The Complete Mobile Office

As co-founder of NextSpace, a coworking location in downtown San Francisco, I frequently see members without all the tools they need for the day, and the frustration and loss of time that accompany this. A tiny bit of planning can save you hours and keep your mobile office complete, no matter where you choose to work. Here's how:

  1. Laptop. The wide and wonderful world of laptops has single-handedly given rise to the mobile office. We take it for granted, but it's amazing -- your whole business can now live on this one, small device. If you still have one, you can even access your home or work computer directly from your laptop with free services such as LogMeIn or Remote Desktop Connection. You can also aggregate your phone numbers with Google Voice (answer multiple numbers from one phone -- really useful if you're a consultant always on the go) and check voice mail via e-mail or voice-to-text SMS messages. (The entertainment value is a plus: the voice-to-text translations can be hilarious.) As far as the laptop itself, I'm a Mac fan and carry my laptop everywhere. I suggest a MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air for extreme lightness, plus a lot of power and finesse. If you cart it around on your shoulder all day, it had better be light. Your cheap laptop won't be much of a bargain if you end up paying regular visits to a chiropractor. A few useful add-on features are Bluetooth capability and an internal wireless card. Bluetooth allows you to connect to your peripheral devices (mouse, headset) without wires, and it allows your smartphone to act as a mini hot spot if you aren't in a place with free Wi-Fi -- also without wires. You can also use Skype Skype or Ring Central Skype to make phone calls from your laptop if you don't have your phone with you. (*You may need to add the mobile hot-spot feature to your mobile plan for this to work.)  
  2. Smartphone and an extra battery. Your smartphone is the second-most important item in your bag after your laptop. You can surf the internet, make calls, make plans, message friends or staff, schedule calendar events, take notes, take dictation, get directions, etc. It's your lifeline. It will also let you get online when you don't have Wi-Fi internet access. Given all you are doing with it, what it is NOT likely to have is good, long battery life. To that end, always carry an extra battery with you. There is nothing worse than your lifeline going dead on you. It usually means game over, or buy another charger -- and then another.  
  3. Chargers and extension cord. iGo sells any charger you need, even chargers for your laptop. It allows you to charge thousands of products with the same charger plus a special tip for each device. Just make sure you have the ones you need for the devices you use; it's as simple as that. You may also get a USB-to-mobile cord so you don't need another outlet for your phone or headset. While you are at it, spring for an extension cord (you'll appreciate having it), in case you are far from the outlet at a coffee shop or airport. Whatever you do, make sure you have some way to charge your phone if you don't carry an extra battery. Business cards You are out on the town, working wherever your want, free as a bird. You meet your ideal prospect and want to impress her with your beautiful business card. But you don't have any with you. Now all you can do is scribble on a Post-it. I realize that some industries don't need business cards. But if your industry is about design, I strongly recommend you have a well-designed card. If not, collect that prospect's information and follow up within 48 hours.  
  4. Headphones. I am not an audiophile, and I have really small ear canals, so most ear buds are uncomfortable for me. But buying an inexpensive set of ear buds is absolutely necessary for a mobile office. That's not because you have to listen to music wherever you go, though there's no reason you shouldn't. But the real reason you need headphones is because the world is loud. You settle in at a coffee shop, and your ears are bombarded by espresso steamers, music, chatter and the inevitable shrieking child. Even a co-working space will get noisy at times. Or perhaps you just want the visual "do not disturb" indicator that headphones represent. You need a way to tune out the rest of the world withoutrunning away from it. While you are at it, download a free white noise mp3 to get away from noise without getting distracted by your favorite tunes.  
  5. A pen and tiny notebook. On occasion (very occasionally, now that you are carrying all the right gear), you'll lose power entirely. Don't panic; take a deep breath and, for a moment, enjoy not being bombarded by information. It's times like this when you need a pen and a notebook. Heaven forbid your brilliant thoughts fizzle into the ether because you didn't have a way of capturing them. My favorites are the space pens (They really do write upside down, and are super-sleek and small.) and semikolon pocket notebooks.  They are just over 5 inches tall and cost $11. You won't need these tools often, but you'll be very happy they are there when you need them.  
  6. Something to hold it all. Whether you go the ergonomic-but-still-not-cool rolling job (Men can get away with it, but not us ladies. Not yet.) or a nice shoulder bag or backpack, you need a great bag to hold your gear in. My personal favorite is the Mango Tango Printed Stripe Canvas Laptop Bag. I've been buying it over and over for years. It costs $50 and, in my experience, holds up for years.

To sum up, print this checklist out, and put it right next to your door so you can check it before you leave:

  1. Laptop
  2. Smartphone and extra battery
  3. Chargers and extension cord
  4. Business cards
  5. Headphones
  6. Pen and notebook
  7. Something to hold it all

Rebecca Brian is co-founder and chief (r)evolutionary atNextSpace Coworking in San Francisco. A serial entrepreneur since the age of 22, Rebecca is an authority on alternative workplaces and entrepreneurship.