Mobile work can be an extreme sport these days. Mike Elgan frequently posts photos of his “office of the day” to his Google+ account, where he also writes about his life as a digital nomad. Elgan’s offices include numerous cafes and rooms around the world. Benjamin Robbins works in more mundane settings, but takes mobile-only to the extreme. Robbins uses only a smartphone and accessories instead of “old-fashioned” (my words, not his) tablets, laptops and desktops.

Solo mobile work: Mostly solved

Most tech professionals long ago mastered the basics of mobile work. Today, we want our gear to instantly turn on, weigh nothing, have a long battery life, and include high resolution touch screens. We want voice and image recognition, along with incredibly fast Internet access. Teleportation would be nice. (Yes, I’m aware that quantum entanglement currently works only in lab settings.)

Working solo while mobile is pretty much solved. We manage our email and calendars, and create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations easily. We can get work done on the go today.

Collaborative Mobile Challenge: Sound

However, in some ways, working with other people while mobile, remains challenging.

Talking to people while mobile is one problem. Noise-cancelling technology in phones and headsets has improved to the point where much background noise can be masked. Noise cancelling is also moving into laptops: Google included noise cancellation technologies in the Chromebook Pixel. Effective speakers and noise cancellation technologies give us the ability to hear and to be heard.

Sound can make mobile work challenging.

Another problem is that these conversations can be heard by people around us. While mobile, there are few private places to have a conversation. Conversations in hotel rooms or cars are moderately private. But coffee shops, hotel lobbies, and most other places lack privacy. People can hear your conversations.

Some co-working places make “private phone rooms and booths” available. We need more phone – and video-conferencing – booths in hotels and coffee shops everywhere! If someone were to invent a working “cone of silence”, that would solve the problem, as well.

Collaborative mobile challenge: Shared thinking

The second major challenge with collaborative mobile work is sharing documents, notes, and ideas. In small groups, this isn’t a problem – simply show people your laptop or tablet screen. In meeting rooms, this isn’t a problem either: there’s usually a projector.

Mobile brainstorming solutions compete with a pen, paper and smartphone camera

But how to replace the projector or whiteboard when you are mobile?

One way to do this is to create, and then share a Google Document with participants. To share a Google Document to people without Google accounts, do the following:

  1. Click the blue “Share button” in the upper right of a Google Document.
  2. Change the sharing permissions to “Anyone with the link.”
  3. Choose whether “Anyone with the link” can Edit, Comment or View. (For brainstorming, I suggest you give participants either Edit or Comment privileges.)
  4. Click “Save” to preserve the sharing settings.
  5. Then, copy the link displayed in “Link to share” box.
  6. Open a new browser window or tab. Go to Paste the copied link in the box to obtain a shortened link.
  7. Share this link with your meeting participants. They can now type the short link into a browser and join you in editing – or commenting on – your Google Document.

(See my detailed article on how to do a this type of sharing with a Google Spreadsheet.)

Alternatively, is a browser-based alternative to paper – or a napkin. The service provides a virtual whiteboard space that works well for brainstorming or illustrating ideas. Conceptboard integrates with Google Drive and Google+ Hangouts. Conceptboards provide “persistent” spaces: think of it like a whiteboard that isn’t erased and that you can access anywhere.

Finally, in a pinch, you can still use paper. Write or draw on paper, then take a photo with your smartphone’s camera to capture your work. Share the image with the participants. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best!

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