Staying in touch while overseas

Whether you’ve planned an overseas work trip or find yourself accidentally trapped in an overseas airport thanks to an Icelandic volcano, it’s useful to have some tricks up your sleeve – or in your laptop bag – that can help you stay connected to your office back home.

With so many travellers experiencing unscheduled delays in recent months, there’s no excuse for not bringing as much communications equipment as possible with you on your trip. This won’t necessitate travelling with a telescopic radio antenna in your backpack, but it does mean bringing enough gadgets with you to stay connected with colleagues. So, what’s involved?

Remote Communication: Be prepared

If you need to edit documents or files when you’re away, make sure to bring a laptop or netbook (mini-laptop) with you. Make sure your device is Wi-Fi enabled so that you can connect quickly to the internet and use the free Wi-Fi access that many hotels and airports provide.

If you only need to send and receive a few emails when you’re overseas, then consider using a PDA or smartphone as your main connection device. These devices allow you to access email, surf the web and send text messages. Higher data costs will likely apply, however.

If you need to make telephone calls while overseas, get your hands on a good headset. This will allow you reap the benefits of low-cost VoIP or internet telephony via your notebook.

If you don’t have any internet-enabled equipment with you, you could try using a local net cafe, but be aware that there are security risks involved in entering passwords on an overseas computer – the most immediate risk being that hackers may have installed keylogging software on the cafe’s computers with the aim of stealing passwords.

So, consider setting up a temporary password for your email or corporate system that is only to be used in such emergencies. Then, as soon as you have finished accessing your email or other password-protected service in a foreign net cafe (and ideally before you leave your place at the machine), call your office and get a trusted colleague to change the password immediately. That way, even if your password has been stolen by a keylogger, a new password will be in place, so the hacker won’t have a chance to get into your email or other company sites.

Being prepared involves more than having the right equipment available. Before travelling, try to find out what kind of internet access will be available at your destination. Is high-speed broadband available? Is electricity – and consequently internet access – available 24 hours a day? Try to find out whether the hotel has office facilities with internet access, telephones and other business equipment. And try to budget in advance by finding out how much these services cost.

Remote Communication: Wi-Fi

Most hotels offer free Wi-Fi, but you will likely have to pay for the service if you’re trying to connect to the internet at an airport.

Remember that while some airports have booths where you can purchase Wi-Fi credit with cash, many – if not most – don’t offer this service. There’s no point in bringing the technology if you don’t have a means to pay for internet service overseas, so make sure you bring some form of credit or debit card with you.

Most dongle-based Irish broadband services will work overseas, so these can be used to connect your laptop or netbook to the internet if you’re stuck in a foreign airport. But remember that you will have to pay extra data charges on top of your monthly subscription to avail of these services. So, if you want to avoid a hefty bill at the end of the month, use this service sparingly when overseas.

Remote Communication: Voice over IP

Voice over IP (VoIP) systems allow you to place voice calls over the internet. This is a convenient and cost-effective way to stay in touch while at a remote location. VoIP telephony will work wherever you have a broadband connection.

Perhaps the best-known VoIP solution is Skype. If you purchase a country subscription, you can obtain a computer-based ‘landline’ number, which means that customers and colleagues can reach you – wherever you find yourself in the world – by dialling what looks like a standard local landline number.

In reality, when they dial your Skype number, you receive the call on your laptop or netbook. But as long as you have a decent headset and a broadband connection, they will have no reason to suspect that you are not in fact at your desk in your office. And, if you call another Skype user from your Skype software, the call is free.

Remote Communication: Email

Yahoo, Hotmail and Google provide email applications that can be downloaded to an internet-enabled mobile phone, allowing you to access your email from any location within mobile coverage.

Consider setting up a temporary email account with one of these providers before you begin your trip. You can get your regular email temporarily diverted or duplicated to your new web-based address, so you don’t need to inform contacts of a change in your email address. Remember to test the service before you travel, so you can tweak any settings from the comfort of your regular office.

Remote Communication: Remote desktop

What if you haven’t got a laptop or netbook with you and you need to access files on your desktop?

Consider software like GoToMyPC – remote access and desktop control software that allows you to access your files from anywhere with an internet connection. You can use this software on your smartphone or internet-enabled mobile device.

You could also try Microsoft’s Live Mesh software, which enables you to synchronise your files across all your devices, so that you can access your desktop from any device or web browser. Depending on the capabilities of your phone, however, your file-editing options may be limited.

With the growth of Wi-Fi and broadband, staying in touch with colleagues when you’re overseas is becoming easier. But you can definitely ease the process by bringing the right equipment with you and by staying alert to the extra costs and possible security risks involved.

This article originally appeared in the eBusiness Live newsletter from Enterprise Ireland’s eMarketing Unit and was written by ENNclick.

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