In 2020, the world changed. As we emerged from the worldwide pandemic, things started to look a bit different. The very urban fabric of our cities was amid a metamorphosis; the change was all around us.
What was previously dine-in-only restaurants started flowing out onto sidewalks and promenades. From urban sidewalks grew vibrant eateries, reminiscent of Italian trattorias and French bistros – dotted along boulevards and parkways. Entire streets were changing into public spaces – all conveniently located right downtown. What started as a lifeline for struggling restaurants became a symbolic rebirth of how America viewed public space. Lively urban energy started flowing out onto the streets – but other changes were also happening inside the surrounding buildings.
Large office buildings, retail complexes, and professional centers were becoming empty. America (and the world) saw a mass exodus from urban centers as working indoors in communal environments became ever more challenging. The concept of some people working from home not only became a viable option – it became mandatory – for companies large and small. Countless professionals all across the country were presented with opportunities to reinvent the manner and place they worked, redefining the very place called “office.” With families reunited at home, the lines between work and home were blurred. Without an obligation to commute to or from work, new opportunities began to emerge.
Working from home caused working professionals and their families to question the definition of home. To make a living in our modern world, many decided to call home a place where they worked. Opportunities relocated too, away from cities that offered little more than financial stability, that required 1- to 2-hour daily commutes. But that all changed. Now, from the bedroom, to the kitchen, to the home office commute, families realized that the location of their home office offered more options than ever. We asked, “If we don’t need to live near the place we work, then where do we want to live? Since work has no bearing on where we live, where would we choose to live?” The reality of working from home transformed into working remotely.
In our modern world, working remotely is miraculously supported by a myriad of technology. Technology unites us and enables decentralized companies to operate as a unified network of individuals, all across the country, or even around the world. If the only requirement to where one works is access to the technological connectivity that supports us, then we now have an amazing opportunity! Access to a stable internet, a cell phone, and a laptop computer became the requirement for getting the job done. Naturally, lives were changing.
I started seeing friends and family move to places they love, instead of places they must commute. Highly coveted mountain and beach towns became attainable. After all, who wouldn’t want to live and work in a place they love?
For years, I lived in a travel trailer. I started Living Vehicle with my wife, Joanna, while living in a (you guessed it) a “living vehicle.” What began as an experiment became a very real day-to-day live/work reality of life on the road. Before LV, we had lived in all sorts of small and mobile spaces. LV was created from the very frustrations and missed opportunities we realized while living this lifestyle. While most mobile spaces were pretty adept at getting us around, they were lacking in simple, functional amenities. Although spaces were designed for recreating (hence the defining term recreational vehicle), they weren’t very proficient as full-time living vehicles.
So, we set out to design the hands-down best full-time mobile space possible. Our vision was laser-focused on supporting the day-to-day needs of a mobile lifestyle. We embraced challenges such as extreme climates, industry quality issues, the lack of storage, resource dependency, and above all, functionality. Ultimately, it was the simple and honest acceptance of the compromises we were making, no matter the mobile vehicle we called home. The lines between work, play, and live became even more blurred. All along the way, we discovered innovations, solutions, and alternative approaches to problems big and small.
The concept of a mobile office is nothing new. After all, grab a beach chair, a Mai-Tai, and your trusty MacBook Pro, and bam, you’ve got a mobile office. While this may be fine for a day or two, if you plan on embracing the concept of living and working a nomadic, freedom-focused lifestyle, I hope to shed some light on what makes a great mobile office experience and the considerations, along with the questions you should answer, to ensure you make the right decisions to support your best mobile office lifestyle.
Here is my list of the top 8 features to look for in the best mobile office.
This first category is pretty much an outright requirement. Assuming we have our minimum needs met to live day in and day out (food, shelter, air), these days the only way we are going to get anything done is by turning on a computer and logging in to whatever it is that connects you to do to the greater purpose of what you do. In our modern-day world, the only way we are going to stay connected to the behemoth business community around us is through technology. Computers, the internet, WIFI, printers and the like – they all need power. Some of us have more power needs than others. I recently met a professional living and working remotely, traveling in what was an uber high-end production studio. Home TV-sized flatscreen monitors, A/V equipment, and racks of computers enabled him to perform his craft, no matter where he was.
Whether you need a lot of power or a little, being able to run those important devices is an absolute necessity. Traditionally, homes on the go required to be either, A) plugged into a shore-power connection (think RV park or campground), or B) run a heavy-duty generator all day to supply electricity to the live-work needs of the home on wheels. Taking this a bit further, I highly recommend sustainable energy as a solution to power needs. Cut the cord and embrace quiet, clean solar power, stored in highly advanced lithium-based battery packs that will provide a rock-solid foundation to both capture and store power wherever you roam. Of course, there is still a place for 110-volt city power and generators, but those should be considered backups. If you’re looking seriously at a mobile office, then look for an off-grid energy system, and the bigger, aka more power, the better.
In our early days of working on the road, Joanna and I could work from nearly anywhere. We’ve held 4-hour conference calls from the cab of our truck, sat side-by-side at a 2-foot dining table as our daily office, and have even embraced working from bed. While all of these are suitable solutions, and yes – we were working, it wasn’t great and it certainly wasn’t sustainable. We were constantly distracted by the ebb-and-flow of the world around us. Our personal and business lives became so intertwined that business started taking over, and the live-work balance became non-existent. This discovery was a bit through trial and error, and we discovered the negative impacts first-hand.
A major issue about living and working from home is distractions. How many of us have been on a Zoom call with a child screaming, dog barking, or a random person walking in and out of the background? It’s nearly impossible to focus with all these distractions! When considering a mobile lifestyle, supported by a mobile office, these distractions become even more apparent. Living in a small space with new experiences every day brings challenges and great opportunities. It’s our responsibility to go into this lifestyle with our eyes wide open. I suggest a mobile office that is separated from the living space. If you live with anyone (a spouse, kids, pets) you will need a private, quiet place to sit down (or stand) to get any meaningful work done. Make sure the space where you will be working can be shut off from both sight and sound, and from the rest of your living space. Without this separation, it will be extremely difficult to get any work done.
Now that you have created a private, separate space to work, in order to work your best, you need to consider who else is traveling with you and whether their work needs to be conducted alongside your own or not. Of course, this requirement may or may not apply to you. If you are super private – single, with no pets, and no friends – then it doesn’t matter where you get your work done in your mobile dwelling. After all, the concept of your best work is exactly that. Whatever and wherever you get your best work done is what’s best suited to you. It doesn’t matter if you work from bed, the kitchen counter, or a purpose-built desk. Of course, I have discovered countless live-work issues to consider on a personal level. The concept of sleep and working from bed, for example, are ‘no bueno’ for me. I just can’t do it as my sleep is always affected. Nevertheless, you won’t have anyone to distract you, so more power to you!
For those of us who have other souls regularly enter our lives (spouse, kids, pets, friends) Let’s think back to our pre-2020 commute-to every day, 9-5 office job. When you went to work, did you bring your kids? How about pets? Did your spouse sit down across from you at your office desk, working on their own business, calls, projects? Chances are, that you went to work alone. Now, I’m not saying everyone is like this, and not everyone needs separate workstations. Personally, Joanna and I love working side-by-side. We’re in the same business, usually working on different tasks, but similar projects, and we enjoy a relaxed working relationship. That being said, there are always times we need to step away for a call. Sometimes, we put on headphones and get into that deep work state of mind. The way we work together doesn’t always require separate workspaces, but there are exceptions.
Whatever the case, I encourage you to look at your work-life carefully. Understand the type of design that will help you accomplish your best. I’m a big proponent of the concept of life by design – that’s where you objectively accept your reality (and who you are) for what it is. Only after you accept that reality, may you then design the best solution to cater to and support your lifestyle. If you need two separate workstations to get your best work done, you better make sure the mobile office you select has that feature included.
This point seems so darn simple, however, it’s often overlooked. After all, I love working from a lounge chair, a cozy bed, or taking a walk while on a call. Those times, no matter how great they are, are not the norm – they are my exception. If I intend to get any real work accomplished, I require a dedicated desk to get the job done right. While my 13” MacBook Pro comfortably perched on my lap will work out in a pinch, I prefer working on multiple monitors. While I work, drawings, notebooks, and Post-It notes abound--so I need space to spread out.
Joanna and I have discovered the power of the purpose-built desk. When you are looking for what you consider the best mobile office, consider first what your personal work needs are. Some good questions to ask include: How much desk space do I need? Will the desk fit one, or two people? Do I need equipment such as monitors, large computers, and other gear to support my work? Do I like working sitting or standing (or both?) So many things to consider! Whatever the case, the concept of knowing thyself is a great place to start. And start with a multi-functional desk that supports what you do.
As I write this, I’m sitting on a couch, leg up on a coffee table with a broken foot from chasing my little sister around snowboarding last weekend. Hey, we make it work, no matter our environment! The pandemic of 2020 taught us adaptability – that working from home is full of both challenges and opportunities. And with this brought new ways of working. It’s amazing to me how much I can accomplish on this tiny laptop. If I were to do this type of work – on a sofa – day in and day out – it simply wouldn’t work. From an ergonomic perspective, working on a couch, or from a bed is just awful. I’m crouched over with little lumbar support, wrists awkwardly strained upwards towards the keyboard, and head down looking at the laptop screen – straining my neck…ouch! As your everyday workspace, the mobile office must be well-suited to your comfort level and healthful ergonomics.
Like the high-end office workstation, the office chair is critical when setting up your workspace. Both comfort and correct body position are pretty important…who wants to be a cranky pants with an aching back after a few work hours just when you’re ready to have some fun? That folding chair may be good in a pinch, but I highly recommend investing in a good ergonomic office chair or even a stand/sit desk. To play nice with your small mobile office space, there are even some fine high-end folding office chairs out there with great ergonomic design and portability/storability for your area.
That mobile office is coming together! You now have a dedicated workspace (perhaps more than one), a desk, a comfortable chair, and no distractions. That dream of working off-grid after waking up to a sunrise over your favorite National Park is becoming ever closer by the minute! This sixth point is a simple one that is often overlooked, so here it is: ensure you carefully consider the amount of stuff that you need to get the job done right.
Think back to your office job, or when you worked from home during the pandemic. What stuff did you require at your workspace? Printers, tablets, books, and notepads. All the trappings of that downtown office space well converted and adapted to the live-work reality of life on the road. This is one of my favorite categories so full of opportunity. One of my favorite little devices is a mobile “all-in-one” printer, scanner, copier that is battery powered and fits in a small briefcase. There are countless solutions like this to support a mobile office. Whatever you require, I suggest you take an inventory of what your day-to-day work-life needs and write it all down. Wherever you can save space and find a “mobile solution” is highly encouraged – plus, this can be a lot of fun. Just make sure you have a place for everything in your mobile office with enough storage to keep things organized.
Thanks to massive amounts of digital data, WIFI is becoming more and more required for all types of nomadic professionals. High-quality, dependable internet is an absolute necessity. Even professions that work in an analog art form will still need to connect to the digital world to share their story. After all, what are you creating, and how are you selling your vision to the world around you? Chances are, at a bare minimum you will need email, along with the ability to send and receive large files. Depending on how valuable the internet is to you, there is a myriad of solutions to keep you connected.
Instead of LTE, 4G, or even 5G, I recommend using a WIFI and the wireless connection protocol for your devices when possible. Brick and mortar homes have already welcomed the connected internet of things with WIFI as the connection backbone. One or two devices using Bluetooth is ok, and there’s a place for that – such as a wireless mouse. Other than that, Bluetooth is not appropriate for a mobile office. Connecting everything and staying connected to a dedicated WIFI network is a wonderful solution. With a dedicated router, you will be securely and safely connected to all your devices while moving from place to place. The only issue then becomes providing a reliable source of internet to that router.
The three main sources of mobile internet are: 1) WIFI antennas to connect to nearby hotspots, 2) LTE and 5G data cards that provide cell data from nearby towers, and 3) satellite internet which is more expensive but also more and more available, wherever, whenever. If you’re like me, and I always need a reliable source of internet, it would be ideal to invest in all three sources and connect to a hub that delivers the best signal to your wireless router.
Again, opportunities in this area are plentiful. Whichever path you choose, and there are many, I firmly believe in the power of redundancy, which basically means having a backup in case your primary internet connection source fails.
Depending on the size of the mobile living space selected, you may need to get creative with your mobile office. This is a HUGE factor when considering the size, type, and style of your travel trailer, recreational vehicle, or whatever the form of your nomadic home may select. My wife and I have lived in all types of mobile spaces, and all with different sizes. The smallest space we called home for an extended period was a van, which was no larger than a small bedroom. Living and working out of this tiny space took quite a bit of compromise. Privacy was clearly at a minimum. If either Joanna or I needed to take a private call, one of us had to step outside, or stay inside and be very, very quiet. This space is much better suited for a single working professional. It was just too small to be compatible for the two of us to get our best work done.
The smaller the space, the more adaptable you will need to be. A space that serves only one purpose in a tiny home is effectively a waste of space. What will likely be your bedroom will also be your living, dining, and yes – the mobile office. There are many awesome solutions to convert from one space to the other.
In the Living Vehicle, I designed a folding Murphy-style bed system that has two workstation desks built right in. Folding down the desk keeps everything on the desk surface horizontal while the bed lowers. When you’re done sleeping and ready for the next workday it’s as easy as folding the bed away and all the desk stuff is still there right where you left it from the prior session of work. The point is to make sure it is very easy to convert from live to work and back again. If you need to spend 15 minutes putting away your bed and putting together some sort of desk space, not only will it be a tremendous waste of time, but chances are you won’t want to do it every day either.
The smaller your home is the more time you will spend converting from one function to the other. This is not inherently a bad thing, but just something to consider.
In closing, living and working while traveling can be a life-changing experience. I’ve finished workdays only to explore natural hot springs, world-class ski areas, and sunsets over some of America's greatest mountain peaks. Whatever form of work you do, I have found that being surrounded by the beauty of nature brings tremendous advantages to my state of mind, creativity, and task efficiency. Great ideas come easy, inspiration flows, and I am more focused in remote, natural environments.
With a carefully designed and thoughtfully executed mobile office, the natural world opens up. I look forward to seeing your very own best mobile office and the creative solutions that empower you to be your best self while creating your most inspired and outstanding work!