For business travelers, communications are essential. Those on the road need to stay connected and current at all times, which means users need a reliable, and secure Internet connection. However, with obstacles such as time zones, poor/limited Wi-fi connectivity, cultural issues, limited power, etc., staying connected while traveling can be a hard nut to crack. Luckily, the same dependency has also produced various techniques and strategies to maintain communications on the go. Here’s our guide for business travelers on how to stay connected with limited resources.
Most travel starts and ends with a flight, so it’s important that you’re equipped to maintain communication even while in transit. Though the FCC recently approved the initial proposal allowing passengers to make voice calls from their mobile phones during flights (this includes Wi-Fi calls), it’s not yet fully approved or in effect. Therefore, business travelers have to be savvy with other ways of communicating.
• Prepare Yourself for Airport Wi-Fi: Some airports charge for Wi-Fi and others are free. Additionally, different airports use different providers, too. As such, travelers would do well to research airport Wi-Fi usage charges and providers. A good reference is Air Fare Watch Dog’s Airport Wi-Fi Access Infographic, which details US and International Airports’ Wi-Fi hotspots including name, provider, and pricing.
• Select an Airline With Wi-Fi: Airlines all over the world are starting to rollout the availability of Wi-Fi while in-flight. As such, travelers need to BE SURE the selected airline offers Wi-Fi. According to a recent survey, Delta, Southwest, and US Airways have the most domestic flights with Wi-Fi; however, in terms of consistency, Virgin America and AirTrans are the ONLY airlines with 100% of their fleet Wi-Fi enabled. While these airlines are reputable, they may not be the names you’d think to be leading the Wi-Fi surge.
• Research & Book Your Seat To Account For Outlet Availability: With limited outlet availability, it would suit travelers well to research their flight, as well as their seat in advance. Services like SeatGuru and SeatExperts maps seats and shows what each seat offers, such as outlet availability.
Just because you’re leaving your office doesn’t mean you have to leave your business communications behind. There are tons of ways to stay connected to your business/team with or without an Internet connection.
• Stay Connected Without a Connection: The truth is you’re not always going to be with an Internet connection; however, you don’t necessarily have to be in order to stay connected with your team/business.
– Offline Mode Apps: Some applications have an offline mode, which enable use without an Internet connection. For example, you can use Google Maps’ Offline mode on your phone to navigate your way to/from meetings. As such, users without unlimited data (or a data plan altogether) or with a poor connection can utilize the service.
– Read Offline: Apps like Pocket and Instapaper allow users to save information directly from a browser or other apps like Twitter, Pulse, etc. In doing so, users can view content while they have a connection and save it to view later (without a connection)—enabling offline accessibility.
– Utilize “Favorites”: Access your Dropbox files from your mobile device while offline by “favoriting” them. As such, the files is saved directly to your device, which means you’ll be able to view these files from anywhere, at anytime even without a connection. You can even update the files manually to ensure they’re up to date
• Store Files in the Cloud: We all know the Cloud enables users to store and access key files and information from any able location; therefore, it’s really great for mobile users, and especially travelers. As such, there are a number or services and providers available that offer cloud backup services. Amazon Cloud Drive, Apple iCloud, Box, Dropbox, and Google Cloud are just a few of the many providers that offer free cloud storage services (up to a certain amount—i.e. 2GB-10GB). There are also paid services that allow for unlimited storage.
• Take Your Business Phone Number with You: Travelers would do well to investigate a phone service that supports call forwarding and/or call routing. Both these features enable users to set up his or her phone system to dial out to their mobile phone when the main number is being dialed. In doing so, customers call the same phone number, but can reach you even if you’re not in the office.
• Send Faxes Anywhere You Have an Internet Connection: Virtual Fax services enables users to compose, edit, send, and receive faxes from any Internet enabled device. As such, there are a number of mobile applications that enable users to do this directly from your phone. All you need to do is pick the service and application, download it on your phone, and integrate your contacts list.
• Sign & Scan Documents Electronically: Import, scan, sign, and receive any document digitally via your email on your smartphone regardless of your location. Again, all that’s necessary for you is that you download and install the appropriate mobile application on your phone, laptop, or tablet.
• Attend & Host Video Conferences via Mobile Device: Conduct and enter conferences anywhere, anytime via your laptop, tablet, and smartphone. Services and mobile applications like Skype and Google Hangouts can be downloaded directly to any of the aforementioned devices. As such, these services allow for users to video message regardless of their location. Your phone, laptop, and tablet all have built in cameras and microphones; therefore, all you’ll need is the application/service installed on your device. Additionally, you can choose to go through a provider and their application/service directly. For example, 8×8’s mobile app allows for Video Calling.
While Wi-Fi is a great way to stayed connected, what happens when you don’t have a suitable Internet connection? There are ways to prepare yourself to connect without relying on Wi-Fi.
• Use Ethernet to Create Your Own Wireless Network: Bypass the charge (and service) and use the hotel’s Ethernet, the wired connection, to create your own wireless network. Though it’s a bit technical, Wired.com outlines the process in detail. As such, all users really need is a wireless access point that doubles as a USB Ethernet adapter. From here, connect this to the unused networking cable and create your own Wi-Fi network and password.
• Use Your Smartphone As A Hotspot: Travelers can transform their mobile phones into portable Wi-Fi hotspots by tethering (or Internet sharing), which works as mini access points for laptops (and other devices) to access through the phone’s 3G/4G connection. To do this, enable your phone’s hotspot setting, configure wireless security with a password, and then connect your device with the network as you would any Wi-Fi network. In doing this, you’ll be able to share your Internet connection with all of your devices. NOTE: Not all phones are able to do this; however, popular models such as the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy S3, and other support this.
• Go Through Your Existing Cable Provider: CableWifi is the joining of 5 major cable companies that allow their customers to access each other Wi-Fi hotspots (total over 200,000).
• Download a Signal Map Application: This app provides a map that shows users the closest cell towers nearby and directs them to the closest Wi-Fi hotspots. Some apps go beyond this. For example, Open Signal’s Android App, 3G/4G/WiFi Signal & Speed Maps provides coverage maps, a speed test feature, a signal booster, and much more.
• Exploit Dial Up As A Back-Up Plan: If you’re unable to find a suitable wireless Internet connection, a wired connection might be a good back up. Look into dial-up provider services and determine if their offerings are suitable for your needs. “I keep my old Aol.com subscription – maybe $6 a month- so once in a while, when Wi-Fi is bad or unavailable – especially at a tech conference hotel, I can simply unplug the phone and plug the cable into my laptop’s legacy modem input. And as nobody uses dial up anymore, I can get good high speeds of 53 kbps or so. Clean. Plenty fast enough for emailing. Most local calls are free so the service being a lot less expensive than using a hotel’s overpriced, unreliable and oversubscribed Wi-Fi network,” states Mark Shapiro at SRS Tech PR.
• Rent A Data Dongle: Travelers can rent (or pay-as-you-go) these devices from various providers to connect to the best local network in the area. Data dongles is simply a USB stick that plugs into your laptop (it also requires a SIM card). Once the dongle is connected, it utilizes the laptops mobile mast to send and receive Internet connection. Again, Mark Shapiro states, “Plugged into my laptop, I can then use the local Verizon, Sprint, or whatever network is in the area to do my online work. Not as fast as good Wi-Fi, it is better than no Wi-Fi at all.”
It’s essential for all your devices to to be fully powered on the road; therefore, travelers need to optimize battery life of their laptop, smartphone, & tablet best they can. While this sounds simple enough, constantly searching for Wi-Fi or using a Bluetooth connection can really drain one’s battery; however, this doesn’t mean there aren’t effective management techniques for your device.
• Eject All Discs From Your Laptop’s Disc Drive: Your laptop will burn battery by spinning discs in your drive so only use what you need when you need it.
• Connect External/Bluetooth Devices on a Need-Only Basis: Keep your mouse, webcam, headset, USB drive, etc, plugged in only during use.
• Only Run The Necessary Programs/Applications: When you stop using an app or service, make sure you quit it altogether. Just closing the window keeps the program/app running in the background. For example, the Spotify Application still searches for a connection when the window is closed out. You need to manage your background applications and/or quit programs/apps properly. The more apps, programs, and/or services your computer runs at once, the less battery you’ll have.
• Manage Wireless Connection Settings: Constantly searching for a signal to connect can decimate your battery life. Pick and choose your battles. If you can afford to disable wireless connections at any point, do it. Utilize offline modes of apps and service when you can, too.
• Utilize Different Display, Power, & Preference Settings: Optimize display and setting preferences by setting time before sleep mode, putting hard disks to sleep when possible, dimming the display/disabling automatic brightness, and disabling backlight keyboard. Additionally, various laptops offer various “Sleep” type modes, during which the device turns off all non-essential functions. For example, Mac’s OS X offers the Power Nap sleep feature. Past this, users can choose to alter other settings to conserve energy:
• Engage/Enable Your Phone’s Airplane Mode: Cut Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and other location services when not needed.
• Turn Off All Mobile Notifications: Disable all data-push notifications from all your applications.
• Disable GPS & Location Setting: Turn off GPS and other services that connect to inform your device’s location.
• Bring An Extra Battery: Carrying an extra battery can be a bit hard depending on your device, but if you need the extra juice, this is a straightforward way of getting it.
• Buy An Extended Battery Case for Your Phone: There are a lot of cases that charge your phone’s battery while acting as a case. For example, Power-Skin makes cases for a variety of devices including Samsung’s Galaxy Phones, iPhones, Blackberries, Windows Phones, and more. Another option would be Mophie.
• Calibrate Your Battery Every 1-3 Months To Ensure Longest Life: Each and every charging cycle wears down your battery. You want to be sure your battery is able to hold the maximum charge for as long as it did when it was new. To do this, calibrate it—run the life down near zero (without it dying), then charge it back to full.
• Employ Battery Monitoring Applications: There are a variety of apps that breakdown the battery life by usage. For example, the Battery HD Android App breaks down battery usage by category and percentage. It also shows times of usage and informs users how many hours of functionality they have left for specific functions—i.e. watching video, web browsing (Wi-Fi, Edge, 3G, 4G), and more.
When traveling, you’re bound to run into some issues with Time Zones. The world’s a big place and with 24 standard time zones, it can be hard to effectively communicate while traveling.
• Set Time Zones Manually On Your Digital Calendars: Be sure that when you’re saving events or appointments on a digital calendar the time zone is correct. 5pm Eastern Time is NOT 5pm Pacific Time.
• Utilize Time Zone Converter Web Services & Apps: Convert your current time to any other locations by using a web powered converter or a smartphone application. There are tons of websites that do this on different levels. For example, sites like Time Zone Converter offer basic and quick conversions; sites like Time & Date offer much more detail (location, month, day, year, hour, minutes, etc.
• Reference the World Time Zone Map: This map color-codes every region in the world according to their time zone. As such, users get an easily digestible glance at the world at large. Those looking for more general times would do well to use this.
Communications and connectivity go hand in hand, especially for business travelers. Though there are a number of challenges and obstacles to face, there are just as many solutions. While some may seem more obvious than others, travelers can choose to connect and communicate according to their own preferences and abilities; however, when there is some problem, it’s nice to have options and alternatives.
Main Image via Trey Ratcliff @ Stuck in Commons