Wellbeing / Lifestyle business

Is my mobile office a pipe dream?

When I started my writing business, part of the dream was to have a mobile office and be able to work from anywhere. While that is now quite feasible, I still spend most of my work hours plugged into an office. It begs the question: does the reality of the ‘laptop lifestyle’ live up to the dream?

2 June 2015 by

David McKinney’s office van!

David McKinney’s office van!

Pushing the extremes of ‘working from anywhere’, app developer David McKinney created the ultimate mobile workspace by converting his Ford Transit van into a nomadic mobile office on wheels.

Since reading David’s article ‘Redesigning The Office’ last year, I’ve been dreaming of refurbished vans, polished floorboards, leather couches and soaking up the sun on Freshwater headland while achieving new heights of productivity!

In his description, filled with location photos, he shows step-by-step how he converted his van into a mobile office, and answers the most common questions he gets about power, batteries, broadband, costs and more.

It is clear from his post that David loves the freedom of a mobile office:

“It has all the usual office things like Wi-Fi, AC power, and a desk for working. It also has a couch for thinking, and a view and fresh air. And it’s always near the ocean or a place for exploring.

This has been my main office for the last year or so, and it’s my favourite place for intense, focused work. But what about working together with your colleagues? That’s easy — just drive over… I love it.”

Before thoughts of an office van took the concept to a whole new level, my laptop-lifestyle dreams originally included less ambitious options like working from cafés, libraries or the beach and even setting up a backyard studio or taking extended working holidays.

"I’ve been dreaming of refurbished vans, polished floorboards, leather couches and soaking up the sun on Freshwater headland while achieving new heights of productivity in my business."

While I do work away from the office for a few hours at a time each week (usually at a local café), I inevitably find myself back at my familiar desk for the largest blocks of productive time.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why working from anywhere may not suit a lot of people: hands-on work, client meetings, customers, colleagues, young kids running around, the need for big monitors or equipment, power struggles, air-conditioning, space, comfortable lounges, landlines, kitchen, bathrooms… the list goes on.

Indeed, despite hearing a lot about the idea of travelling around Australia (or the world), living the laptop-lifestyle while running a business, no one I know is actually doing it.

There’s no doubting the romantic appeal of escaping the desk, but perhaps the reality is that the convenience of having your own dedicated workspace outweigh the freedoms of working from anywhere. I’d love to think not, but perhaps my mobile office is a pipe dream?

Whether you’re working today from a café, office, van, third bedroom, airport, library, co-working space, tent, ironing board, bus or cubicle, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Has working from anywhere worked for you? What are the pitfalls and benefits of a mobile office?

Peter Crocker

is a director of Flying Solo responsible for marketing and advertising. As a business copywriter he partners with digital agencies and corporate clients on websites and digital content. He’s the co-author of Flying Solo Revisited – How to go it alone in business.

Comments

  • I have a solo business (software development) that is set up to work from anywhere with only a laptop, but in all honesty, I have found that my most productive work usually happens in my home office.

    I have two specific working locations at home (plus my outdoor deck when the weather is great). I have tried taking my laptop to the beach, or to various cafes and parks and seeing if I could work there, but aside from merely sending emails or doing simple research, most of my core creative and productive work only happened when I was safely ensconced in my usual home work spaces.

    I don’t know if this a primal comfort and security thing, or whether I am mentally conditioned to only do my best work in familiar surrounds, but that seems to be what works for me. I haven’t gone the full van route as David has above – perhaps one day I will try that to see how it works out, but at the end of the day, I think I am a creature of (home) habit. 🙂

    • petercrocker

      Thanks Devan – yes I have a similar experience so far in terms of being most productive in the familiar office. Maybe there’s a way to hire a kitted out van for a few weeks and see how it goes… try before you buy!!

  • Robert Gerrish

    Peter, I’m just 100% sure that one day, you’ll be working in a van!

    • Lucinda Lions

      Yup, I totes agree with Robert, Peter! 🙂

      • petercrocker

        A bright green ‘Flying Solo’ van!?!

  • As someone who runs a company supplying project + business collaboration software from Atlassian, I’ve deliberately focussed on running my business in remote, working-anywhere patterns to replicate the sort of conditions many of my clients mobile workforces find themselves in. For the most part, it’s been invigorating, with lots of lessons learnt. I still remote work everyday, in lots of different locations. It’s a nice way of spreading economic impact one business at a time..

    I’ve modified my old VW Transporter to have oodles of solar power at my fingertips, using roof mounted panels supplying one of our Goal Zero Yeti1250 solar generators for clean, silent power. That setup has allowed me to run projects + videoconferences with international and Australian clients from some pretty interesting places, with amazing views to spark the creative juices. The setup is mobile, so also allows for portable solar to run power tools, exhibition setups, bands, etc.

    The biggest issues to overcome are:
    Power: Opting for solar+storage was easy using the Yeti1250Kit – see http://store.laughingmind.com/products/goalzero-yeti1250-solar-generator-kit

    Access to Connectivity: if you’re an internet connected+reliant business, it’s vital. Good mobile broadband signal strength is needed and you’ll want to watch out for bandwidth hogs like background downloads for OS updates;

    Toilets: Let’s face it, you’re going to need one;

    Food+Beverages: I try to find a mix between cost effective DIY, using a WAECO fridge running off the Yeti and also supporting businesses operating in the locations I seek out. Lots of cafes exist in beautiful locations, but they’re not set up as an office environment;

    Heating + Lighting: the remote working setup can be challenging during winter – find a spot with plenty of sunshine, let it work for you.

    Good to see this post come out of Flying Solo. You can find plenty of other examples of digital nomads tackling this challenge in http://www.laughingmind.com/empowering-digital-nomads.html

    • petercrocker

      Hi Brian, thanks so much for reading and adding such a comprehensive comment. While I’ve loved the ‘concept’ for a fair while, I’m certainly a newbie when it comes to making it happen. Looks like you’re about a decade ahead of me! I love the terms ‘digital nomad’ that people use to describe this idea. Power is the question that always comes up when discussing this topic, that solar system looks ideal. The other question that often comes up from parents is what to do with the kids – not sure I have a way to handle that one just yet so might have to wait a few years before heading too far! 🙂 Thanks again.

  • Bec Gleeson

    It has absolutely worked for me. I’ve spent the last 14 months working from a bus that’s been travelling round Australia. I had phone meetings with clients at Marble Bar; I smashed out web content at Kakadu; I sat on the edge of Ningaloo Reef refining briefs.

    There were the odd difficulties with internet connection, but this past year has been my most productive ever. And I’ve got incredible memories to boot.

    All you need is a laptop, a wifi modem (although don’t get me started about Telstra’s bills), and a little imagination … and you’re away.

    Now, my little office is on the far south coast of WA – a million miles from all of my east coast clients. I get to sit at a makeshift desk (it’s currently an upended door) and look out on Karri trees as I work. There are frequent trips east, but it’s worth the effort!

    The full story is at gleesonbusline.wordpress.com … if you’ve got a spare day or two.

    • petercrocker

      Hey Bec, great to hear from you 🙂 I’ve actually been following your blog/FB over the last year with fascination! Yours is an inspiring story and an example I’ve brought up with lots of people in discussions about the mobile office concept. You’ve taken it to extremes packing up the whole family and moving to the other side of the country. Your new place looks heavenly!

  • patrick burgess

    What a coincidence. I had the MD out from the UK last April and we went to a business breakfast. The person we were meeting with produced a tablet with a keyboard and my MD was intreged we have to get one of those were her words. So last week I bought a Sony Tablet and have set it up as a mobile office.
    For what I do now it will be adequate as I am able to teach one on one from it send and receive emails and do the other mundane jobs that need to be done

    • petercrocker

      There’s certainly no excuse anymore with all the great great available for working anywhere anytime! Good and bad sometimes 🙂

  • Lucinda Lions

    Hey Peter, I remember with great fondness all your talk of working from a van, and I do think you’ll make this happen one day.

    I occasionally work from a café, but to be honest I’m most productive when working from my home office. When I’m out I want to ‘people watch’ or eavesdrop (that’s what writers do after all!) or I just order waaaaaay too much chocolate. If I worked from a van I’d constantly drive it to Nestle and probably go out of business.
    When you get your van, please drive by my place. (But bring some Kit Kats.)
    L 🙂

  • Duncan Shaw

    Hi Peter, what business does David run?

    • Hi Duncan. Thanks for reading. David’s an app developer, so it well suited to working from anywhere as long as he has a laptop, power and internet.

  • Ben Fox

    I mean this as a gentle provocation, but an van-office on wheels could be seen as the worst of both worlds. It’s hard to make friends with your peers, neighbours and local barista but you still have to pay rent, insurance, registration, servicing overheads, but it can’t travel internationally, scale for changing team sizes or get to the 38th floor.

    It’s wonderful that the Internet is dismantling the home/office home/shop home/factory nuclear family pair-model (which is pretty modern anyway) but I’m not convinced that the answer is to put wheels on a cubicle and drive it to the beach.

    Most of my productive experiences with mobile work involve connecting into one or more place-based communities and moving between them periodically, at the same time connecting groups of specialists together to achieve things of value. So I’m not always on the move, it’s more like have a series of hyper-local sites I inhabit.

    Venkat writing on Ribbon Farm and Stream Communities has a great article on other ways to think about human mobility. http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/10/04/the-stream-map-of-the-world/

    This coder has some great writing on the subject of nomadic work too http://typicalprogrammer.com/how-i-work-as-a-digital-nomad/

    I’m looking forward to hearing more from people about this.

    • Hi Ben, thanks for the great comment and links, I missed it earlier. And I love a bit of gentle provocation 🙂 I thought this phrase of yours was a nice thought starter “I’m not convinced that the answer is to put wheels on a cubicle and drive it to the beach”. A sense of community is also very important to me and putting roots down doesn’t necessarily have to impact freedom. My vision has not necessarily been to combine work with ongoing travel, rather my thoughts would be to find nice spaces to work locally.

      I like the sound of your idea…

      “Most of my productive experiences with mobile work involve connecting into one or more place-based communities and moving between them periodically, at the same time connecting groups of specialists together to achieve things of value. So I’m not always on the move, it’s more like have a series of hyper-local sites I inhabit.”

      Just through reading these comments and writing this piece I’m still wondering if the reality would match the dream! I will try it one day. Was interesting to learn that ‘digital nomad’ is more of ‘a thing’ than I realised 🙂 Thanks for the comments.

  • It has been working for me for a number of years now. I spend 2-3 months each year living and working from the French Alps. I run conferences all around the world for large groups of people from Australia and I have had no problem running this business from wherever I choose. It’s just a matter of scheduling the face to face and the times away at a time that works.
    I also spend time in other places, I choose mainly to base myself rather than continually travel but it still means I get to experience life as I work rather than waiting for retirement.
    I have now created a business based on this concept and have a big event happening in Sydney later this year to help other people to realise that Working From Anywhere is an option.
    The event is the Working From Anywhere Conference, it’s shaping up to be an exciting event.

    • Sounds brilliant Andy. You’re really driving the mobile movement! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Hey Andy. Seems France calls a few of us. I moved our family to SW France for an experience 18months ago and my staff have all now decentralised too. With Europe as a base and our kids getting so many school holidays thanks to french education, it’s been a real change of life. Having a ‘home office’ in 5 different countries and about 15 different Airbnbs in that time certainly makes you understand that the offer of “very good wifi” is subjective at best!

      Your conference looks good! I’ll be back in time so might pick up a ticket. If you still need a Cloud Guru lmk. Not me, but I can recommend a couple of stage ready ones. Nice to read a bit about the Frost Family as it’s not often those with young kids get represented as a segment of the nomadic entrepreneur audience. Congrats.

      Bonne chance!
      MP

      • Hey Michael
        Sounds like you definitely have been doing the working from anywhere thing, well done.
        We may have a spot for a Cloud Guru, it’s actually one of the spots we are still to fill. Currently talking to Microsoft and Google but also open to others out there. It’s a very important part of the program as we want to show small business, employers, employees and solo preneurs the benefits of ditching the server and using the cloud instead.
        Feel free to email me on andy@wfa.life
        Thanks for your interest, looking forward to meeting you at the big event.
        Carpe Diem
        Andy

  • Thanks for this Peter. I’ve long wondered about having a mobile office (those of us of a certain age will remember an episode of The Goodies where they did exactly that!). In my work as an IT Consultant I have dispensed with a “traditional” office and these days my workplace can either be a coffee shop, my kitchen table, clients’s premises or my local library. I enjoy the variety, but if I’m honest it is challenging at times not always having the items I need nearby. Whether the mobile office would work for me, I just can’t tell without trying it. Tempted to give it a go. Would have to be careful not to be distracted by the swaying palm trees outside the window though! Ian

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