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Capstone Works, Inc. has been serving the Cedar Park area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Awesome Tips for Working From Anywhere (While Still Being Secure) - Part 1 of 2

Awesome Tips for Working From Anywhere (While Still Being Secure) - Part 1 of 2

Whether your job puts you in the office, on the road, or the comfort of your own home, being able to work effectively from nearly any environment can give you an edge. While everyone will have slightly different needs, not to mention preferences, we decided to have a little fun with this and talk about some cool gadgets that you might not realize even exist, and some ways to get more out of the devices you already have when it comes to working remotely.

What’s the Simplest Remote Setup?

Depending on what your day-to-day responsibilities are, as well as what sorts of applications you need access to, you might be able to keep your carry-on extremely light if you are traveling for work. Let’s take a moment to look at the simplest, smallest way to do basic computing tasks without hardly packing anything that weighs more than about half a pound.

Your Modern Smartphone Might Be a Laptop Replacement

One of the most underutilized features of most Samsung Galaxy smartphones is called Dex. Dex is a mode on most modern Samsung smartphones and tablets that give you a desktop-like experience. It’s designed to allow you to connect your device into a docking station or directly into a monitor with a USB-C to HDMI cable. From there, you can wirelessly connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and essentially treat your phone like a PC.

There are some caveats; it’s not a traditional Windows computer like you might be used to; it’s using your phone’s Android operating system, but the interface will let you open up multiple applications, drag and resize windows, and utilize an actual physical keyboard and mouse. If you don’t like editing documents and typing up emails on your phone’s touchscreen, this can be pretty handy.

You don’t necessarily need a wireless keyboard or mouse either—with a simple USB-C dock or hub, you can plug in a traditional mouse and keyboard as well. Plus, since all of the data is on your smartphone or tablet, you aren’t relying on a sketchy public computer to check your work email.

That said, packing a small travel mouse and a folding Bluetooth keyboard means you can break out your travel workstation from anywhere, especially if you are working from a Samsung tablet.

If you do want to go all out, you can get a lightweight portable screen to give yourself up to 15.6 inches of display real estate. If you already have a smartphone that supports Dex, but don’t want to shell out the money for a tablet, this combination quickly gives you some nice value and portability. It will generally still be lighter than most laptops, but we understand if this starts to feel like a little overkill.

Who/What This Setup is Good For:

  • People who already have Samsung devices or a modern iPad/iPad Mini.
  • Those who need to check emails, edit Office or Google docs, browse the web, and consume media.
  • Those who don’t mind hooking up cables or pairing Bluetooth devices for a pretty lightweight setup.
  • Those whose smartphones fall under their organization’s mobile device policy, as it provides a more convenient means of working.

Where This Setup Falls Short:

  • Using specific applications that only work in a Windows environment isn’t possible unless you remote into a separate device, which might get laggy.
  • Smartphones are powerful devices, but not as powerful as a laptop.
  • Portable keyboards never feel quite as good as laptop keyboards or full-size keyboards.
  • Unless you have a screen to hook up to, you’ll be limited to your smartphone screen.

The Verdict:

  • Great for those who need to travel light, or just need to take some notes and check some emails but would rather use a keyboard and mouse than tap on a screen to type.

Low-to-Medium-Cost Non-Windows Devices (Tablets and Chromebooks)

A quick disclaimer here: when we say “low-cost,” take it with a grain of salt. This category could quickly go from a few hundred dollars for a reliable, but somewhat limited travel device, to a premier device that falls into the price range of a mid-range laptop.

What you gain from this tier is portability. It’s not quite as easy as tucking a portable keyboard and mouse in your bag to pair up with your smartphone, but most of these devices are going to be thinner and lighter than your typical work laptop, and won’t need the big heavy power brick. This is a good tier for the traveling salesperson or consultant who needs a reliable device to take notes and do work from between client conference rooms, but maybe doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of a full-fledged laptop. There are some shortcomings though, and we’ll get to that.

What kinds of devices are we talking about? Modern tablets and Chromebooks, mostly.

The tablet market sort of experienced a recession over the last decade. For a time, there were a ton of high-end options of Android and Windows-based tablets, but it’s been tough to really differentiate them from ultra-light laptop PCs, which tend to be much more functional. In our opinion, it really wasn’t until Samsung’s last few generations of their Galaxy Tab series where an Android tablet really found its niche—otherwise it was just a big, heavy smartphone. 

The last few generations of the Galaxy Tab product line bring extremely powerful tablets and relatively comfortable keyboard covers. Samsung really pushed hard to compete with the other big player in the tablet industry, Apple with their iPad Pro. The iPad Pro has also evolved a lot over the years, and while both of these options are pretty expensive, these are premier tablets with a lot of power, long battery life, and a lot of capabilities. With keyboard covers or Bluetooth keyboards, and Bluetooth mice, you can give yourself a laptop-like experience in a package that is much easier to travel with than a typical laptop. 

On the less expensive side of this tier are Chromebooks. This has been a staple for a lot of schools, especially throughout the pandemic. A Chromebook is more-or-less a low-cost laptop that doesn’t run Windows, and instead runs an operating system based around Google Chrome called ChromeOS. They are great for editing documents, checking email, and consuming media, and ChromeOS has thousands of extensions and apps similar to Android. 

Considering you can pick up a low-end Chromebook for under $200, it’s no wonder why this is a great option for students, but don’t expect the same power and capabilities of a typical laptop. It’s great if your business uses Google Workspace, and you can run Microsoft Office applications and use most cloud-based applications that run in a web browser. That being said, a low-end Chromebook will likely be slower and less capable than an $800 Chromebook, so once you get to the point where you are starting to spend laptop money, you might decide you want to just start shopping for a laptop.

The same shortcoming exists throughout this tier though—none of these devices run Windows, so if your organization relies on applications that only run in Windows and can’t run in a browser, you are out of luck. 

Who/What This Setup is Good For:

  • Great for checking emails, editing Office or Google docs, web browsing, and media consumption.
  • They’re thinner and lighter than a laptop, and more capable than your smartphone.
  • Depending on your organization’s device policies, you may be able to protect these devices to ensure security for your staff.
  • Great for businesses that fully rely on cloud apps that run in web browsers.

Where This Setup Falls Short:

  • Using specific applications that only work in a Windows environment isn’t possible unless you remote into a separate device, which might get laggy.
  • The higher-end devices start to cost as much, if not more, than a decent laptop.

The Verdict:

  • Great for light office work without being heavy or bulky, perfect for taking notes, checking emails, editing documents, and doing cloud-based work while on the go.

Windows Tablets and 2-in-Ones

For those of us who really don’t want to venture too far from Windows when it comes to getting work done, there are options for ultra-portable devices that combine a thin form factor with the operating system we’re all used to using every day.

Let’s face it—learning a new operating system like Android or iOS takes time, and when you really need to crack open a device and get working, you might not want to compromise. As far as costs go, this tier is much closer to shopping around for a laptop, but you also get the capabilities (more or less) of a laptop. You’re mostly just paying a little extra to pack it all into a smaller device.

The most common devices that fall into this category are the Microsoft Surface line, but plenty of laptop manufacturers have their own take on the device. The important differentiator of these devices compared to the tiers we listed above is that these are full-fledged Microsoft Windows-powered devices. They run the same operating system you use on your workstation, so they are just as capable of running all of your work applications, provided they have the specs for it. 

This means that a typical office worker who needs to edit spreadsheets and other documents, check email, and plug information into your CRM can get by with a lower-end model, and someone who needs to do photo editing, video editing, or AutoCAD will need a much higher-end model (or should probably stick with a high-end laptop).

Either way, this tier has some range, with prices running from a few hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars.

Options range from devices that come with keyboards that fold back, giving you a tablet-like experience, or devices with removable keyboard covers, to straightforward laptops that are just extremely thin and don’t need a massive power brick. The screens tend to be touch-sensitive, and many models even have the option of a pen for taking notes, marking up documents, or sketching ideas. This really is the “sky-is-the-limit” tier.

While the higher-end of these models does get pricey, you are paying for the convenience of the best technology crammed into the smallest, lightest space. There’s also a bit of the awe-factor; a salesperson or contractor or consultant who unfolds a high-end Surface Pro in a conference room starts to get used to getting asked about their device. They just look premier.

It’s sort of like having the nicest wristwatch and sleekest briefcase, but for technology—it makes your representative look impressive

Who/What This Setup is Good For:

  • As long as the device meets the specifications, they can essentially handle any task any worker would throw at it, until you get to the top tiers of video editing and CAD work.
  • This tier is known for good battery life, good performance, and good portability.
  • Great for businesses that fully rely on cloud apps that run in web browsers, but can handle running virtually any application you would use at your office.
  • This tier can replace a desktop for remote workers, while still serving as a great travel device.
  • Since these devices run Windows, they can completely fall under your organization’s security umbrella with absolutely no limitations or caveats.

Where This Setup Falls Short:

  • This tier can start to get as expensive, or even more expensive, than similarly configured laptops—you are paying for premium hardware and portability.
  • Some tasks are still more effective to run on a higher-end laptop or even a high-end desktop, like working on complex CAD files, video editing, and development.

The Verdict:

  • While very portable, this tier tends to aid itself to being more functional than those above, and could replace a laptop or desktop for remote workers, especially those who still need to travel or commute.

Making the Right Hardware Choices for Your Business

Whether you are equipping your staff with devices for a remote or hybrid setup, or you want to ensure that your sales team has everything they need when on the road, the biggest two factors a business owner should be concerned with are security and access. Here are four major considerations to break this down:

  1. A device that travels is much more likely to get lost or stolen than a desktop computer. 
  2. A device that travels is much more likely to be connected to public Wi-Fi at hotels, airports, convention centers, other businesses, and coffee shops.
  3. A device that travels needs safe, secure access to company data and applications.
  4. A device that travels needs to still be governed by the organization’s security/device policies for protection and accountability.

Depending on the type of device, and whether or not the business actually owns the device or not, you have a few different ways of protecting your business information.

In our next post, we’re going to talk about how to secure these devices so you can prevent data loss if one is lost or stolen, ensure that your staff is meeting company and industry-level compliance requirements while working remotely, and much more. 

If your organization needs help purchasing hardware for your staff, and need a little advice when it comes to navigating the massive number of confusing options and devices, definitely give Capstone Works a call at (512) 343-8891. We’re here to help!

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