How to work two jobs using your phone

“The very idea of working remotely seems strange to most people until they consider how much time at traditional workplaces is spent working purely through computers.” –Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants

Just came back from a hectic 5 days in Boston where I visited three Box customers, did a whole bunch of sight-seeing and caught up with old friends – all while fulfilling all the duties of my main job (and then some) back home. How did I do it? With the power of mobile, of course. Here are some tips I picked up along the way:

Pack the essentials

In my bag, I always carried the following:

  • Microsoft Surface Pro w/Type Cover and stylus (using a stylus while laying the tablet flat puts customers more at ease as opposed to a traditional laptop setup, as it turns out)
  • HTC One – my workhorse of a phone
  • Verizon 4G LTE MiFi card – to get a guaranteed connection to the Internet without all the hassles of slow public Wi-Fi or login pages
  • Nexus 7 – to offload some tasks from my phone and Surface, especially when their batteries would be low or dead
  • PowerTrip portable battery backup – to keep everything juiced (and yes, there would be days when all devices and even this battery pack would be depleted with no power outlet in sight)

The fact that a couple of these are Android devices actually helps due to the relatively reliable Hangouts (Google Talk) implementation there. It doesn’t help in terms of battery life, though, as background apps would still sometimes surprise me in how much they drain.

What I really could use is a better bag to hold all this stuff, because my current backpack is too deep – meaning it requires a lot more effort to dig to get to what I’m looking for. I am really tempted to get this Timbuk2 messenger bag.

Ride the train

Not airplanes, not buses, and not cabs. I’ve tried a few modes of transportation now and I must say I’m most productive on a train. It’s the combination of larger seats, the tables with power outlets, the on-board café, and the relatively less bumpy ride. (And this was just the Northeast Regional – I can’t wait to try the Acela service.)

Productivity on-the-go, literally

Have all important phone numbers on speed dial

One of the best ideas I had before I left on this trip was to go around the office and collect the direct phone numbers of all the conference rooms in the building. Now, if I need to be in a meeting room, I just teleport myself there instantly right from my phone’s Contacts. I also have a Polycom on my desk itself, with its own direct line – and I call that whenever I need to talk to my team in the area.

I don’t have an unlimited minutes calling plan, however, so I resort to the trick of routing all my calls through Google Voice so that they all appear from the same number – which happens to be counted as Friends & Family.

Make use of a Double robot

Box IT invested in the purchase of a telepresence robot from Double Robotics and graciously let me use it during this month on the road. It’s basically an iPad doing videoconferencing on a stick – a moving stick that has wheels and can be controlled remotely. Basically, it mimics me being in the office “in person”. Here’s what it looks like:

Double robot in action!

And here’s what it looks like from my perspective:

Remote user interface

I’m still getting used to navigating around with it (sometimes it rolls forward uncontrollably and collides with objects) and it does need to be tended to / charged regularly by people in the office, but it’s quite nifty and always gets a lot of attention from people walking by.

Now this particular tip may not be an option for most people (Double robots start at $2500!), but it’s been surprisingly effective for me to keep that “presence” in the office and adds a dimension of empathy during meetings that I don’t get when I just call in.

Watch your stuff – and your step

I will admit, in the hustle of trying to get to and from a customer office on commuter trains while simultaneously conducting meetings back at the office over phone and Double, I have misplaced a few items (dropped or left behind) along the way. Things will also stop working due to overuse – like an old microUSB cable or the Type Cover for my Surface. Fortunately, as long as I’m in major cities with lots of retail, resupplying is not too much of a detour.

There are other hazards, though – while working, I have actually tripped over some stairs and nearly sprained my ankle. Classic signs of mobile phone mis-use, I know. Just let that be a warning that there is such a thing as too much mobile productivity.

If you’d like more tips for your own “month without pants”, Steve Berkun is building up a great collection of remote work tips on his blog!

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