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Telecommuters: 5 Essential Tools You Need for Stress-Free Telecommuting

Technology + Gear
by Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström Jun 3, 2009
A look at various gadgets that hardcore telecommuters depend on.

The TSA lady looks at me with pursed lips as I start unraveling two laptops, two external hard drives, a gargantuan Maxtor drive (which on many occasions has raised security concerns), and other peripheral devices – headsets, mouse, webcam, adapters – from a single laptop bag.

“I’ve got this down to a science,” I assure her. Seriously.

There are telecommuters who usually work from a single location such as a tricked-out home office complete with VoIP and a Transformers-like scanner/printer/fax/copier combo, and then there are telecommuters who work from multiple locations, constantly shifting base much more like location independent professionals (LIPs).

The last three months alone have seen me commute from Stockholm, Washington D.C., Baltimore, London, and now back from Stockholm.

While most companies set up their telecommuters with technologies such as Virtual Private Network (VPN) access and blackberries/iPhones, there are some additional tools you personally need to seek out that will enhance your experience.

Here are the daily essentials that help sustain my location independent lifestyle.

High Speed Internet Access

Definitely a no-brainer but if I can’t pick up a strong signal, I’m pretty much done working for the day and might as well just a take a vacation day. Not just a meager 36 Mbps cable line but a network that can support connecting through VPNs and streaming large files (couple gigabytes) back and forth.

Skype Online Number & Forwarding

At this point, you’re already using either Skype or one of many international phone plans for telecommuters.

In fact, you may already be pimping your Skype experience with add-ons such as the Belkin WiFi phone to receive calls when you’re not online.

Beyond internet access, the most important tool for me is a personalized Skype telephone number.

For just $18.00 for 3 months, you’re hooked up with a local area code number from whichever country you choose.

So friends and family without Skype software can call my online number.

The best part? – I can forward calls from my office extension number (say, extension 222) to my Skype number (222-222-2222) which rings on my laptop. So technically, I never miss calls while away from my desk back in the US.

Taking it one step further, if I’m offline or busy, Skype then forwards the call on to my cell phone.

Instant Messaging

There’s no quicker way to access colleagues while working from another continent than sending them a quick instant message via Spark, Google Talk, or any one of the many instant messaging applications out there.

Telecommuters can quickly feel excluded but with instant messaging tools, you can seamlessly chat with a colleague in San Francisco while working from Scandinavia.

Web Conferencing

Another perk of Skype is that you can initiate conference calls, dialing in the various key players of the call.

But there are more advanced (and more stable) web conferencing solutions designed specifically for this purpose.

Tools such as Microsoft Live Meeting, eMeeting by WebEx, and Citrix’s GoToMeeting allow you to not only initiate calls but also connect remotely to other machines for demos or to help troubleshoot problems.

External Hard Drives

Since you’ll be off your company’s WAN grid for extended periods of time, chances are tech support isn’t backing up your laptop, and you’re pretty much on your own. Investing in at least one external hard drive such as the Western Digital HD Passport can be a lifesaver.

Sooner or later, you will drop your laptop as you constantly shift bases. Be sure to read professional photographer Terence Carter’s article, Back Up. And Running: How to Back Up Your Digital Goods on the Road.

I always travel with two external drives. My backup needs a backup.

And the third drive sits at home….wherever it may be at the moment.

Additional Resources

For more telecommuting tools to fit your particular lifestyle, check out Tools that Telecommuters and Remote Workers Can’t Live Without , and 5 Tools for Successful Telecommuting.

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