Debra Dinnocenzo knows a thing or two about how to stay connected—and how not to stay connected. The co-author of Dot Calm: The Search for Sanity in a Wired World, Dinnocenzo offers some expert advice on staying connected during summer travel: don’t bother. “Your vacation may end up being an im-
portant memory for you and your entire family. The
e-mail and teleconferences that interfere won’t mean much 10 years after the vacation.”
Well, sure, I get her point. But what if I have to stay connected? According to Jill Bratina, a director in the high-powered Austin, Texas–based PR firm Public Strategies, the key to staying productive while being away starts before you leave. “It’s all about setting guidelines, both personally and with your employer,” she says.
Fortunately, technology keeps making it easier and easier to stay connected. While some bemoan this trend as evidence of the erosion of society, Bratina has a different perspective. “I can remember the frustration of being on a ski lift with reporters calling me, or on a bike ride with the cell phone going off,” she says. “But it sure beats the alternative of being tied to a desk. I’d rather take a conference call
on a deck in snowy Lake Tahoe than not be able to take the ski trip at all.”
“While it may not necessarily be healthy to work all the time, having the option to work when I need to significantly reduces my stress level,” says Ken Denman, CEO of wireless technology provider iPass. “If I know I can be connected and be productive wherever I’m going to be, the thought of taking time off or making a trip to the hinterlands to get a deal done is much less stressful.”
Perhaps the most interesting trend about staying connected isn’t how fast and powerful the new devices are; rather, it’s the explosion of choice among devices with widely varying capabilities. When you pack those bags for the islands, you’ll not only have to decide between the black and brown sandals, but also which device to take. Here are some travel tips to make getting away more relaxing.
1. Prepare in advance.
Depending on how connected you need to be, you’ll want to look into whether or not your hotel features rooms with Internet and wireless connections. Denman has traveled to Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore, Frankfort and Paris, among other locales. “At any of those places, I’ll stay at an iPass-enabled hotel,” he says. iPass’ product offers remote workers the ability to connect securely to their corporate network in more than 150 countries. Basically, it serves as an IP on-ramp and off-ramp.
“When I sit down at the desk in the hotel, I’ll use my wireless connection and launch my iPass client,” Denman says. “I don’t have to make a choice about buying access by the day or by the hour. I simply launch iPass, and now I’m connected behind my firewall. At that point, I’m in power. I’ve effectively recreated my desktop, but more than that, because I have an IP session going.”
2. Take advantage of “down time.”
Time spent on planes and trains can be wasted, especially if the in-flight movie is the latest Rob Schneider “comedy.” Bratina would rather catch up on some work, leaving her free to pursue other interests once she arrives. “I’d like to have the wireless card through Sprint that allows you to be connected even when a Wi-Fi canopy isn’t available,” she says. There is nothing worse than being stuck at an airport for two hours and not being able to get online, or taking the train from D.C. to New York and wishing you could hop on the Web and do some research.”
iPass and other similar services are expanding their already vast networks to include train stations, conference centers, airport concourses, bookstores and even restaurants and coffeehouses. Why sit idly, waiting for a flight, when you can check your e-mail from the airport concourse? “Our service is very predictable,” Denman says, “because we have venues with names you know: Starbucks, Kinkos and Borders Books & Music. Our users go around the world, and they know they can get connected.”
iPass recently completed a deal with Boeing, under which the service will be live on some long-haul flights, which will allow people to be connected at broadband speeds. “We’re working very hard at understanding where enterprise users want to be connected,” Denman says. “We are in the neighborhood of 22,000 venues in our service today—more than 20,000 of which are Wi-Fi venues. The wireless footprint is growing dramatically and will continue to do so.”
3. Create your own travel profile.
Denman thinks in terms of three kinds of travelers: those who just want to stay aware of what’s going on by monitoring phone messages and e-mail; those who need to stay in “always-on” mode; and those who will need major document handling capabilities. For each type of traveler, there are multiple options.
“What more people are finding out in this very powerful BlackBerry tool age is that the pain comes in when you’ve got to deal with attachments or information that is not conducive to several lines of text,” Denman says. “That’s when you creep over to what I call the knowledge-worker space, where people have to engage with the form factor of information. They’re receiving information and attachments where you need the look of the spreadsheet or another voluminous document.”
For example, PDAs are great for receiving information, but they don’t offer the ability to create much. “That’s where laptops and notebooks are increasing in importance over time,” Denman says. “The core group of knowledge workers around the world have to be productive wherever they are. They need to be able to effectively take their office with them to do their job well, and they want to be able to recreate their desktop wherever they are in the world. You can’t do that with your thumbs.”
New, faster laptops and notebooks are not only enabling workers to stay connected while traveling, they’re also changing the nature of office-based systems. Denman says that fewer companies are buying PCs for all their workers. “We’re hitting an inflection point, and the driver is wireless broadband pipes,” he says. “Being untethered but still having broadband speed is changing the shape of the data and information people want and how they might use it.”
4. Pack as few carry-ons as possible.
Phone providers in particular are catering to travelers who want to consolidate devices. Scott Lingren, head of product marketing for Nokia Enterprise Solutions, says that many of the company’s customers are looking for the device that will give them the perfect blend of professional and personal productivity. “People’s lives are hectic,” he says. “They have to juggle personal time with work time. Being able to have capabilities that give them real connectivity to the enterprise, all in one device, is what people are looking for. They want to move away from having multiple devices and being only partially connected.”
Nokia offers all-in-one tools such as the 6682 and 9300 smartphones. The 6682 is a camera phone that allows users to create and organize a running diary—a Lifeblog of images, videos and messages—that they can share from their vacation. Attachments allow for e-mail connectivity and the use of Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
“A 10-megapixel digital camera you leave at home has no value to you,” says Lingren. “This crosses that line from just being a zippy phone to a really great companion.”
The higher-end 9300 is small in size but not in stature. It has a full keyboard and wide color screen. It seamlessly combines voice features and office applications, including e-mail and document management. Both devices offer the ability to connect to the Internet.
“With these tools, you’re able to live that flexible, mobile lifestyle, so you can be connected when you want to,” says Lingren. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re not trying to push the 9300 or any other device as laptop replacements. But if what you need is to make and receive phone calls, get e-mail, process attachments and get to the Web securely, and that’s what you use your laptop for 90 percent of the time, you can probably go to a single device and get one-stop shopping.”
More along the lines of pure entertainment is Sony Ericsson’s W800, which does triple duty as a mobile phone, a high-quality digital music player and a
2-megapixel camera. “Anyone looking to streamline their digital entertainment lifestyle into a single device without compromising battery life will benefit from the W800,” says Jan Wereby, corporate executive VP and head of sales and marketing for the company. The phone stores up to 150 songs, about 10 to 12 full-length CDs.
“The key is getting everything all in one package,” says Lingren. “It’s nice to see it all coming together.”
5. Consider the power of voice.
“With all the talk of e-mail, security, information and such, voice is still the number one business and personal application,” says Nokia’s Lingren. “I know that seems like a minor point, but if you don’t believe how important really strong voice is, just talk to people who have perhaps more e-mail–intensive devices, and they carry a second phone.”
Subtle digs at BlackBerry aside, Lingren says that his travels take him to Europe and South America, among other places. “I’m all over the globe, and being able to turn on a phone like the 9300 and have great reception, five-way conference calling capability and a speakerphone—that’s huge. It crosses that line where I don’t have to have my
laptop with me every day.”
Public Strategies’ Bratina, though, still swears by her BlackBerry. “It’s an essential part of my work existence,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many instances an e-mail with critical information has reached me just before a press conference, in an area where cell phones weren’t working. Or how many times I landed after a flight to have all the details necessary to brief a client or a superior. It’s been a complete lifesaver more times than it has been an unwelcome reminder of the work world.”
6. Don’t get “over-connected.”
“One of the challenges to a relaxed vacation is the temptation and increasing tendency of people to take their work with them on vacation,” says Dinnocenzo. “The problems we experience in our day-to-day lives of “over-connectedness” makes a stress-free vacation a real challenge. If it’s critical to participate in some work-related activities—and sometimes it is—try to do so during times that don’t interrupt family activities.”
One way to do that is to keep in mind that your vacation isn’t just a perk for you—it’s a productivity booster for your work. “You’re helping yourself and your business or employer by giving yourself a break,” Dinnocenzo adds. “Why let the work interfere with the opportunity to recharge your batteries, reconnect with your spouse and establish a special bond or memory?”