For the last week or so, I’ve been working remotely, because I’ve been house-sitting (and poodle-sitting) for my mom and my stepdad.
Since I’m now working almost entirely from home except for when I’m helping out with The Question, The Listening Room, or when I’m gigging, this is something I’ve been wanting to test out to see how well it would work (in case I end up wanting to leave town and work while I’m on the road).
This turned out to be the perfect opportunity to give it a try, in part because I’m a mere 45 minutes away from home. If I really need anything, or if anything goes wrong, I can always run back and sort it out. This wouldn’t be the case if I was traveling longer distances, or if I was overseas. So I’m effectively in the process of learning what I need to know for future trips.
Bottom line – there are a lot of things you’ll want to think about if you’re going to be working remotely. If you’ve never done it before, there’s more to it than you might think.
I’m still new to this myself, but here are some of the things I would suggest accounting for before you leave town:
Okay, so you probably have a laptop, a tablet, or both. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be thinking about working remotely in the first place. Check.
But if you need to access your desktop or home computer while you’re away, you’ll also need to ensure that it stays on and connected to the internet (I’ll be talking more about this in the “Remote Access” section). Check.
And here are a few other optional items you might need depending on what your work involves:
- External hard drive(s). If you’re going to be creating a lot of graphics and videos while on your trip, or anything that requires a lot of storage space, you’ll probably want to bring an external drive with you. By default, laptops and tablets tend to have less storage than desktop computers, and you could easily run out of space if you’re a power user (yes, even with Dropbox installed – more on that later).
- Microphone. Are you a podcaster, or do you record audio content on an ongoing basis? Then you might want to bring a microphone with you. I’d suggest getting a USB mic for ease of use. I use the ART Pro Audio M-One USB mic (affiliate link) myself, which is not a bad product for the price. It doesn’t get very loud though, so you will need a way to boost levels, something you should be able to do in your DAW. Also, if you’re using Auphonic already, you should be fine.
- Camera. Do you create video content on a regular basis? Unless the device you’re bringing with you has a great built-in webcam, you’re probably going to want to bring a proper camera with you. If you don’t already have a low-cost, portable and easy-to-use webcam such as the Logitech C920 (affiliate link) already, you might want to pick one of those up. And of course, if you’re doing video, you’ll likely want to bring a mic too.
The above isn’t necessarily a comprehensive list, but it does represent the major considerations as it pertains to hardware.
Your laptop, tablet, or mobile device comes pre-installed with a suite of software. But is it everything you need?
I actually ended up encountering several software-related issues as I was getting set up to work remotely. One was with Dropbox. I had to uninstall it from my laptop because it was taking up too much hard drive space, leaving me unable to install additional programs. It even broke Word Starter 2010, my default word processor. So I had to work out this issue if I was going to get some serious work done.
Since I already had a month-to-month subscription account with Microsoft Office 365, I downloaded and installed it on my laptop after uninstalling Dropbox. I also did the same with Adobe Photoshop. This was not an absolute must-have, but it was going to help me get things done quicker, so I went ahead and installed it.
For writing blog posts and articles, I could have just stuck with Google Docs, but there would have been certain limitations to that. I’m much happier now with Office installed.
Additionally, I had uninstalled iTunes when Dropbox was taking up all of my storage, but reinstalled it later because I needed to be able to listen to audio files for an upcoming gig.
I also installed Tracktion 7 on my computer so that I would be able to record audio files. Again, I was able to download it off of the developer’s website, because I had already purchased the software.
Naturally, it’s better to have all of the programs you need installed on your device before you leave town, especially if you can’t download them off of the internet using a pre-existing account like I was able to.
If you want to have a look at all of the tools I use in my music career and business, have a look at this post.
There’s a good chance you have a lot of your often-used files saved in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, OneDrive, etc.) already. This is one way to make sure you have what you need when you hit the road.
But in my case, I came to realized that having certain files on my laptop would make my life a lot easier. Nothing major – just template files for Photoshop, brand images, and things like that. This also helped me keep my workflow optimized.
For easy access, you’ll either want to save important files in the cloud (in a folder you’ll remember), or pre-load your device’s hard drive with them. If you know you’ll have internet access where you’re headed, the cloud should be fine, but it’s always good to be thinking about Plan B.
So remember to take some time to think about what files you might need while you’re away from your desk.
This is a bigger consideration than you might now realize. If you don’t have that many social media/email/SaaS accounts, and you use the same password for everything (not best practice), then you may not have to give this too much thought. But if you’re going to be using a secondary device on your trip, you have to remember that it doesn’t have all of your stored preferences and data (such as passwords stored in your browser) that your desktop or office computer has.
Not having certain passwords on hand has been slowing me down at times. For better or for worse, I have accounts in a lot of difference places, which makes it difficult to keep track of them all.
I was able to log in to most of my accounts by guessing which password I used for it, or by scanning old archived emails using remote access software. In theory, you could also go through a password recovery process with most online accounts (as long as you have access to the email you signed up with). This is not ideal, but it’s better than having no way of getting at important online accounts.
Having a “black book” is probably best practice, since storing all of your passwords in the cloud isn’t the best idea. But you could take advantage of a password managing tool like LastPass if that’s more your style. For the rest of us, there are notebooks (or Moleskines if you’re fancy).
Manually write down all of your passwords and bring your black book with you. This should mitigate any bottlenecks or slowdown you might otherwise experience from not remembering or knowing your passwords off the top of your head.
5. Remote Access
Finally, there’s remote access software. Once upon a time, I actually tried a lot of different applications, and most of them were needlessly complicated, didn’t do what I needed them to do, or just plain didn’t work.
As it turns out, GoToMyPC is still one of the better options available (if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same service Tim Ferriss recommends in The 4-Hour Workweek – affiliate link). Installation and setup was straightforward, and it works.
But there are a few catches.
First of all, like I said earlier, the computer that you’re looking to access remotely has to be on and connected to the internet at all times. You might want to check your settings to ensure that your home computer doesn’t go to sleep or hibernate mode automatically (I haven’t tried this, but I’m guessing there’s a chance you wouldn’t be able to wake your computer remotely). It’s okay if your monitors are turned off, however, and screensavers can stay on.
You also have to ensure that your remote computer stays on. I slapped a piece of paper that reads, “Please leave on. I am working and accessing this computer remotely. Thanks.” on my monitor, but I’m still putting some faith in my roommates that they won’t do anything to the computer while I’m away. As for power surges and outages, I’m not sure there’s much you can do.
Second of all, while GoToMyPC does work great (even if your home computer is using multiple monitors like mine is), there is a bit of lag time when you’re doing things on your remote computer. So, in effect, everything you do just takes more time, and the worse your connection is, the slower it gets.
For this reason, if you’re going to be using your remote computer to do your work, then you’re going to need to leave more time than usual for completion. It would be ideal to do all major work on the device that goes with you on your trip. I wouldn’t really recommend doing audio or video editing on your remote computer, for example.
I think it’s best to see GoToMyPC or remote access as the last line of defense. I’m still connecting to my home computer here and there while away from my desktop, but for the most part I’m trying to get everything done on my laptop so I don’t become dependent on remote access.
Again, your remote working solution needs to be customized to your situation, but hopefully what I’ve covered here offers some helpful tips, and prompts you to think about how to prepare for your next trip if you’re going to be working remotely.
I’m still learning myself, so if you have any comments, thoughts, suggestions, or feedback, feel free to leave a comment below.