With more and more people working from home, Jeff Zbar spotted a potential new trend: the portable office. A Florida writer who loves travel, Zbar says every entrepreneur should find time to set off on the open road with family in tow.
But must business skid to a halt the second the door of the RV slams shut? Not when most of what can be done in a home office can easily adapt to the highway.
"I'm taking my office with me in an 18-inch-by-18-inch cube," Zbar, 43, says. "It's not about replicating your regular office--you can't sell it as a vacation and then work the entire time."
Called a "mobile workmate," Zbar's portable office is a wheeled case with telescoping handle and a place for everything: laptop, cords, GPS--all the necessary tools that can be stashed out of sight when it's more important to be fishing with the kids or playing in the sand on the Jersey Shore.
To prove it can be done, and to turn a little profit, Zbar embarked July 5 with his family of five on a four-week road trip he calls "Home Office Highway."
Zbar's wife, Robbie, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and children, Nicole, 16, Zachary, 14, and Zoe, 10, joined him on the almost 3,000-mile trip up and down the East Coast in a rented RV.
He's demonstrating his mobile office--and tricks he's learned after 19 years working from home--at various stops along the way. He's also giving out his tip-filled booklet, with advice to those new to the concept of a working vacation, or "workation," as Zbar calls it.
Zbar projects he'll at least break even because he'll continue to work and because Office Depot, Verizon Wireless and RV Sales of Broward, a Florida-based business, are sponsors. Zbar says while on vacation he'll be working about 30 to 50 percent of what he would in a normal week.
Jerry Ross, executive director of Disney Entrepreneur Center (DEC), in Orlando, Florida, set up a seminar there for Jeff on July 24. DEC provides business counseling, networking opportunities and seminars for small-business owners.
"As a small-business owner, doing business on the road or on vacation is a necessity, and any opportunity to improve the process can produce huge benefits," Ross says.
Ross often works from the road and likes the appeal of an extended RV trip.
"I would love to have a little more room for my laptop, BlackBerry and my chargers. I had to hunt for electrical outlets all over the airport this weekend. My phone kept running out of battery, and the lady next to me in the airport kept reading my blog writings from my laptop screen," Ross says.
"Having a RV office would assist me in being able to stay in contact by having the technology always handy--not in the overhead bin--and always ready to go."
Traveling in Style
Pablo Camus, vice president of marketing at RV Sales of Broward, says the business began promoting portable offices in December and has sold eight RV offices. His clients include a chiropractor, a beauty salon owner and a president of an entrepreneurial association.
"We can really pimp it up and remodel the interior," Camus says. Some use the RV exterior to promote business or rent it as a billboard.
"I wish I would have thought of this before when I had my mortgage company. I was paying rent of $8,600 for my office per month," Camus says. "For that amount I could have had three or four top-notch motor homes and had my brokers driving around town."
Mike Gast, vice president of communications at Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA), says five years ago well under 20 percent of customers traveled with a laptop. Now, more than 50 percent do. Most of KOA's campgrounds have free Wi-Fi.
Gast says there's a "subculture of people in transportable jobs" such as nursing, construction and seasonal service or hospitality workers who move a lot. "And because of the cost of housing, they stay in the campground," he says.
Zbar says it's all about personal work style when it comes to adapting to a mobile office.
"This concept is going to be alien. Don't think, 'Hop in the car Monday, and launch my business Monday.' No, you're not--not if you're going to be successful. You want to start by getting comfortable." he says.
The best way to do that is get used to working from home before attempting a working trip. Then branch out to coffee shops, libraries and parks. For Zbar, who has worked from home since 1989, there's less of a learning curve. For others, it's seeing if your work style is adaptable to a non-office atmosphere.
Family Members as Co-Pilots
Zbar acknowledges for some families working on a vacation is something akin to roadtrip sacrilege--groans can be audible and tension palpable when an entrepreneur packs a briefcase. That's why he told his family--as well as his clients--"it's not a working weekend."
And he's sure to rely on family for support so working from the road doesn't start to feel like a drag. His family members are veteran GPS-users and even help determine must-see sights along the route.
His family doesn't seem to mind the mobile office concept.
"I think it's great," Robbie Zbar says. "It allows us as a family to take vacations without the interruption of incoming income. As long as we are doing more vacationing than him working, we are all good."
Robbie's family took a six-week road trip each summer, operating hockey rinks in Canada remotely.
"If they could make it happen back then, anyone can now," Jeff says. "The world is open for exploration. The true lesson learned here is that people will discover what they're capable of if they just give it a shot."