Best tools for remote working
Besides the thrill of being your own boss, one of the most appealing parts of going freelance is the ability to work from anywhere – whether that's a home studio, your favourite coffee shop or on a beach sipping a cocktail.
As WiFi hotspots spring up everywhere and laptops get lighter, this dream is increasingly becoming a reality. Working remotely as a freelancer comes with its own set of challenges, of course, but with the right equipment you can face them head on.
So read on for our guide to nine of the most useful tools for remote working as a freelancer...
01. Lightweight laptop
MacBook Air (2019)
A super-lightweight laptop is a must when you're working remotely
Weight: 1.25kg | Size: 30.41 x 21.24cm, height 1.56cm | Processor: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8210Y | Display: 13.3-inch Retina True Tone | Memory: 8GB of 2,133MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory | Storage: 128GB PCIe-based onboard SSD | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 617 | Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 3.5mm headphone jack
Let's assume you already have a decent-quality smartphone and tablet. If you're on the move a lot, a lightweight laptop is the most essential item on this list. No one wants to be lugging too much weight around if you can avoid it, and every pound counts.
Provided you have a decent-sized monitor, or separate desktop machine in your main office space, then it could be worth sacrificing screen real-estate and ports to slim things down as much as possible.
For the perfect balance of power and portability, you can't go too far wrong with Apple's latest MacBook Air. Until recently the neglected stepchild of the MacBook family, the Air's finally been shown some love over the past year or so, and it's the ideal laptop for putting in a bag and taking anywhere. It's super-lightweight at 1.25kg, its Retina True Tone display is a joy to look at, and while it's no powerhouse it's suitable for most everyday design tasks.
If you need more ports, power and screen space, upgrading to a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar will double the weight as well as the price.
But if price is no object, Microsoft's 2-in-1 Surface Book 2 packs considerable punch, so you can tackle the most demanding tasks on the move. The 13.5-inch version weighs in at 1.5kg (3.3 pounds), making it a fair bit heavier than the MacBook Air, but you don't need a separate tablet of course. The 15-inch version is slightly heavier than the equivalent-sized MacBook Pro.
Dubbed the "best laptop money can buy in 2018" by our sister site TechRadar, Dell's XPS 13 is fast, with a stunning screen and exceptional battery life of up to 22 hours. Plus it weighs just 1.2kg (2.7 pounds), not much more than a MacBook.
The battery life alone could swing it if you're going to be working somewhere really remote – MacBooks can only boast 10 hours of wireless web use, after all – although the next item on our list could help with this.
02. Battery pack
Anker PowerCore 20100
Don't run out of juice when you're out and about
Weight: 354g | Size: 16.6 x 5.8 x 2.2cm | Battery capacity: 20,100mAh | Number of ports: 2 | Included cables: Micro USB
There's nothing more frustrating than hunting for a power socket to charge your phone, tablet or laptop, only to be tethered to the same spot while your device charges. Or worse, fail to find power at all and watch helplessly as your battery ticks down to zero.
You may already carry a small power pack to give your phone an extra boost of juice when it needs it. But if you work remotely a lot we recommend investing in something with a bit more clout, such as the Anker PowerCore 20100 power bank. This slimline battery pack comes with a pair of 2.4 Amp ports enabling you to charge two devices at once, and if they feature PowerIQ or VoltageBoost technology then it'll charge them up incredibly fast.
It's lightweight, but its 20,100mAh capacity means it has enough juice to charge an entire laptop, or to recharge your phone multiple times; it's lovely low price seals the deal.
03. USB-C hub
HyperDrive 5-way USB-C hub
Solve all your 'single USB-C port' woes with this essential extra
Weight: 325g | Size: 8.4 x 2.8 x 0.84 cm | Ports: Turns 1x USB-C into 1x USB-C, 1x SDXC, 1x mico SDXC, 2x USB-A | Colours: Silver, Space Gray and Gold
That single USB-C port on the MacBook has caused controversy and frustration for some, and you need to consider the trade-off with weight and portability if you regularly use a lot of USB peripherals or need easy access to SD cards, for instance.
Fortunately, there's a useful way to tackle both these problems in one on the move, with an all-in-one solution. The HyperDrive 5-way USB-C hub, for instance, plugs into the MacBook's USB-C port and give you two USB-A ports, an SD and micro SD slot, as well as a USB-C port that supports pass-through charging.
HyperDrive also makes MacBook Pro versions – the jewel in the crown being an 8-way hub that features two USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, an SD, a micro SD, a 4K HDMI and a 4K Mini DisplayPort.
For style-conscious designers who insist that all accessories coordinate, the hubs also come in silver, gold and space grey to match your MacBook nicely.
04. Mobile WiFi hub
Huawei E5770 Mobile Wi-Fi hub
When you're on the move a lot, 'MiFi' helps keep you connected
Weight: 185g | Size: 10.6 x 6.84 x 2.25 cm | Battery: 5200 mAh | Speed: LTE 150 Mbps DL / 50 Mbps UL | Interface: microSD card, ethernet port
If you find yourself working in stations, hotels, airports or coffee shops it's pretty unlikely that WiFi won't be available for at least a short spell, although free public WiFi certainly has its fair share of security and reliability issues.
To prepare yourself for regular remote working, or heaven forbid the coffee shop WiFi going down, it's worth investing in a Mobile Wi-Fi (or MiFi) hub such as the Huawei E5770. It comes with its own microSD card slot and Ethernet port, and the 4G/LTE Cat-4 model offers you up to 150Mbps on the fly.
This stylish unit has a meaty 5,200mAh battery that Huawei claims can keep up to 10 devices connected for 20 hours, although at over £130 it's not a cheap bit of kit. Make sure you'll be spending enough time working outside useful WiFi zones to justify the expense.
05. Coffee maker
Ensure a good cup of coffee wherever you are
Weight: 408 g | Dimensions: | Capacity: 0.5 litres | Material: Plastic
Let's get serious for a minute. Sometimes it's the little things that can make a big difference to the remote working experience. For example, getting a decent cup of coffee. If you're working in coffee shops then this shouldn't be a problem – although it can prove expensive – but if you're in-house or in a co-working space then things get risky.
Some places go all-out to provide good coffee, while at others you might find cheap instant, or a shared coffee machine that people forget to refill, or make the coffee far too weak or too strong. It's a minefield.
Avoid caffeine disaster by investing in an Aeropress, a gloriously simple little device that'll make you a perfect cup of coffee every time; all you need is your favourite ground coffee and access to a kettle. It even comes with its own bag, so it's ideal for taking with you anywhere.
06. Noise-cancelling headphones
Sony WH-1000XM2 headphones
Get peace and quiet with these noise-cancelling headphones
Weight: 275g | Compatibility: Bluetooth 4.1 | Battery life: Up to 30hrs | Inputs: Micro USB, Stereo Mini Jack
Remote working will often require being surrounded by the general public, as well as all manner of other noisy distractions to disrupt your work.
Bring some inner calm to your working life with a decent pair of noise-cancelling headphones. They're never cheap, but if you need to concentrate then they're well worth the investment. Our favourites right now come from Sony; the WH-100XM2 is an excellent pair of wireless cans with support for aptX to give you hi-res audio over Bluetooth, and strong noise-cancelling that'll block out a lot of lower-frequency sound.
They're not the most exciting-looking headphones on the block, but the build quality's great; you might not get on with their gesture controls that enable you to tap and swipe on the earcups to adjust volume, track selection and so on, but we got on just fine with them And with up to 30 hours of wireless playback on a single charge, they won't let you down in the middle of the day.
07. Portable wireless printer
Canon Pixma iP110 wireless mobile printer
Great bit of kit if you need to print important documents on the go
Weight: 1.95kg | Size: 38.3 x 18.5 x 6.3 cm | Connection: WiFi or PictBridge | Max resolution: 6,000dpi | Max speed: 9 pages per min | Sheet capacity: 50 sheets | Wireless: Yes
Need some last-minute physical printouts while working remotely, that simply can't wait 'til you get back to the studio? Whether it's a crucial pitch document before heading to see a client, or a hasty portfolio update, it could be worth investing in a wireless mobile printer so you can nail it on the fly.
One great option is the Canon Pixma iP110, which is small and relatively light (twice the weight of a MacBook at 2.2 kg / 5 pounds), and can connect via WiFi or USB to your laptop, tablet or smartphone. There's a 50-sheet paper capacity, and it can print surprisingly high-quality photos.
08. External SSD
Adata SD700 1TB SSD
This extremely rugged external SSD will take whatever's throw at it
Weight: 75g | Size: 8.35 x 8.35 x 1.39 cm | Capacity: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB | Write speed: Up to 430MB/s | Interface: USB 3.1
One of the tradeoffs of a lightweight laptop can be storage space, with 256GB or 512GB SSD drives the only options to choose from on a MacBook, for instance – although you can upgrade to 1TB on a MacBook Pro or Surface Book 2.
Having a fast, lightweight and durable external SSD drive with you on the move can not only expand your available file space but also provide you with a drive to regularly back up your laptop as you go, rather than waiting 'til you're back in your studio.
If you're constantly stuffing your laptop in and out of your bag, giving it a battering while you're on the road, and putting it on display in public places, you also can't afford your work on the built-in SSD to get damaged or stolen.
Adata's SD700 is an IP68-rated external SSD that's suitably rugged for all scenarios: dustproof, waterproof and even military-grade shockproof. It comes in three sizes up to 1TB, and is lighting fast at 440MB/s.
Beware if you're using a MacBook, however: there's no USB-C connector, so as with many MacBook accessories, you'll need an adaptor. A great USB-C alternative is the G-Tech 1TB external hard drive, which while it doesn't have the speed of an SSD, or the durability of the SD700, still offers up to 130MB/s.
09. Virtual Private Network
The best all-round VPN network on the market
Number of servers: 3,000+ | Server locations: 160 | Maximum devices supported: 5
Finally, if you're working remotely in public places you can't be too careful when it comes to security and data privacy. Using a MiFi hub rather than public WiFi is a good start, but setting up a VPN network is even better. Check out Creative Bloq's guide to the best VPN 2019 for a full rundown of options.
Thanks to its speed and enterprise-standard encryption, ExpressVPN is our current favourite VPN service. It boasts support for practically every device you can think of - even Blackberry - and its click-to-start option makes it incredibly easy to set up. You can always edit your preferences later on if you want a little more control.
If you run into difficulties you'll find that ExpressVPN's customer service is second to none, with a reputation for sorting out problems efficiently and cheerfully. And while you can find services that support more devices, its maximum of five (increased from the three it used to offer) should see you right in most situations.