What I Learned About Business Travel on the Way to the Taj Mahal
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International business travel can be taxing -- physically, mentally and financially. But you're not putting demands only on yourself. You're also asking a lot from your mobile technology.
We recently returned from a three-week business trip to Delhi, India. With about 884 million cell phone users, the country is digitally advanced in some places. But in other areas, we found limited access to technology, as well as some security concerns.
We tested a range of strategies for getting work done from anywhere in the world -- even on a gridlocked car tour to the Taj Mahal. Here are four key lessons we learned:
1. Web phone options might not be reliable.
You might be tempted to try to avoid global roaming charges by using online alternatives. But there's no simple substitute for your mobile phone and the identity that comes with it.
One of the alternatives is Voice over Internet Protocol -- VoIP -- which routes phone calls over the Internet. VoIP applications include Microsoft-owned Skype and Sweden-based Rebtel. Although these services can work in certain circumstances, they require web or data access that may be limited or unavailable. Most VoIP options also require a second number or user name, which means clients and employees must be told to contact you using your international VoIP identity.
More often than not, VoIP didn't work on our trip. Calls went unanswered when company web phones could not be connected to the Internet either over cellular data connections or WiFi. Clients refused to answer calls from unknown web numbers. Often, our only choice was to make or receive calls using a known business phone number.
2. In-country data roaming options generally work.
For short business trips, in-country data roaming can be a convenient and potentially safer option than unfamiliar -- and possibly unsecured -- local wireless networks.
We used San Diego-based XCom Global, which rents personal wireless hotspots and USB modems to connect to wireless data networks in 195 different countries. What you get is on-demand, portable Internet access. You can rent modems by the day with unlimited data included.
But remember, you'll need to get set up for global data roaming before your trip. Check with your data provider to confirm you will have access in each country on your itinerary. If you simply assume your data plan will work, it probably won't.
3. Global cloud computing has its pros and cons.
Cloud-based tools such as Google Apps worked well for us when there was reliable web connectivity. But even then, many collaborative features didn't function. When editing documents in real time in Google Docs, for example, we noticed that our changes weren't being saved, some updates didn't go through, and keeping track of who had made changes to a file was difficult.
Consider bringing along computer-installed versions of all your work apps and documents, and know how to sync them with their web-based counterparts. For offline work, you will need to manage multiple versions of documents and distribute them to your team when web access is available.
4. Security must be a priority.
Depending on your travel destination, local Wi-Fi and shared networks may be risky. Generally, you should try to avoid unsecured networks in cafés and hotels where hackers could gain access to your company data.
If you do connect to a public network, access only your basic accounts, such as email, and avoid using the same password for different accounts. Don't handle banking matters, pay credit cards or interact with other web-based financial tools over public networks. Instead, rely on a spouse or trusted colleague at home if you need access to critical information. Even then, try to call from a secure cell phone to tell them what you need. When you return home, it's a good idea to change all of your passwords in case hackers got access to any of them.
Bottom line: Once you get the hang of how web and phone tools work internationally, you can travel abroad with much less worry about technology impeding or endangering your work.