Running a business out of an office space comes with its fair share of challenges. Running a business out of a laptop bag can present a whole other realm of difficulty. Luckily for traveling professionals, experts offer many strategies for helping lighten the stress load while away from the desk.
Mobility & Communication: Staying in the Loop
At one time, business travelers relied on land lines and postage stamps to communicate with staff back at the office. In today's world of high-speed, wireless Internet access, the thought of "dialing out" or "mailing off" seems archaic.
Instead, people floating from one job site to the next more commonly turn to devices like smart phones and notebooks or laptops.
Still, business travelers cannot manage their companies from afar with specialized equipment alone. Owners also need to establish communication protocols in order for everyone to be on the same page while the boss is out of town. Coordinating a set schedule of conference call times works to ensure all staff members are on hand for updates from the road. Business owners might also want to elect a point person, to send daily briefings via email. By doing so, issues may be addressed when they occur, rather than the owner returning to multiple fires to extinguish.
Once these standard operating procedures are in place, those on the road can truly capitalize from the benefits of today's high-tech gadgets.
No matter the location, today's mobile hardware offers easy access to those in the know. So, what's the latest news on these tools of the trade?
- Smart Phones: These handheld devices have come a long way since their inception more than 10 years ago. Today's smart phones not only perform the functions of a typical mobile and support e-mail, but also text message, Internet fax, browse the Web and offer other wireless information services. More importantly, they are so much faster than their predecessors. Some examples of these products include BlackBerry®, Palm Treo, IPhone® and Droid®. Â Many smart phones even provide standard PDA (personal digital assistant) functions, such as address book, calendar and to-do lists. While these devices are quite versatile, they're best known for their ability to send and receive e-mail from nearly anywhere -- providing there is access to a cell phone carrier's wireless network. Most smart phones will have integrated WiFi in the near future.
- Laptops: Though these portable computers first made their splash some years ago, they continue to wow users with new features and amazing performance capabilities. Some of the latest models weigh less than 5 lbs. and carry up to 2 GB of memory. In fact, a good portion of today's laptops consist of dual hard drives, DVD burners, dual-core processors and much more. With these breakthroughs in laptop technology, many frequent business travelers now use the portable devices as their main personal computer. With WiFi becoming a staple in a number of places, it's much easier for laptop users to receive e-mails and log onto the Internet. Typically, laptops cost the same or more than desktop computers -- with many equipment providers offering personalized packages ready to go right out-of-the box.
Places to Work: A Desk Away from Home
Business travelers spend many hours viewing life from behind a steering wheel, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Roughly 81 percent of the time, they are driving to their out-of-town destinations.
For those heading on the road without their own hardware, i.e. laptop, modern solutions like Gotomypc®often serve as virtual lifesavers. Such remote PC software lets users access their office or home computer from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Fortunately, today's market hosts a variety of places catering to the business traveler. With neon signage illuminating the night sky, copy and print centers often serve as beacons for the road-weary, work-driven professional just pulling into a new town. These high-tech hubs offer everything from printing to e-mail to packaging presentation materials. Essentially, these centers offer full office capabilities well away from home.
Examples of such centers include:
- Kinko's®: A part of the FedEx® conglomerate, Kinko's offers computers with Web access at an hourly rate. Geared in part toward the business owner on the move, virtually all of the chain's more than 850 branches are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In one of its latestpushes to provide the most reliable services for visiting professionals, Kinko's established Windows and Macintosh® workstations. The designated sections are ideal for professionals needing to produce marketing reports, sales presentations and more. An all-in-one business support center, Kinko's offers computers loaded with the latest operating systems, software, typefaces and Web browsers. In addition, many of the stores house cutting-edge design workstations with graphic-intense software and high-resolution scanners. Making life easier for business travelers needing hard-copy documents in a hurry, Kinko's rental computers are connected directly to every one of the store's printing devices. Software available on Kinko's rental computers includes, but is not limited to: Adobe® Acrobat, Adobe Illustrator®, Adobe Photoshop®, Adobe PageMaker, Adobe InDesign, Caere OmniForm, Caere OmniPage, FileMaker® Pro, Appleworks®, CorelPhoto-Paint®, WordPerfect®, Microsoft Office®, Microsoft Publisher, and Microsoft Works.
- Airport business centers: A number of the nation's airports continue to open sections designed specifically for the professional. With air travel accounting for approximately 16 percent of all business trips, the concept of providing related services seems to be taking flight around the country. These centers usually offer WiFi access, copiers, phones, fax machines and conference rooms. Usually, the wireless services come free of charge. Nonetheless, some airports do provide private booths for a minimal fee.
- Internet cafes: These virtual hangouts no longer only exist in the larger metropolitan areas. The World Wide Web wave, without a doubt, has washed into smaller markets. Aside from serving up coffee and food, these businesses tend to offer state-of-the-art services, including computers with Internet connections, printers, Internet cameras and more. Many also are prime WiFi hotspots. Some business travelers prefer the less formal environment of an Internet Cafe. Better yet, these eatery/workshops allow professionals to kill two birds with one stone. To find the nearest cybercafé, go to www.cybercafe.com, which lists more than 4,000 such businesses in 140 countries. This site gives the address, phone number, prices and description of available computer equipment and services for each spot.
- WiFi Parks: Some cities as well as university campuses house parks with free high-speed, wireless Internet access. Now, professionals can log on while lounging on a wooden bench rather than in a cubicle.
- Hotel Business Centers: The idea of conducting business from a hotel room is nothing new. But some of today's lodging places go above and beyond the call, turning a night away from home into a productive work retreat. Most hotel business centers contain at least a couple of computers, printers and a fax machine. Some of the bigger chains outsource their business centers to IT or electronics firms, which provide workstations and tech support. Some higher-end hotels even break up their business-related amenities into two sections -- one that houses equipment for public use and then another with better equipment on the club or concierge level. This can only be accessed by guests with rooms on those floors. Most hotels don't charge a fee to use a business center. Some, however, will charge a per-page fee for printing and faxing.
Safety: Traveler Beware
So often, business travelers use all their energy preparing for the basics -- booking a rental car, wrapping up presentation materials, packing bags -- they forget about one of the most important priority: Returning safely. While no one likes to think in terms of what if, traveling to an unfamiliar city poses some danger. Nevertheless, this possibility can be avoided with awareness. Below are some safety tips.
- Research: It always makes sense to learn a bit about your destination city before actually stepping out of the hotel room. A simple search on the Internet goes a long way in revealing dangerous areas, as well as recommended places to stay and eat. Always carry a map. In some cases, you might even want to highlight the parts of the region that pose a threat. If possible, stick with a group of people who are from or know the area well.
- Don't advertise yourself as a tourist: The more you fit in to the hustle and bustle of the city, the less likely you become targeted as easy prey. Avoid carrying bulky camera bags, purses, change purses, etc. Retailers sell small wallet/passport bags for under $10. These make the perfect carrying case for important items. By placing the entire bag beneath one's shirt, business travelers reduce the danger of pick pockets. Always walk with confidence, showing passersby that you know exactly where you are heading. If you do get lost and find yourself alone, pull out a cell phone and act as if you're talking to someone nearby. For instance, you might say, "I'm right outside of your apartment."
- Prep/carry cell phone: The idea of being lost, broken down or otherwise in a strange city can be enough to send shivers down the spine of many people. Avoid being completely helpless by carrying a cell phone at all times. Also, bring a battery pack or charger to ensure you always have power.
- Don't fill your wallet with cash: While you want to carry some money, do not over do it. It's best to have a few bills totaling no more than $20. Leave fancy jewelry and belongings at home. By all means, never count money in public.
- Protect identification: Don't carry credit cards and ID in just one wallet or purse. Have a list of credit card numbers and customer service numbers in a separate place in case the cards get lost or stolen. In fact, you might consider using a hotel or room safe to discourage theft.
- Avoid revealing too much information: Don't put a home address on luggage tags; use a business card instead.
- Be careful accessing online information: No matter the place, Internet security breaches most always pose a threat -- particularly when using a PC other than your own. Always be careful about viewing or, accessing confidential information. If possible, wait to view the documents or request an employee to send the materials via overnight mail delivery.
Staying Healthy: Trimming the Fat
While packing bags goes hand in hand with business travel, unfortunately, so canpacking on the pounds. As many traveling professionals have found out the hard way, it's all too easy to gain weight on the road. For this reason, it's important to try to stick to a reasonable diet and exercise regimen. After all, most business owners represent the key person in their company. If they get sick, the operation suffers.
Below are some tips for tightening the belt:
- Workout in the Hotel: Most hotels house gyms. Even facilities at the lower-end of the lodging spectrum usually provide some sort of exercise equipment. Make an effort to set aside at least 20 minutes in the morning to ride the stationary bike while reviewing notes, or walk the treadmill while catching up on the day's news. Such workouts not only get the adrenaline pumping and help you wake up, but also work to clear the mind. When booking a facility, check that they have a workout room.
- Walk, don't drive: When at all possible, choose to walk to destinations. Of course, you do not want to show up at a meeting drenched with sweat, however, a casual stroll to dinner helps to speed up the metabolism.
- Don't feast: There's a natural tendency for people to want to explore new foods when in new places. Still, not every meal needs to be an experience. Try to stick to a larger lunch and light dinner. This can make waking up much easier the next day.
- Take breaks: Mental health is as important as physical health. When possible, take a ten minute break just to relax. If driving a long distance, be sure to pull off at a rest area and walk around a bit. This will help keep fatigue away.
- Prep for flying: On the days leading up to a flight, take a healthy portion of Vitamin C and zinc to ward off any cold germs that might be circulating about the airplane cabin. It's never a bad idea to invest in one of several herbal remedies available over-the-counter. Take a dose of this immediately following the flight.
- Keep on a regular schedule: If traveling outside of your time zone, still try to stick with your daily routine. If possible, wake up, eat and sleep at the usual times to avoid jet lag when returning.
Travel Tips: Pointers for Professionals
For many business owners, travel comes with the territory. Some enjoy the experience, while for others it's just a part of the job description. Either way, there are approaches to make the trip take off without a hitch:
- Get directions in advance: Before even leaving, set up a destination list, complete with places you plan to visit. This might include the hotel, convention center, restaurants, etc. Then, enter address, contact information and a map for each place.
- Know your next move: Set up an agenda outlining the plans for each day. Be specific. Include breakfast stops, meeting places, lunch spots, etc. Designate a certain amount of time for each.
- Keep copies of all vital information: Make photo copies of materials like plane tickets, directions, ID, credit cards, etc.
- Early bird gets the worm: This old adage so often proves true. Leave the hotel early when possible. This allows for extra time if you get lost.
- Flight Itinerary: When booking a flight, make sure there's adequate time in between connecting flights. The days of 45 minutes to an hour between connecting flights appear long gone with the frequency of today's delays.
While conducting business out-of-town so often proves to be a wearing task, many resources exist to reduce the stress. Below are a few helpful services:
- Online mapping services: Websites like MapQuest® let business travelers chart the best route before heading out of the hotel for a big meeting. These online services provide interactive maps, driving directions, road trip planners, phone number search engines and more.
- Weather related sites: The Internet serves as home to a number of Websites devoted to weather. Online resources like Weather Underground® and The Weather Channel® highlight current atmospheric conditions all over the world. This information lets business travelers determine what clothing to pack, prepare for potential flight delays and more.
- Flight status service: Through its Website, the Federal Aviation Administration provides up-to-the moment information on general airport status. Using a map of the U.S. and color-coded bullets, the site lets visitors know what airports are experiencing general arrival/departure delays taxi delays; closed airports and more.
- Online food ordering and delivery services: Many towns and cities have one or more businesses devoted to delivering meals from eat-in restaurants. Usually, patrons first visit a Web site to view the menus of participating eateries. Once the order is placed, the meal is delivered. Aside from filling in out-of-towners on the culinary selections available in an area, food ordering and delivery services let business travelers purchase a nice meal from the convenience of their hotel room.