Working Nomad
Simple tools for extreme telecommuters
There is a lot more involved in telecommuting than doing your work by the pool and then emailing it in.

Fortunately, setting up the technological infrastructure you need to be an extreme telecommuter does not have to be expensive. The first thing you will need is an extra notebook computer for traveling. Upload all the files you will need while you are away, of course keeping copies on your computer back home. The reason for this is obvious; there is an enormous risk of theft while traveling. Notebook computers go missing every day, with valuable information lost forever. Besides outright theft, there is even the possibility of a notebook being confiscated by border authorities.

Online backup and archive solutions, which are very affordable, will also offer an excellent solution for saving copies of files while traveling, as well as while at home. As an extreme telecommuter, you are going to have to be self-reliant. Things like backup and archive, which would normally be handled by the IT guys in the back room if you had a regular job, are now your responsibility. You must also take greater responsibility for overall security by making sure you have adequate and up-to-date anti-virus software and a suitable firewall.

If you live in the US and all your clients are there too, most telecom companies offer flat-rate long distance at affordable rates. But if you have overseas clients, or if you yourself spend much time overseas, you will need a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) provider. It's possible of course, to make calls from overseas back to the states, but it can be very expensive. A VoIP provider like Skype lets you call back to the states easily and affordably. You will need a VoIP-enabled phone, or a headset that you can plug directly into your computer.

Chances are, if you are an extreme telecommuter, there are documents that multiple people have a hand in, and you will need to collaborate on creating and editing these documents. The easiest way is to use a private wiki that allows for multiple revisions. This simple tool tracks the revisions and additions of each participant, and keeps records of each subsequent version of the document. It also lets you write notes back and forth on the document itself. Hosted wikis are widely available for small subscription fees; alternately, if you have a large client that frequently has projects with multiple participants, they may already have one in place on their own server.

If you have multiple clients, you may also benefit from a time and billing software package. Billing on its own may be a simple process, but once you're on your own, keeping track of your billable hours becomes more challenging than most people realize. The time element of this type of software gives you an easy way to click to stop and start, and assign time to multiple clients over the course of your workday.

Naturally, you will need a high-speed broadband connection at home, but consider your connectivity needs while on the road as well. If travel is minimal, you may well be able to rely on third-party Wi-Fi connections in coffeehouses and hotels, but if you spend a lot of time on the road, you will be better served by using a cellular data network. You will enjoy higher speeds than you would with the free local Wi-Fi offerings, as well as greater security.

Following is a handy checklist of the basics you will need to get set up as an extreme telecommuter:

  • Extra notebook computer
  • Online backup and archive solution
  • Security software (anti-virus, firewall)
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider
  • Hosted Wiki
  • Time and billing software
  • High speed broadband connection
  • Cellular data network