Meet the Modern Small Business Road Warrior

Road warriors carry their offices with them, using a wide range of portable devices to connect with the home office and enhance presentations.

Once upon a time, sending an employee on a road trip meant cutting all contact with the office outside of phone calls. Delivering presentations meant transporting cumbersome posters, slides, and other materials. Negotiations with a potential business partner were limited by the information the employee had on hand. The business road warrior’s effectiveness was severely limited.

Not so today. Mobile devices allow a new generation of road warriors instant access to the home office, no matter where they may roam. The modern road warrior works at the airport, in hotel rooms, and in coffee shops. The office remains a central location for data and information, but your employees no longer need to be physically present.

Gadgets and Gizmos

The road warrior travels with a small arsenal of electronics. Notebooks, once the weapon of choice for on-the-road work, now face stiff competition from smaller, more easily transportable tablets. Smartphones have become so commonplace they hardly count as road warrior equipment any more, although a true veteran of the road would just as soon leave home without pants than without his phone.

Backing up the powerful tablet/smartphone combination are a host of electronic peripherals designed to make the road warrior’s life easier and more productive. Here are a few popular choices our tech associates couldn’t live without:

  • Portable mouse: Touch screens are wonderful and notebook touchpads are functional, but sometimes you need the feel of a good-old-fashioned mouse. A small travel mouse with a USB receiver lets you move your cursor without taking up much room in your carry-on luggage.
  • Noise-Canceling Headphones: coffee shops, airports, and airplanes (especially airplanes) are loud, distracting environments. Noise-canceling headphones allow you to stay focused on your work, or simply chill out with some tunes without the constant whine of the airplane engine (or the five-year-old in the seat behind you).
  • Pocket Projectors: while tablets are great for one-on-one presentations, pocket projectors allow you to make presentations to a full boardroom. Most miniprojectors have long-lasting batteries, hold several GB of data, offer Wi-Fi capabilities, and yes, fit in your pocket.
  • Portable Battery Packs: Power outlets are like police, taxis, and jelly-filled doughnuts — they're never around when you need them. Universal battery packs contain enough power to run a laptop for several hours. Some models include USB ports to charge small devices, and most weigh in at under a pound.
  • Mini-scanners: small enough to slip into a wallet, a mini-scanner lets you scan and organize the many business cards and expense receipts you collect on a road trip. Plus, there’s a certain flair that comes with pulling a scanner out of your pocket that says, “Yeah, I'm a real road warrior.”
  • Smart Pens: for those meetings when you don’t need a laptop, smart pens allow you to take notes and make audio recordings. Smart-pen software can create PDFs of your notes and translate handwriting into typed text. 

Security on the Road

Road warriors, and the companies they work for, have to consider security on the road. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones attract thieves, both for the physical device and the information stored within it. Wireless networks allow for on-the-go access, but they’re also vulnerable to hackers.

The canny road warrior takes precautions with mobile devices. Thanks to cloud computing, travelers don’t need to store sensitive data directly on electronic devices; instead, they travel with as little as possible on their hard drives and download important files at their destination.

Despite all precautions, sometimes devices containing sensitive information do go missing. Tracking services can help recover stolen laptops and other devices, and even allow for remote device wiping (think of it as a kill switch for errant electronics).

If you’re using Wi-Fi at an airport or other public venue, make sure you connect to the right Wi-Fi. Hackers sometimes set up fake Wi-Fi networks and record everything that passes through the network. The names of these fake networks usually look similar to the legitimate network, so check all connection names carefully.

Working with a Mobile Workforce

A traveling, telecommuting workforce brings many advantages to businesses. Road warriors can greatly increase a business’s range while remaining productive team members. The company that hires telecommuters needs less office space and saves on utility costs. Telecommuters and road warriors usually provide their own computers and portable devices, which saves the company equipment costs.

A remote workforce requires some special considerations and company policies. Employers may find it difficult, although not impossible, to track remote employee work hours. As a rule, productivity is deemed more important than regular hours with both road warriors and telecommuters. If the job gets done, and gets done well, it doesn’t really matter if the employee prefers to work odd hours.

Employers should develop clear, specific mobile-security policies for their road warriors. Without a well-thought-out security plan, multiple portable devices connecting to the office network through public Wi-Fi connections is an IT nightmare just waiting to happen. A stolen laptop filled with sensitive business and client information could spell disaster for a small company.

Road warriors are, largely, an independent-minded bunch, but they should still have to conform when it comes to company security policies. At the very least, your company needs to insist that all portable devices used by road warriors support remote data wipes and strong security passwords.

Employers should maintain a list of all devices a road warrior uses to connect to the home network. When an employee leaves the company, access to the network needs to be revoked immediately. A disgruntled ex-employee with access to your data systems can wreck havoc on your network. Beat them to the punch: define your small-business mobile-security policy today.

Road Warrior Revolution

Mobile devices may cause some headaches in the IT department, but the road warrior brings too many advantages to ignore. The ability to instantly communicate with the home office, access files from cloud storage, and deliver high-quality multimedia presentations to remote clients make road warriors a powerful business force. Long may they roam.

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