By Alyssa Gregory

7 Essential Steps to Creating an Efficient Mobile Office

By Alyssa Gregory

Mobile OfficeOne of the benefits of working for yourself is having the ability to work from wherever you want, whenever you want. This means you can keep working when you have to be away from home (i.e., if you’re having work done on your house). You can make the most of downtime when you are in waiting mode (i.e., in line at the DMV waiting to have your license renewed). And you can take working vacations (but please, be sure to schedule no-work time!).

There are varying degrees of being mobile – from having a Smartphone and being able to keep up with e-mail, to having a fully functioning mobile office. Since most of us are already connected through our phones and other devices in some capacity when we’re away from work, I’m going to focus on the latter – creating a completely operational mobile office.

I’ve gone through this process myself, and here are the most important steps I’ve taken to ensure I really can work from anywhere, anytime.

1. Get a Laptop

This is an obvious, but vital step. You certainly can’t be a mobile worker if you’re tethered to your big desktop with your 22-inch widescreen LCD monitor. Ideally, you will have a powerful laptop that can replace your desktop and become your primary computer so you automatically have all of your files and necessary data accessible wherever your laptop is. You can even dock it when home so you can still take advantage of your big screen.

If you plan to keep your desktop and use a second mobile machine, step two is a must for you.

2. Use an Online Data Backup Site

If you are working on multiple computers, you have to have a system for sharing files between the systems. This is extremely easy to do these days with services like SugarSync and Box.net. For a monthly fee, these and other similar services automatically backup and synchronize your data across multiple computers, and even allow Internet access to your files.

Even if you have a laptop as your main computer, this is a great way to ensure consistent backup and accessibility of your data in case of a system crash.

3. Make Sure You Can Get Online

There are a lot of wi-fi access points around that you can probably connect to in order to work from anywhere, but in order to have a more stable and secure connection (which you need for a business), you will need a high-speed mobile access card. You can get one from your cell phone service provider (or get access by tethering your BlackBerry or iPhone), or from a company that offers pre-paid or pay-as-you-go wireless access. Make sure you use a firewall and data encryption however you connect.

4. Trash the Paper

Inevitably, there will come a time when you’re working on the road that you need access to some paper files back in the office. This can be a problem if you don’t have another way to get that information. If you start to make a habit of making all paper files electronic, you can create a secondary digital file cabinet, and eventually replace your hard copy files entirely.

For me, this means taking all of my meeting notes on my computer (or transferring them later on), managing my finances and my bookkeeping without any paper files, using electronic agreements, and scanning in any paper files that come my way. It’s a huge time-saver to have all of the standard paper documents accessible (and searchable) on my computer…and it’s good for the environment, too.

5. Get Mobile Phone/Fax Service

If you’re away from your home base, you won’t be able to run a business without a hitch unless you are able to maintain your phone and fax service. While you can certainly use your cell phone to make and receive calls as necessary, it can be more professional to use a virtual phone line and digital fax service so your clients don’t experience any changes in your accessibility.

I am setup to get e-mail notifications every time I receive a call or fax, and can make outgoing calls and send faxes right from my computer so it stays with me wherever I am.

6. Update Your OS and Software

Before hitting the road, make sure your operating system and software reflect the most recent updates and security patches. Not only is this a major time-killer if you have to do it when you’re mobile, but it will likely take a bit longer and result is some annoying downtime.

7. Setup Your Peripherals

The biggest peripheral for me is my trackball. I hate laptop touch pads and have zero patience with them, so my trackball comes with me wherever I go. Other equipment you may want to consider: a surge protector, an extension cord, a wireless mouse, a portable scanner, extra batteries/chargers, and a portable printer (only if printing is an absolute must).

Do you have a mobile office? What steps would you add to this list?

Also see: 20 Crucial Tools for Working On-the-Go

Image credit: Alicja Stolarczyk

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for stating the obvious and writing a paragraph or two about it.

  • Very nice summary. I have some thoughts regarding how I handle numbers 2 and 4, which go together.

    — Email/calendar through Google. Accessible from any PC, syncs to my iPhone.
    — Tasks through Nozbe. Again, accessible from any PC, syncs to my iPhone.
    — Documents in Evernote. Again, accessible from any PC (even offline), syncs to my iPhone.
    — Files synced via DropBox. GREAT program. Accessible from any PC (full sync, available offline). No good iPhone solution, but none needed for those types of files.
    — Some files built through Google Docs, so they’re accessible anywhere.

    I’ve got it to the point where I can sit down at any computer and have virtually everything at my fingertips. DropBox and Evernote both have great downloadable packages that sync your files, but they both allow you to access your files through the web. Great stuff!

  • sounds greadt!

  • Steve

    And don’t forget encryption – vital for your work data. The best option is on-the-fly disk encryption – easy to understand, fast and efficient.

    There are many apps out there, starting from
    Truecrypt (Windows Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux) to
    SecuBox (Windows Mobile, Windows CE)

  • Issesi Sagawa

    Can anyone recommend a good powerful laptop to use as a primary machine and desktop when at home?

  • John Tower

    Great summery of how to operate your business while away form the office.

    The only other option would be to actually operate from a Mobile Office.. Check out what one company has to offer at


  • DheZign

    Well, it’s been easier for me since we developed our own custom office communication and monitoring system.
    it’s called TasManBoard, and the demo can be seen at demo.mlogg.com it’s still in a very early phase of marketing over here, so it would be great if some1 would like to test it out (legitimate account and for free of course).

    i really felt the difference when i go out of town before and after the app is done. Now i can’t live without it since i can always monitor my team and workers from even far away.


  • hairybob

    Can you let us know some virtual phone / digital fax providers? More detail for number 5 would be apppreciated. Cheers.

  • @Issesi Sagawa I have a MacBook Pro which serves as my main computer, but I tend to work concurrently on that and my Dell XPS when I’m home. If you’re not a Mac person, I unfortunately don’t have great advice — I went through three Windows laptops in my attempt to find a desktop replacement and none worked for me. Maybe someone else has a good suggestion?

    @hairybob I use RingCentral for virtual phone, voicemail and fax services. OneBox is another similar service that I think is pretty popular.

  • currently at work we are converting to a PBX system which will allow us to work from home and still receive phone calls from our cellphones, or through a soft phone on our computers at home.

    I for sure would LOVE to start working from home to cut down on travel time, etc.

    Thanks for the artilce… was a good read.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.