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Survival Guide: Working on the move

Most commuters will doubtlessly find travelling to work a nightmare even at the best of times. If you live in London then the journey means daily torture as you fight for breathing space on the tube, while suburban commuters have to besiege the capital by way of the impenetrable M25.

This year though, for the duration of the 2012 Olympics, many Londoners are being given the chance to explore a better way of working. We can, our bosses tell us, work from home if we choose to - rejoice!

As anyone who's ever had to work at home before will confirm however, telecommuting isn't actually as liberating as it sounds. On the contrary, it usually spells a rapid decline in productivity, social skills and personal hygiene - and the only way to offset this downward spiral is to find a new office space until normal conditions resume...

A Rolling Stone

The first step towards finding a new, temporary office, though, is to identify what your requirements are. Pop culture may tell us that we only need to head to the local Starbucks - and isn't there always a local Starbucks? - but the reality is that that's only a suitable venue for some people. If your work requires a hefty Wacom tablet or if you know you can't concentrate without absolute silence, you need to look elsewhere.

That's not to say that coffee shops are inherently unsuitable. Personally we've spent a lot of time happily typing away in the Camden Coffee House, but if your local caffeine emporium doesn't have decent phone reception or insists on fashionably uncomfortable tables, you should look elsewhere.

Instead, public libraries may represent a more reasonable venue for evicted office workers, provided that you can do without shouting down the phone every five minutes. Not only will there be Internet access and enough quiet to let you focus, but there'll be printing and photocopying facilities too. The only downside is that the coffee typically won't be as good, but you can't have it all.

Or can you? If you've got the willpower to stay focused on the work then pubs and bars can represent a happy medium between the sociality of a cafe and the daytime quiet of a library. Plus, not only will the furniture be a lot more comfortable, but the price of a cappuccino may be a lot more reasonable too.

Whichever type of venue you settle on, you'll want it to be close to you - there's no point abandoning your commute to the office if you're just having to drive to the pub. It's here that resources such as Time Out's Wi-Fi map come in handy, allowing you to check out nearby purveyors of free Internet access and hot/cold beverages.

Once you've chosen somewhere close by you'll want to check out a few basics, such as where the plug sockets are and how long the staff will let you hang around before pressuring you to buy another coffee. You should pay special attention to the security of the Wi-Fi connection and how busy it gets throughout the day too, as both digital attacks and opportunistic theft will be a real worry.

You're not totally reliant on the venue itself though, as there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself when working on the road. Most modern laptops are compatible with A polarised privacy screen will prevent shoulder surfing, while a Virtual Private Network (VPN) will keep out the most determined efforts to steal your data.

Beyond that it pays to never leave your gear unattended too, so, given that you're probably going to be working on the road for a few weeks at lleast, you may want to pick up a decent laptop bag. The varying dimensions of laptops make it impossible to recommend specific products, but we've had good results with Crumpler bags in the past. Bear in mind you'll need extra space to store webcams, a mouse and a mobile phone charger in addition to your laptop cables.

Making it Work

Now that you've found somewhere comfortable and suitably social to work out of, the tough part is going to be actually getting anything done. Even in a library you'll find there are plenty of distractions from the tedium of your everyday work - like the entire Science Fiction section, for example. How will you make yourself get on with your job when there's a brand new copy of World War Z downstairs waiting for you?

It's important to bear in mind that the standard tips for working at home may not work as well in a public place. When you're at home, it's often a good idea to introduce regularity to your day, for example, but out and about that's not always possible. You can't guarantee that you'll be able to get a seat with a table in most coffee shops, let alone take any further control of the environment.

Instead, it can pay to adopt a more competitive attitude to work and to seize on the advantages of your new office. Setting yourself regular targets throughout the day and then rewarding yourself with a cupcake or a fancy latte will provide the motivation to keep you focused.

You might want to use the public nature of your temporary workplace to as an inspiration to change how you work in other ways too. If your regular office has a laid back atmosphere, for example, then wearing a shirt and tie can help you take yourself and your work more seriously. It never hurts to look smart when you're out and about.

Of course, it's not all about the work. Make sure you take regular breaks to get up and move around, rather than staying at the same stool all day. The entire point of working in a public place is that you won't end up as lonely as you might if you were stuck at home, so talk to the people around you when you need to recharge.

Making the effort to stay in touch with your colleagues too will often reap dividends for your career, as it'll keep your colleagues abreast of what you’re doing and ensure you aren't considered a recluse by your bosses once the Games are over.

Meeting up in person is obviously the best way to stay in touch, but videoconferencing is a viable alternative when that's not possible. Any decent laptop will have a webcam built in as standard, but better models can often be found online quite cheaply. Either way, Skype will probably be the best way to stay in contact - it's free and supports text messages for quick conversations, as well as full videoconferencing.

In fact, there's a whole selection of free services to help you stay in touch with your colleagues as you work. Dropbox, for example, lets you effortlessly share files and folders among teams - though the 2GB limit may not be enough for all lines of work.

If you need to sync more than 2GB of data, there are alternatives to Dropbox, many of which offer 5GB or more of free storage. One such option is LogMeIn’s recent entry to the market called cubby. As well as 5GB of cloud storage, cubby lets you synchronise an unlimited amount of data directly between computers. You can also tag any folder for syncing, rather than having to move everything into the single sync folder.

Google has entire suite of tools worth mentioning too; Google Docs is a lightweight alternative to anything MS Office offers, for example. If you’re a stalwart Microsoft Office user though, don’t forget that there’s a suite of Office web apps available too, so if you haven’t got the full version of Office on your notebook, you can still get work done.

Whatever software you opt to use though, it usually pays to stay away from social networking sites if you can. Twitter and Facebook are great for staying in contact outside of work, but when your boss can't see you, the temptation will be strong to spend more and more time on these services. Bear in mind that while your supervisors can't physically see you wasting time, they may be able to notice a drop in productivity. There's no point comfortably telecommuting for the duration of the Olympics if you're not going to have a job in the office when it's all over.