether you’ve chosen to use a PC (laptop) or Mac (notebook), there are a few important factors to consider before buying:
The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is often referred to as the brains of the computer. The more powerful a processor is, the faster your computer will perform. Intel is the leading manufacturer of processors and it’s Core series of processors are the most common found in laptops and Macs today. The Core i5 is the minimum suggested processor to buy. It represents the current sweet spot of performance for the price. A more powerful option is the Core i7, which is popular among those needing video editing capabilities or wanting to game (on your time off, of course). The top-of-the-line Core i9 processor (as well as even more powerful new processors) should be reserved for the most discerning power users and high-end gamers.
It’s important to choose a CPU appropriate to your usage, as more powerful processors drag down battery life (another important consideration). Innovation in chip design is rapid, and new processors are released regularly. As a general rule, try to buy a slightly more powerful processor than you currently think you need to prolong the life of your laptop while staying within your budget.
Random Access Memory (RAM) is the short-term memory your computer uses to run programs and perform tasks. Having enough RAM is crucial for performance speeds. It ensures enough immediate storage space is available for computing. Larger amounts of RAM allow your computer to smoothly run multiple tasks at once. But it costs more and uses more power (another drag on battery life).
Computers today generally come with RAM of between 4GB and 64GB. Ideally, 8GB is recommended as a minimum for most users, but some users who aren’t big multi-taskers can get by with 4GB. If you want to spend more, 16GB ensures high-end gaming and amply supports users who need to manipulate large files like full high-resolution videos and other memory-intensive tasks. 32GB and 64GB of RAM is overkill for all but the most power users. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can usually add RAM to your laptop at a later date.
Hard Drive (Storage)
There are two varieties of computer data storage technology, Hard Disk Drives (HDD) and Solid State Drives (SSD). Introduced in 1956, HDD storage has been the standard for decades. Made up of spinning metal platters that rotate using magnetism to record and store data, HDD’s are less expensive but made of parts that are small and fragile. They are often the first thing to break on a computer. SSD storage technology is newer and does not have any mechanical or spinning parts. Instead, it is made of flash memory that is faster, holds more data, uses less power and lasts longer than HDDs. For these reasons, a Solid State Drive is preferable.
Now that you know the different technologies available, it’s important to decide on how much hard drive space you need. It depends on how you’ll use your computer. Computers today come with hard drive space as low as 256GB, all the way up to 4TB (or 4,000GB). It doesn’t help to buy more space than you need since your computer will run just as well whether you use some or nearly all of the allotted storage. A good indicator of how much you’ll need is how much you’ve used in your current model computer. On the lowest end, 256GB is sufficient for light users, though 512GB is a better choice, and 1TB is more than enough for most.
It’s also important to consider online or cloud storage services such as iCloud (Apple), OneDrive (Microsoft), Google Drive and DropBox. They typically offer a basic level of storage space at no cost and you can upgrade to a monthly subscription at reasonable price. If you only need to access certain data when connected to the internet and are comfortable with the services’ security, then you may not need that much hard drive storage on your laptop. Many prefer to use cloud storage to back up all the data stored on their hard drive—a highly recommended practice. External hard drives are another option for additional storage and backups.
The display screen on your laptop is an important factor that is sometimes overlooked in comparison to the computer’s internals (processor, RAM, storage, etc). The size of the screen really comes down to your personal preference. If you don’t mind a smaller screen, such as a 12 or 13 inch screen (measured diagonally), then you may benefit from a smaller, more portable laptop. A 15 inch screen is the most popular and offers a balance of display size and overall laptop portability. Some people prefer a deluxe screen size of 17 inches (often for workstation-level productivity applications and/or gaming), and are willing to accept the trade off of a heavier, less portable laptop.
Regardless of the screen size you choose, it is recommended that the display has a full high definition resolution of 1080p. Higher resolutions are available, but come with a higher price tag and are also quicker to drain your laptop battery.
While it’s not technically part of the display screen, it is also recommended that you get a laptop with a built-in camera and internal microphone. Cameras are included with most laptops and typically sit at the top of the display screen. These features will allow you to participate in video conferencing via applications such as Zoom or Facetime on Macs.
Wireless Network Card (Wi-Fi Availability)
Built-in wireless cards allow connection to Wi-Fi networks. Most modern laptops are pre-configured with a wireless card that supports all current Wi-Fi protocols (802.11a/b/g/n/ac). But you may want to go a step further and get a laptop with built-in cellular connectivity, or LTE. This capability allows your laptop to operate in the same way a smart phone accesses its cellular data plan. While other options for cellular connectivity exist (discussed later), having an LTE connection built into your laptop means more connectivity in places where Wi-Fi isn’t available.
PC Laptop suggestions:
For more information and resources, click on Laptop Magazine’s buying guide.
You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches by having a cellphone that is consistent with your computer and tablet hardware. If you’re an iPhone owner, a MacBook and iPad will create a seamless computing ecosystem for you. Owners of Android phones will have a better user experience pairing it with a PC Laptop and its Windows operating system.
While it’s not impossible to mix devices from different ecosytems—like using an iPhone with a PC laptop—you’re better positioned to use applications, music, calendaring, photos and more when you stick to one ecosystem.
If you’re convinced that you should operate within one ecosystem, then the next question is what should you look for in a phone.
Buying an iPhone is a simpler decision because you’re only dealing with one manufacturer. Apple’s latest phones—its first with Fifth Generation (5G) wireless network capability—are the iPhone 12 product line. They were just released in October 2020. You can choose a base model, either the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Mini, or the upgraded iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini come with two 12 mega pixel cameras (ultra wide and wide angle), 4K video recording, base storage of 64 GB expandable up to 256 GB, A14 Bionic Chip processor, and service from all major carriers (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile/Sprint). The iPhone 12 is larger with a 6.1 inch display, while the Mini has a 5.4 inch display. The iPhone 12 is currently priced at $799, and the Mini is $699. And Apple has a trade in program that can reduce the price based on your current model.
Apple’s premium offering in the iPhone 12 product line is the Pro and Pro Max. The difference between the phones is the display size. The Pro has a 6.1 inch display, while the Pro Max has a 6.7 inch display. The phones include an additional telephoto camera for a total of three rear cameras. They also have more storage space with base storage starting at 128 GB expandable to 512 GB. The iPhone 12 Pro is currently priced starting at $999, while the Pro Max starts at $1,099.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly offering, the iPhone 11 was only released in September 2019, and has been marked down to $599. Apple also introduced the iPhone SE in April 2020 with a starting price of $399. It’s the size of an iPhone 8 (4.7 inch display), but has the internals of the iPhone 11. It only has one wide angle camera lens instead of the two lenses on the iPhone 11.
Check out Apple’s iPhone website for more information.
The primary alternative to the Apple iPhone (and its iOS operating system) are smart phones from leading manufactures such as Samsung and LG which use the Android operating system. In fact, you may be surprised to know that Android devices represent 87% of the worldwide market compared to Apple’s 13% share. However, the U.S. market share is closer to an even split between Android and Apple. The Android system is an open source software, whereas Apple’s iOS is controlled by Apple. Google is the commercial sponsor of Android and most phones come pre-loaded with Google’s mobile services and basic applications (i.e. Chrome browser, Google Play Store, Maps, Photos, YouTube, etc).
For Android users, there are several top phone makers to choose from. Samsung is the clear leader, followed by LG and Motorola, while the Google Pixel and phones from OnePlus offer exciting new options. Here are a few of the key characteristics of each of the top android phones.
Samsung’s latest offerings, the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note20, were introduced in March 2020. They are both 5G network compatible, so you can begin to enjoy the faster speeds and greater capacities of 5G networks as they get built out across the country. Both phones have three rear cameras (standard, wide angle and telephoto) and one front camera. The infinity displays are 6.2 inches for the S20 and 6.7 inches for the Note20. Both phones come with generous storage of 128 GB, which is expandable. The S20 and Note20 are currently priced at $1,000, but check for deals and rebates.
LG has been producing very capable smart phones for years and is known for offering great value. Its first 5G capable phone, the LG V60 ThinQ 5G, was released in March 2020. It has two rear and one front camera. It has a large 6.8 inch display and is comparable to the Samsung phones’ storage of 128 GB. It’s currently priced at $950. LG’s latest 4G network offerings are the Velvet and V40, which offer great value when compared to the V60.
Motorola’s first true 5G phone, The Edge, has a unique 6.7 inch wraparound display. Its triple rear cameras allow users to take ultra-wide angle, telephoto and macro photographs. The Edge comes standard with a generous 256 GB of storage and is currently very competitively priced around $650.
A newer entry to the Android smartphone market is OnePlus. Started in 2014 in China, it is known for offering high quality devices with design simplicity. It’s quickly gaining a following in the United States. Trailing only Apple and Samsung in quality, it introduced its first 5G phone in April 2020, the OnePlus 8 Pro. Its 6.8 inch display is paired with four rear and one front camera. And it comes with either 128 GB or 256 GB of storage. The larger storage option is currently priced at a competitive $800.
Google entered the smartphone market in 2016 when it introduced the Pixel. Its line of smartphones has quickly gained a following due to its impressive cameras and relative value. The Pixel 5, Google’s first 5G offering, was released in October 2020 with an approximate price of $700. It offers fewer rear cameras than others with two high-quality cameras (standard and ultra-wide angle).
Suggested Android Phones:
Setting Up Your Mobile Office in the Cloud
Now that you’re all set up with the latest phone, let’s talk about what you can do with it and your laptop—cloud computing and mobile applications! These days, cloud computing and storage have become crucial for a mobile office as users are prioritizing the need for security and ease of collaboration. In addition, people are requiring the ability to store and back up their personal data in places that can be accessed from multiple devices. What is the cloud, really? Cloud is a term used to describe computer information and software applications that are accessed through a network connection instead of a local connection. It means that data and programs are stored and accessed over the internet rather than your computer’s hard drive.
Chances are, you’re probably using some cloud-based applications without realizing it. Popular cloud storage services include Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Apple iCloud. Zoom video conferencing is one example of a cloud computing application that also offers cloud storage options. Their rise in popularity is due to the nearly limitless potential of the internet. Providers continue to develop more and more functionality in their apps based on users’ needs. Also, many applications can be shared regardless of which operating systems are used.
Here are some additional benefits to cloud computing:
- It takes little storage from your computer compared to local applications and data.
- Most of the files and data stored in cloud-based systems can be accessed across multiple devices, like your cell phone, laptop and tablet.
- Almost all storage providers (Google, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud and Dropbox) offer a free basic service. Zoom videoconferencing does as well.
- Documents, photos, videos and other files can be shared and edited in one place—a much better way to collaborate than via email where the latest versions can get lost.
- Cloud-based applications are updated on the back end by developers, saving you time, frustration and storage space.
- While many fear breaches in cloud security, cloud-based systems are more securely monitored and have better backup systems than local computers.
What Apps Are Needed for Your Mobile Office Setup?
For tips on how and where to find remote work, click this link to watch our FREE masterclass, “How To Find Remote Work in 90 Days or Less.”
The good news is that most mainstream applications are designed for collaboration and are easily accessible, making them simpler to learn and use. Working from remote locations is becoming more feasible with each passing year.
Among the vast number of cloud-based productivity applications available for remote workers, we recommend a few below to help you stay connected and organized. Your setup will vary depending on your employer’s or client’s needs, but don’t try to learn them all at once. Find out what applications you’ll need to perform your job first, then check out some of these frequently used applications:
Video Conferencing Apps
- Zoom – all the rage today, Zoom has become the most popular way to hold video conferences. It allows video, audio and screen-sharing options along with cloud recording capacity. Its free version is sufficient for most users.
- Skype – a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service that enables people to make and receive free voice and video calls over the internet. Skype includes a user-friendly instant messaging service.
- Google Meet – allows users to participate in text, voice or video chats in groups up to 100 people. It is available free of charge to anyone with a Google account. Both Android and iOS apps are available.
- GoToMeeting – similar to Zoom, GoToMeeting offers basic free online meetings with high-quality screen sharing, webcams, VoIP audio, and chat messaging.
- Microsoft Teams – Microsoft’s videoconferencing app which provides online meetings, chat and cloud storage with some of the most generous free features.
Team/Project Collaboration Apps
- Asana – created by former Facebook and Google employees to improve coordination and productivity, Asana became available for public use in 2012. It organizes goals, projects and tasks within an easy-to-use interface. It is typically used by small teams working on projects together. Tasks can be divided by project, purpose or theme, and users can create custom templates.
- Trello – mimics real-life “drawing boards” using a card-based task/project management system of lists used for projects where team collaboration is required. A typical setup consists of three lists: to-do, work-in-progress, and completed projects.
- Slack – a communications platform that functions like a chat room that can be divided into different channels for a team or one-on-one collaboration. Founded in 2013, it not only facilitates conversations, but also enables sharing of documents, files and images, and can connect to other apps.
- Adobe Creative Cloud – includes the full suite of Adobe’s creative software including 20 desktop and mobile apps for photography, video editing, graphic design, web development and more.
- Canva – a design app used to create professional layouts using its signature drag-and-drop method for content creation. Used for social media graphics, presentations, events and more.
- PicMonkey – a photo editing and graphic design software that allows you to create professional-looking visuals for social media posts, cover photos, advertisements, logos and other digital creations.
Internet Connectivity for Your Mobile Office
Last, but not least, how will you stay connected to the internet outside of coffee shops, fast food restaurants, hotel lobbies and other Wi-Fi connected areas? Whether you’ll be staying mostly in one place or traveling a lot, there are many considerations, challenges and solutions for staying connected to the internet and those you need to collaborate with. You’ll need to research in advance whether there will be cell coverage, Wi-Fi connectivity, or both, wherever you’re headed. Apps like Coverage?, Opensignal and Campendium, with its campground cell coverage reviews, are great resources for planning. Travelers need to remain adaptable to changing conditions and have more than one way to connect at any given time. Below is an overview of internet connectivity solutions and when you’ll need to use them in your mobile office setup.
Cellular Data Plans
Cellular connectivity comes from long-range, wide area networks (WANs) using cell towers that is picked up by cellular-enabled devices. For remote workers, these include smartphones, tablets, laptops, hotspot devices and modems with embedded SIM cards. Some devices even include a dual SIM card slots to use with two separate data plans for optimum coverage. It is highly recommended to purchase more than one data plan, since one carrier will usually work better than another in any given location. This could mean using one carrier on your smartphone, and another on a dedicated mobile hotspot device such as the Verizon Jetpack or the AT&T Netgear Nighthawk.
Verizon and AT&T are the two largest carriers with the most coverage, however T-Mobile is gaining ground with its acquisition of Sprint. In fact, it claims to now have the largest 5G network of any U.S. carrier. Your mileage may vary (literally!), as will the number of devices you’ll need for finding internet outside of Wi-Fi connectivity. Finally, you’ll need to assess your usage needs. Most traveling remote workers need an unlimited data plan, though they can be expensive. It’s also important to understand if your data usage can get prioritized, or “throttled,” after reaching a certain level in your billing cycle. Some tasks are more data-intensive than others, such as the need to work with large video files, so what you’ll need depends on the type of work you’ll be doing. And having a backup plan is a very good insurance policy.
Cellular Antennas & Boosters
Some of most scenic places traveling remote workers want to visit often have limited network coverage or weak signals. There are some technical solutions that can allow you to work and go see Utah’s incredible national parks or the Great Smoky Mountains on your off days. Cellular antennas and boosters amplify and strengthen weak cellular signals. One option, the Multi-In/Multi-Out (MIMO) antenna, plugs into devices that have antenna ports, like mobile hotspots and mobile routers.
Example MIMO Antenna:
A bit more expensive, mobile cellular boosters use an external antenna that collects the signal from cell towers, amplifies it, then re-transmits it to an internal antenna.
Example Cell Signal Booster:
Mobile Routers & Wi-Fi Extending Devices
Mobile routers provide the connection between your devices and the internet source you’re connecting to. Most are familiar with the fact a home router allows all of your devices to connect to a single internet connection. Your home connection uses a cable or DSL modem, while a mobile office setup uses a router with a cellular signal as the core connection type. This connection can be shared via a USB port or via a modem with a built-in SIM card (data plan) option. Some mobile routers can convert a public Wi-Fi signal into a private one, then connect your devices to either that Wi-Fi connection or a cell signal, whichever is strongest at the time.
Wi-Fi extending devices use an external Wi-Fi antenna & radio to reach hotspots that are further away. These may also come equipped with a cellular antenna port for connection to an external cellular antenna, eliminating the need for a separate cellular booster.
With so many options, choosing the right way to connect to the internet can be difficult. Luckily, our friends at Technomadia have been operating the Mobile Internet Resource Center since 2014 and have created a newly updated video tutorial on this topic. Check it out!
We hope you’ve found this post helpful for setting up your mobile office. Our goal is to add value through education and support for those transitioning to, or already working remote. If you want more resources on working remotely, follow the link to get our FREE Masterclass How To Find Remote Work in 90 Days (or Less), so you can have more security and freedom.