The working landscape is changing rapidly. By itself and by external influences, we cannot control. High speed Internet is available nearly anywhere. Companies are realizing that outsourcing to freelancers is saving them a lot of headache and money. And just recently the outbreak of COVID-19 is forcing more and more people into home office.
Things have changed a great deal already, and continue to be changing into what’s called a mobile work environment. Working on the Go. Doesn’t sound so enticing, right? For some people mobile working is already their work reality. Other people might want to pursue new endeavors parallel to their day jobs. Other people see their work reality changing abruptly and need to adapt.
Especially creative folks, like musicians, DJs or game developers like myself, are challenged by the new work environment. Don’t like this? Well, each change may have their light and dark side, but futurists around the globe predict, that this won’t stop anytime soon.
I have been working remotely on different projects since 2015. So this is just my personal takeaway from all what I have learned and encountered.
So, let's take a look, shall we.
Check what stuff you’ll need
The first thing that will come to you is probably “I’ll have to buy a huge load of new sh*** and I’ll spend COUNTLESS hours of syncing data between my mobile rig and my totally awesome workstation”. Depending on what your job actually is, this might be pretty accurate.
I’m a graphic artist (2D and 3D). I own a pretty decent desktop PC, because software demands it in a relentless and impolite manner. I also own a pretty decent (and way too expensive) laptop because… “Damn you, software!”
If you are a creative writer it’s easy to see why you won’t need a totally expensive PC and Laptop. You probably won’t need any expensive bits at all. You probably need something stylish, light and thin with a battery life akin to a nuclear battery. DJ or music Producer. Welcome to the world of expensive and overpriced laptops. What’s your situation? Do we even have to buy an overpriced piece of hardware. It depends.
It’s a good thing to ask yourself a few questions before starting to drop money:
1. What’s my job?
2. Will I be traveling a lot?
3. Do I need a special peripheral for my work? (Graphic Tablet anyone?)
4. Do I need a keyboard for working all the time?
5. Where will I be working outside of my studio somewhere.
6. How large is the data that needs to be synchronized across how many devices?
The core of your job actually is absolutely important. Building a gear setup to be prepared for anything might come in unwieldy and expensive. So best focus. Another thing is traveling. When traveling a lot, you don’t want a heavy laptop in your backpack. At the hotel room. Maybe. On set, the whole day? Depends. On a conference? No way!
Traveling a lot also relates to “Will you be working from your hotel room or do you go home to your studio after visiting the client?”
If you work from your studio a decent amount of time you’ll probably want a good desktop PC resting there. Just for the ease of use and for the power, which doesn’t really leave you any choice but a desktop PC.
If you are working a lot on site or at the client and you need power or if you actually work for your clients from your hotel room regularly, you won’t get around buying a really powerful laptop. But things have changed. If you are drawing a lot, and that is the bulk of your job, consider something like an iPad Pro. Drawing on this thing is awesome. And Apple is taking strides to develop the iPad pro into a pseudo Laptop. I am not the biggest Apple fan in the world. But really, this changes a lot of things.
You still might need even more power. But do you really need it on your travels? I guess, most of the time not. So maybe a good portable hybrid device and a powerful PC at home will do the job. Of course you might be in the situation where you need the processing power right there. Then of course, bad luck. Potent laptops for high end production are really expensive. But hey, you might get around a PC at home.
If you don’t work from the hotel or your client visits boil down to presentations during meetings, your mobile computer can as well be a very cheap tablet. You’ll be showing stuff and not doing work that demands heavy power. Just make sure that you can hook it up to HDMI somehow in order to drive the beamer.
Things on the side
So peripherals. That’s the next big question. And we won’t be talking about your mouse. Tablets have touch. Laptops have a pad and sometimes also touch.
You won’t need a mouse very often, but if you do, put one into your bag. But what about really unwieldy peripherals like your Intuos5 Pro L. Like carrying that around? What about working on train? Put your Laptop here and the graphic tablet… where? You often won’t have enough space set things up.
If you are a graphic artist and need a pressure sensitive tablet, there’s a selection of tablet PCs with pressure sensitive displays, not the least of which is Wacom’s Companion line. Expensive, but solves two problems. Powerful PC and Tablet in one. But really, again, in my opinion, nothing beats the iPad pro at drawing at the moment.
If you need to write a lot and often, consider a good small form factor mechanical Bluetooth keyboard to bring along.
I have had arguments with people (and myself) if Bluetooth or not. What if the power fails? Well, let's put it like this. Internal batteries are a lottery. Did you charge them last night? No? Out of luck. Do you have a device that takes replacement Batteries? Way better. But still. your best bet would be to always bring a power bank and an assortment of USB cables. I am using one made by Anker. They didn't fail me up to now. But choose whatever you are comfortable with. Just make sure it has enough power storage.
You’ll face another challenge. Your Software PC/Tablet/Laptop/Phone is here. Everything is setup. And… wait a minute. My software! Just quickly install my stuff on all of those, and transfer my data.
This should be done in no time at all. Well, hell on earth is about to come down right in your face. Allow yourself at least two weeks BEFORE taking your setup to any client. Seriously. Chances are that you will find something missing even after a year. Not kidding! Getting everything setup, transferring every setting, copying all of your files, downloading all of your software updates and data, my goodness gracious. Luckily there are a few things that will make your life easier. Especially when you are low on time.
Steam, Adobe CC, Autodesk Launcher and other DL-Managers
What Steam and the other services do for you is keeping your software up to date with minimum fuss and additionally they solve the licensing activation atrocities creative software regularly imposes on you.
Steam is really cool for that, because you can have it installed on as many devices as you like and DRM is managed for you (just always one active steam instance).
So installing your software is a matter of pressing install and going to bed/pub/tv while your PC is doing work for you. The other Software packages do something similar, if not as comfortably, though.
Steam oftentimes has a cloud feature for settings, as does Adobe CC, whereas limited. That’s nice when it works since you don’t have to manually copy prefs from one machine to the other.
But there will be software that doesn’t have that feature. And apart from settings, you’ll be syncing a lot of data. Project data. Work in progress. Your high-res portfolio.
Cloud storage helps you with that. So use it. Dropbox, Google Drive, whatever you want. Just remember. With any cloud storage solution that you don’t control yourself, you are putting your potentially sensitive data in somebody else’s hands. You can host your own cloud service rather easily. But administration on this sort of stuff is not an easy task and definitely not for anybody. It might be cheaper however.
If you choose a cloud storage service choose an established service that is reliable and integrates well with other services. Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud are awesome. You’ll just my have to pay for more space. Do it, if you need to and have the bucks.
Security stuff… you know, you can’t skip it.
Well, actually you can skip it, but you really shouldn’t. Sensitive data. You know, you’ll be running around with your data in your bags a lot. Bags get stolen, a lot.
So, if you haven’t thought about it yet, now is the time for talking security.
I will just briefly touch the matter, but you seriously MUST invest time in getting your security set up. You may regret it terribly if you don’t. Just a few rough guides:
1. Don’t save passwords in your browser.
2. If your application supports two factor authentication, use it.
3. Your (IMAP) mail account is your fortress! Do not ever save the password to your mail account in any application or anywhere on your computer and don’t carry it with you. Remember it. It will be one of the two password you need to remember.
4. Store each and every other password in a password safe. This is a encrypted database containing all of your passwords and user logins. Also just remember that password. Don’t put it down anywhere. That’s the second password you’ll need to remember.
5. Keep your phone close to you and NEVER put it in the same bag as the rest of your stuff. And really, make it lock when you turn the screen off.
6. Put your password-safe on the cloud and back it up at home (offline) regularly.
With this setup you’ll be able to access everything from all of your devices while all of your passwords are pretty tightly encrypted.
And in order to access your stuff, someone will have to steal your data, crack the encryption (which is quite a feat) and steal and crack your phone. Chances that your average bag bandit will be able to handle this are slim. If you are a secret agent though, or are working in a company that does take sensitive data seriously, best check up with your IT department and ask how they can help you and which solutions they provide.
Workflow management and such shenanigans
We have successfully installed software, synced data, protected our stuff and are ready to go! Right? Nearly. You’ll need access to your notes and to your contacts across all devices.
Here it’s really important to stick to your devices’ ecosystem. At least if you want it easy and comfy. I am using Google stuff, so I have my contacts in Google Contacts, which syncs it to my phone and to my computer (via browser). I keep my notes in Evernote, which integrates nicely into in really any browser, and is available as a phone-app. It also allows me to save articles right from my browser to my notes. As soon as I sync on any other device, my notes are there. If you are traveling a lot it’s totally awesome to clip articles to read them later offline. I am not affiliated with Evernote. I just like it. Use whatever does what you need there.
Your note solution of choice should also allow you to share notes with other people. You could share the project notebook with your client to keep them up to date or share your game design notes with the team to literally have everybody on the same page. Great stuff that pays out pretty quickly. Your note solution should also allow for media rich content like photos or videos. Makes things easier.
Another thing you will need is a web cam and some sort of VoIP solution to allow for voice and, even better, video calls. So bring a web cam if your device doesn’t have one. Established VoIP solutions like Skype and Google Hangouts are a must. Make them available to you if you haven't. There is one new contender on the block taht is getting used more and more in the professional working landscape. Maybe you haven't heard about it as the tool evolved from the gaming side of things. Discord is a really awesome chat and VoIP platform, with screen-share, dedicated chat servers (with user permissions, voice channels etc.) it really does a lot of things, and a lot of things right. It's my goto choice by now.
Your setup might end up pretty complex but it really shows its value very quickly. Even if you are “just” a bedroom hobbyist, setting things up like this will give you more time for actually working and you’ll need less time for worrying and updating. If you are a professional though, don't hesitate. It has become a vital career part to be able to pull of the remote working stunt. So don't sleep on it.
The key to your very own best setup is identifying your core expertise and supporting that through gear. The software side really boils down to the basic setup with security, notes and cloud and extends into what software is available on which platform. If you can manage it, choose a platform that will manage all DRM for you. Be prepared for what it needs to get things going.