There is nothing like severe weather to make you appreciate the benefits of a highly mobile workforce, whether you are the worker, safely ensconced in a warm & dry location, or the business owner, suddenly managing a half-empty office but confident the wheels of commerce are still turning. Thanks to declining technology costs and pervasive internet, using a laptop is no longer a status symbol of the executive or the sale team, nor is being away from the main office isolating and limiting. However, there are some speed-bumps on the highway to the work-from-anywhere ideal.
What you should know before going mobile
- Understand what applications and data are required to do your job. If it’s just internet access and email, you’ve got everything you need on just about any laptop, tablet or even smartphone. If you use industry specific applications that require access to data stored on your office server, can that app be run when you aren’t connected to the office network? Probably not, in which case you are going to need a VPN connection or remote access to your work PC.
- Plan your access to the internet carefully. Using your home internet connection is typically fine for most business users, but be very wary of posting up in a local coffee shop expecting to sip lattes and use their free WiFi without a means to secure your data transmissions such as using a VPN. What will you do if wherever you end up doesn’t have working WiFi? Most modern smartphones can provide a hotspot that should work for light internet work, but make sure you know how to use it before relying on it.
- Wireless internet is unreliable and possibly not secure. If you have a moderately sized home and the consumer-grade router installed by your ISP, you know of what I speak. If you have business-critical work that needs to be done, just know that WiFi can and will make you crazy with an unreliable connection, and doubly so for a smartphone hotspot, so plan accordingly. And don’t get me started on free WiFi provided by your local retail/restaurant/laundromat/etc. That WiFi should be consider as being provided for entertainment purposes only, and never used for business unless you have a proper VPN connection protecting you.
- Do you need to print? There are printers that are built for travel, but they are finicky and prone to fail at the least opportune time. Before any extended jaunt out of the office, make sure the printer is properly provisioned (ink and paper) and charged or equipped with its power cord. You might want to print something out just to be safe.
- Mind your ergonomics. Just because the local coffee shop is comfortable for lounging does not make it ideal for working. A couple hours sitting on a hard wooden stool hunched over your laptop will wreck the healthiest person’s back and neck. And typing away on a smaller keyboard will definitely strain your wrists and shoulders, while the small screen wreaks havoc with your eyes. The most productive and healthy remote workers will know what positions and heights are ideal for working with a laptop, and will equip themselves with things like laptop stands, cordless mice (and keyboards!) and choose environments that allow them to sit properly and comfortably.
- Are you going to be making a lot of phone calls? Those of us that spend most of our work day on the phone usually use a headset. Make sure the one you are planning to use can hold a good charge if it’s wireless, and has a better-than-average mic, as oftentimes you will be in noisy environments. You may be able to hear your caller just fine, but they may have trouble hearing you. Also keep in mind that if you are planning to use your phone as a hot spot, you may not be able to make phone calls at the same time.
- Is your device secure? It may seem like overkill, but consider using a cable lock on your laptop, especially if you are working in a public space and there’s any chance you may have to take your eyes off the device for more than a minute. If you store any sort of confidential company data on your laptop, including email, the hard drive should be encrypted and your laptop protected by a strong login password. Never leave your laptop or laptop bag visible in a parked car, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Customer’s of Comcast’s Xfinity broadband service are slowly coming to discover that their new in-home routers are being used as wi-fi hotspots for any other Comcast customer within range of the router. Comcast introduced the service in mid-2013, but seems to have not taken great pains to ensure that its customers understood exactly what the service was. Many consumers just assumed when Comcast said “hotspot” that it meant they would now have wireless internet in their home. The new routers do provide that feature, but additionally they are also programmed by default with another wi-fi network labeled “xfinitywifi” which can be accessed by any current Comcast account login and password.
What this means for you:
If you are a new Xfinity subscriber, or had your Comcast router replaced in the past 6 months, your new equipment may be providing this hotspot. Anyone with a Comcast account can use your hotspot to access the internet. Keep in mind, this doesn’t require them to actually be the account owner – all any wi-fi device needs is that account’s login and password. Assuming they know it, anyone can use that login information anywhere an Xfinity hotspot exists.
Regardless of how savvy you are with your home equipment, you can’t disable this feature yourself – you have to call Comcast to have them turn it off. According to Comcast, the impact on your bandwidth of providing this hotspot should be minimal, and is helping them provide more accessible wireless bandwidth to other Comcast customers in your neighborhood. The question you need ask yourself is whether you feel its appropriate for Comcast to use equipment in your house as an extension of services provided to people you don’t know.
It’s still too early to tell whether having a hotspot on your home network is inherently less secure, but think of it like this: Imagine your property sat in front of a popular amusement park. The amusement park has asked if they can provide entrance to their park that requires customers to traverse your property via a secured walkway. They promise they will keep your property completely safe, private and separate. Would you allow that walkway?