The days of working from 9 to 5 in a traditional office are disappearing in the rearview mirror as more and more American business professionals embrace working remotely.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey reports that 23 percent of respondents complete some or all of their job-related duties remotely, jumping from just 19 percent in 2003.
And the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, found that telecommuting rose 79 percent between 2005 and 2012.
Telecommuting can turn any desk-jockey into a jet-setter capable of working anywhere—from a coffee shop to the backseat of a cab. As this shift represents a change in our everyday reality, it also demonstrates the need for updated tools of the trade.
Here are four items you’ll need to work efficiently away from the office, whether you’re working from your car or from 30,000 feet in the air.
Related Article: The Death of the Workday: Is 9 to 5 Working Obsolete?
1. Lap Desk
Perhaps the most low-tech item on our list, a comfortable lap desk is nonetheless one of the most important elements of a remote worker’s arsenal.
Besides the fact that laptops have been linked to multiple health issues when placed directly on the lap for long periods of time, using a lap desk allows you to surround yourself with the other items you need to work in those situations where you don’t have access to a work surface (in a car, for instance). Avoid precariously displaying important documents around you, and keep them organized at your fingertips.
Have you ever attempted to type with one hand, or tried to wedge your phone between your shoulder and ear while taking notes during an hour-long conference call? It simply doesn’t work, which is why a good quality headset is so important for a jet-setting professional.
Wireless Bluetooth headsets are now widely available, and useful whether you’re multitasking from your home office or taking an important call on the road. Bonus points if the headphones are noise-canceling.
3. Power Inverter
Most of us rely on our devices to get tasks done, whether we’re making calls on our smartphones or typing reports on a laptop or tablet. For this reason, power is a near constant and non-negotiable need.
For those long road trips and unexpected stints in traffic, a good power inverter can help you avoid being left literally powerless. Plugged into your car’s lighter, an inverter essentially converts your car’s DC power into the AC power needed to run your devices. Options include single outlets, multiple outlets, and USB ports.
4. High-Powered Hotspot
A reliable internet connection is key for getting work done remotely, and a good-quality hotspot will ensure that you’re never left searching for a signal. While USB sticks tend to offer faster connections, mobile hotspots allow you to connect multiple devices to the internet via Wi-Fi.
Many smartphones now also have integrated hotspot modes, but they tend to drain your phone’s battery quickly, making a separate device preferable if you plan to connect regularly. Do your research to find a device that works with your specific needs and data plan.
While the right tools will get you far while working on the road, that’s not all you’ll need to succeed. Let’s wrap up with a few key tips for navigating the world of remote work.
Leaving the familiarity of an office environment can challenge even the most focused worker. Noisy crowds, heavy traffic, and other distractions may make it difficult to complete the task at hand.
The good news is, most of us are fairly adaptable, and we get used to working in a wider range of settings. At the same time, it’s important to be realistic about your work habits and adjust your setup when you can. If you’re struggling to juggle your GPS and an important client call, pull over until you’ve completed the call. If you find yourself distracted by people-watching in an airport, post up in a quiet corner facing the wall.
Office life tends to be pretty safe. Besides the fact that you typically sit at a desk all day, your employer has insurance to cover any accidents or events that may happen within the walls of the office.
On the road, however, you’re responsible for your own safety. Abide by local laws when driving and talking on the phone, and don’t get so distracted by work that you forget to be responsible for your own safety as well as that of others.
When you rent a car, ask the right questions to make sure you know what you’re paying for—and what you’re not paying for. Take the time to closely examine what’s included in the daily rate, including the mileage plan, and what will happen in the event of an accident or mechanical failure. Investing a few minutes into advanced preparation could save you a lot of time and money in the future.
Working away from the office can be lonely, especially for those accustomed to seeing their colleagues face-to-face every day. To stay happy and healthy, be sure to make time for real interaction with your coworkers and other contacts.
Joining local professional groups, meeting up with mentors, and even making dates with non-work friends will help you stay sane and happy when you spend most of your work day solo. Most importantly, know when to “disconnect.”
Working remotely does not mean working 24/7. It’s easy to keep on working when you’re away from the comforts of home. If you have trouble with this, look for settings on your phone or laptop that will let you disconnect or silence notifications at certain times (like when you’re sleeping).
Working remotely can be like tasting freedom after many years in the captivity of an office environment, but it will only work if you’re properly prepared. Arm yourself with the right tools—and a healthy mental state—you’ll be well on your way to success in the modern world.