My employer uses laptops pretty much exclusively (as I do at home) for all employees, with the exception of a few, to promote flexibility and portability in our work environment. I made the mistake yesterday of forgetting my laptop and turning up to the office with no computer to work with. As was debating on turning my car around (I got all the way to the office) and heading back home when I got thinking. In today’s connected environment, did I really have a dependency on a single computer to work? The short answer is no.
When I thought about it some more, having no laptop didn’t mean I couldn’t continue my work day as normal. I spoke nicely to one of our IT people and asked for a temporary laptop for the morning, hooked it up to the network, logged in, and continued working as normal – how?
The answer is in the tools that I use. Granted, I’ve moved on from localized development and no longer require a host of specialized tools to work, which makes life easier. Also, I’ve always had a healthy paranoia about keeping work files on portable devices that may inadvertently fall in the parking lot and break into a million pieces, so wove redundancy into my personal workspace some time ago, meaning I was already in great shape for using another computer for work.
With Internet speeds getting faster and online storage becoming cheaper, there is a definite shift in mentality to store files in the cloud. I realized this about a year ago. The following is a list of applications and approaches I use to enable portability in the my day-to-day work:
Hosted Virtual Machines
My job involves SharePoint development, so I cannot escape the need for a development environment. Many of us still develop on Virtual Machine images using portable devices. Fortunately, my employer saw this as non-scalable solution and set up virtual servers for all out development. Our IT infrastructure includes backups, and I can access the servers from any location using secure VPN.
Outlook Web Access and Gmail
All my company email sits on an Exchange server, which comes complete with a web client for accessing my email from any web browser. If I insist on the thick client, Outlook is installed on most of the company laptops and configuration of my account is 5 minute exercise. I use Gmail for all my personal mail and never have to worry about loosing my email or servers going down. On the rare occasion that the company Exchange server goes down, I have my personal email to fall back on if I need to (who doesn’t?).
GTD with ClearContext
I use ClearContext to arrange my inbox within Outlook. CC uses folders within my inbox, so I don’t have to worry about carting around backups of my settings. If I choose not to install CC on a loaner laptop, I can still work with my email because filed messages live in Exchange folders and I can put aside new inbox email for filing later when I get back to my laptop – left at home.
I am never ever caught out talking to a client without notes from previous meetings. I know a lot of people like to use One Note, but if you use EN your notes are available on the web, phone, or any other computer (Windows and Mac) that you choose to install the application. My notes synchronize in a few minutes and I’m up and running.
A well thought out product that synchronizes files across computers and in the cloud. I use this application on all my computers, and the UI is a simple folder on my desktop – I drag all my files to the special drop box folder and have peace of mind that my files are available on all other computers, or via the web interface.
Using both Communicator (corporate) and MSN (personal), I am able to stay in touch with clients, colleagues and friends. Both applications install in minutes and require no setup for me to get back online.
SharePoint and Colligo Contributor
My work primarily involves SharePoint, so I would be amiss if I didn’t eat my own dog food. My employer has a nice extranet where I can always access client work in progress, RFP work etc – it’s policy that all work is stored on our extranet. With Colligo Contributor – an application that works much like Groove, only better – I can keep a cached version of files on any PC, so if I loose network access I can carry on working on a local copy of my files stored in SharePoint.
A work day in the office is a little dull if I cannot listen to my favorite tunes whilst working. Using Pandora – an Internet streaming radio service – I can continue listening from any web enabled computer.
X-Lite is a SIP VOIP client, an my employer uses VOIP. So if I want to take a call from Starbucks, the road (using mobile broadband), abroad, or a client office, it’s no big deal. The recipient of my call doesn’t know I’m not calling from the office.
So… Flexibility in a nutshell. If you’ve not done so already, it’s time to cut the chord from your working computer and get into a portable mentality. You’ll need support from your employer (something to consider asking in your next job interview), but if you can convince them and it’ll make you more productive – it’s worth any overhead.