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How to Work from a Tropical Beach Paradise using Microsoft Office 365: Part 1

It's happened: you've finally snapped. You've battled through hours of rain and traffic twice a day for months only to spend the day at your office hunched, alone, over your computer. And with wet socks too.

"Most of my daily work involves writing reports and sending or receiving emails. I could do this just as well from home - in dry socks!" you think to yourself. In your inner voice. Without moving your lips or anything. Miracle of miracles: your boss agrees with you!

Maybe you're lucky enough to already live in a place of glorious natural beauty and balmy weather. Unlike the rest of us, who live in England where yes, it is undoubtedly raining now, thank you for asking. Or perhaps after a while spent working at home in your pyjamas, you've had another "Aha!" moment, and realised you could just as easily be hunched over your computer in a hammock next to the Caribbean Sea. So you've decided to work abroad (or are going on a business trip to exotic climes)...what next?

Office 365 provides you with all the software tools and collaborative ability to be an integral part of your team from 3,000 miles away. Let's look at how it works, and other factors to consider before your trip.

1. Make Your Case

The best way to convince your manager to let you distance-work, is to convince him/her of the benefits to your organisation or team. "I've always wanted to live in Barbados and spend more time with my children," isn't going to get you very far as a business case. Pointing out that ending your current three hour daily commute means a longer working day, that your company spends £15,000 a year on rent/utilities/taxes for your office desk space, and that having a team member in a different time zone could translate into around-the-clock customer care for your international clients - now those are solid business cases.

Perhaps you could spearhead a profitable international expansion for your organisation. As a worst case scenario, if you're moving somewhere with a lower cost of living, or will have a lower tax liability, you could offer to take a salary cut. Ask your manager what their concerns are and be ready to meet every single one of them convincingly. "The Four Hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferriss has a chapter with some helpful pointers.

Use PowerPoint 2010 to put together a persuasive presentation, tackling every advantage and potential concern, one slide at a time. It's also the perfect demonstration of how you can be "in the room" without being physically in the office. See Eoghan Connelly's article, "Broadcasting Your Presentation" for how.

2. Research, Research, Research. Then Research Some More.

It's surprising how often people move to a country they've never visited only to quickly find it doesn't suit them. Use the OneNote 2010 web app to jot down information as you're carrying out your research, and to quickly input information about useful websites. The great thing about OneNote is that it's always there. Rather than filling your browser with hundreds of Links, you can categorise them in OneNote with descriptions if you need to, then click on them whenever you need to go back to that website. You can also make audio notes, use photos, videos and drawings and keep everything to hand while you're on the move. Some key research factors to consider are:

a) Internet. Can you get a fast reliable Internet connection in your new home or wherever you plan to work? Visions of laptops on the beach will fade rapidly in the complete absence of Wi-Fi or mobile phone coverage.

b) Cost of Living. The average salary in your destination may be £1,000 per year, but are you willing to live without indoor plumbing? Or Marmite? In some places, things you think of as essentials might be imported luxuries, costing quadruple what they would at home.

c) Conditions. Maybe the weather was lovely during the fortnight you were there...but plagued by swarms of mosquitos the rest of the time. Might you be stared and pointed at several times a day for your blonde hair, state of relative "undress", foreignness or height? Will there be enough to do in your free time?

d) Paperwork. What visa or other paperwork will you need to live in your chosen country? How will working "abroad" online affect your legal status in your new country? Take advice on tax issues (and National Insurance contributions) in both places: you may find it beneficial to spend a minimum number of days in one country or another.

e) Healthcare. What standard of care will be available to you in case of an emergency, or for any ongoing conditions. Is your prescription medication always readily available? Can you get free healthcare, if so is there paperwork to complete now? Should you buy health insurance?

3. Get the Right Software

Here's where Microsoft Office 365 comes to the rescue. SharePoint Online, Lync and Outlook 2010 with Cloud technology and the rest of the Office 2010 suite provide you with everything you need to work alongside your colleagues in cyberspace just as well as if you were sitting at the next desk in wet socks, listening to the tinny secondary musical stylings of Celine Dion spilling from Bob in Accounts' earphones. Not only can you work closely alongside your colleagues in cyberspace, but there's the added bonus of avoiding Assault charges from Bob.

With SharePoint almost every kind of file can be shared online. Multiple users can even open and work on one file at the same time. You can conduct virtual meetings online using SharePoint, and even catch up on water cooler chat and socialising online via SharePoint profiles. Lync co-ordinates the telephone and VoIP communication throughout your organisation and one click allows you to instant message or video conference with colleagues for free. Outlook 2010 helps you handle time differences with Automatic Reply and Calendar Sharing, so everyone knows exactly when you're at your desk (or working from your sunlounger). You don't need a huge amounts of storage for sand flies to crawl into and destroy: it's all in the Cloud. At the back end, Microsoft Exchange Server is there to pull everything together.

4. Hard Times

Now you've got the right software, check your hardware. Can you buy everything you will need or will you need to take it with you? If it's the latter, is weight a factor? Do you have a backup laptop or netbook?

TIP: Whatever hardware you use has to be fully compatible with, and configured for, Office 365 and set up on your organisation's Exchange Server.

If you're going somewhere sunny, think carefully about the display you choose. Most laptops have a glossy LCD screen which isn't particularly bright. These can be almost impossible to see, even indoors, in some countries. Better to choose a matt screen ideally with an LED or Transreflective display. Panasonic Toughbooks and the more affordable Lenovo ThinkPads do well in this regard. Laptop visors or sunshades can help screen visibility, though we have not yet come across an anti-glare film or screen filter we like (tending to reduce visibility or clarity as well as reflection, sadly). Try to test the laptop you're considering in conditions as close as possible to those you'll be working in.

If faced with dust, humidity or water, consider a rugged laptop, which is likely to have a better sunlight display, a longer battery life and be harder wearing than a standard laptop.

You'll probably also need a VoIP headset and don't forget to ensure you can get an ongoing supply of printer cartridges if you use those.

In Part 2 of this article, we will be looking at how to set up your home office, ensure you have the right Office 365 settings and dealing with culture shock, among other things.