Work From Home (or Anywhere Else) on Fridays

working-from-couchAbout a year ago, I started blocking off Friday on my calendar, calling it a “writing day.” Apart from the odd court date I have no control over, that block of time is inviolable. I use my Fridays to work from home (where I am right now), catch up on reading material, write briefs or blog posts, or catch up on administrative tasks.

It took a little bit of ingenuity to make sure I could get everything done from anywhere, but here is what I use to keep my office functioning on the move.

Remote access to files

In order to get things done outside the office, you must be able to get to your files. I use Dropbox to sync files between my office computer and home (and to my law clerk’s computer, for that matter).

All mobile files—any that leave the office, really—whether on a laptop or flash drive, must be encrypted. This is a rigid policy at my firm.

Warning: TrueCrypt is not secure. See this post for details and information on migrating to Bitlocker or FileVault.

Fortunately, encryption is easy to do. I use the built-in Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption on my laptop. My law clerk uses Apple’s built-in FileVault on his Macbook Air. You could also use TrueCrypt, if you do not have one of those programs built into your operating system. (You need Windows Vista Enterprise or Ultimate for BitLocker, and same will be true for Windows 7.)

Getting phone calls from anywhere

Some Fridays, I want to be able to answer the phone. I use Skype at the office, so it is easy enough to use it at home, too. I have a Philips VOIP 080 handset that I enjoy using, but you can find Bluetooth headsets, wired headsets, and many other options.

Call quality varies, but I get excellent call quality nearly everywhere, including the occasional coffee shop crowded with other web workers.

If you are not using Skype at work, you could just as easily forward your work phone to your Skype account or mobile phone on Fridays—or just wait until Monday to check your messages.

Wireless printing

Working from home is no fun if you are tied to the printer. I use a Netgear wireless print server so that if I need to print a letter or brief draft, I can hit the print button from the backyard.

Setting it up is a piece of cake. I finally got around to reconnecting it this morning, so I just did it again. Netgear includes an easy-to-follow walkthrough that mostly involves plugging in your printer, the print server, and your computer to one another so they can all say hello.

Total cost of all this technology, not counting the laptop: about $200 to set up, and about $100 per year, if you get all the premium features of Skype and Dropbox.

So next Friday, get thee out of thy office and onto thy porch!

Edit: my home-office assistant just reminded me how important it is to have a home-office assistant:


A home-office assistant is critical to your home-office productivity and Friday happiness.

(photo: Plutor)


  1. Aaron Street Aaron S. says:

    Josie looks totally uninterested in answering any Skype calls for you today.

  2. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    She is totally fired up for lunch, though.

  3. Avatar Towle Neu says:

    Thanks for the tip on wireless printing. I need to get this set up on my system.

  4. Avatar Danny Johnson says:

    Rather than having to sync your files, wouldn’t it be easier to use a SaaS dms such as NetDocuments? (And I apologize for the shameless product pimping)

  5. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    For starters, because NetDocuments appears to require access to the internet if I want access to my documents. That is not always an option. Also, uploading and downloading documents is a royal pain. I don’t want to have to do that, even with a fancy Office plugin (which, since I do not use Office, is useless).

    For another thing, NetDocuments wants $20/month for a measly 3GB of storage. That is more than double what I pay for Dropbox for 50GB.

    I would be interested in seeing more of NetDocuments, but from what I can learn from the website, it does looks far less convenient than what I am using now.

  6. Avatar Danny Johnson says:

    If your law firm does not need a document management system and simply uses the Windows folder structure, than I agree with you that a solution such as Dropbox is simpler and cheaper.

    However, if your law firm has more complexity and employs a DMS, it seems redundant to use a solution such as a Dropbox to access files remotely. A a web based DMS would combine the benefits of a file syncing tool with the features of a document management system, as well as remove the need for a file encryption program.

  7. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    Danny, I don’t think anything in your comment addressed my concerns: internet access required, uploading and downloading required, Office required for integration, and price.

    At a certain size, a document-management system can help “dummy-proof” document management—if people use it. But there lies the rub. All document-management systems introduce additional complexity and steps to the process.

    Most firms of most sizes could just as easily (1) set up a document procedures manual and train employees to follow it, or (2) introduce a document-management system and train employees to use it.

  8. Avatar Danny Johnson says:

    In my briefest form possible, I will respond to your concerns.

    Internet Access Required: First, I will assume that most people have internet access at home and work (which is also necessary for VOIP and Dropbox), but if your internet happened to go down for a time, you could enable your echo drive, which is a drive that temporarily stores your most recent documents to your PC.

    Uploading and downloading: This is extremely simple with Check-in/Check-out functionality that automatically opens your word processor whether it be MS Office, or an online app, and is no more complicated than opening a file from off your hard drive.

    MS Office: If you do not have office, you can use an online editor such as Zoho.

    Price: As I stated in my previous comment, a document management service may not be wanted/needed for smaller firms and solo practitioners, and if that is the case, than your Dropbox/file encryption recommendation is very good. However, many solos and small firms, as well as most mid sized to large sized firms, use a DMS and the lawyers are used to the functionality/benfits of a DMS. If this is the case, a SaaS DMS is cheaper and simpler than a legacy DMS, and offers anywhere access of documents (from any computer), as well as business continuity without the complexity of adding solutions such as drop box etc.

    “All document management systems introduce additional complexity and steps to the process”

    I’ve already written too much, and do not want to debate the value of DMS, but I will say that SaaS document management systems ultimately eliminate “steps to the process” and allow attorneys to focus on law, rather than writing manuals and performing hard ware maintenance.

    I will end by saying I always enjoy this blog, and wish I was currently at home doing working with my dog Roxy by my side.

  9. Avatar K. Eckerle says:

    Great post. I’m a location independent professional (virtual assistant/paralegal) who travels and works from my RV — my assistants are 2 Giant Schnauzers and a small parrot. Some days they are more helpful than others! But they do make sure I get my daily exercise!

    Good techie suggestions. Plan to send this to some of my solo clients!

  10. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    Today has been a fantastic work day, if you want to know.

  11. Avatar Nordrum Law says:

    As an animal lawyer, I have to tout the benefits of working with your esteemed assistant:

  12. Avatar Bob Striker says:

    I am trying out a product called Nomadesk which seems to meet most of your desires,
    Sam. It creates an encrypted virtual drive on your computer which is available whether or not you have internet access. It will sync across computers when you do have internet access. Another strong selling point for me is the fact that you can wipe the drive remotely if your laptop is misplaced. Pricing seems pretty reasonable – $50/year for a single fileserver (i.e., drive) and account or $15/month for an unlimited number of user accounts.

    I’m still in the 30 day trial period, but I will probably go with the $50/year account when I’m done.

  13. Avatar Donna Neff says:

    A great idea and a great blog to share with all of us. Thank you! For about ten years now, I, too, have blocked off a day a week when I work from home (or the cottage in the summer). In my case, it is Mondays that I am not in the office. I appreciate the detail that you’ve provided in your blog and will check into a couple of things that you’ve mentioned. Our home internet (DSL) connection is very unreliable (apparently due to very old and frequently-spliced Bell lines which Bell refuses to upgrade). If the ground is wet, the connection is intermittent at best. So Skyping is out for now. Am considered a wireless connection (Rogers rocket stick) to use from home but wonder if it will be any better, especially if there is unsettled weather. I’ve heard that can affect the connection. In the meantime, I work from home and thoroughly enjoy the peace and quiet, the dog at my feet, the cat competing for my lap with my laptop and time to focus on complicated writing. I get a great deal done. Just have to ensure that I have all the client electronic files (we went paperless three years ago) that I need in case the link is down. I recommend this idea to any lawyer, solo or otherwise. It is worth doing and your staff will get used to it (as will your clients).

  14. Avatar Clayton says:

    I’m a big fan of using Google Desktop for searching old files. Anyone found out how to do this with Dropbox (or an alternative)?


  15. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    Just install it and search your files. Dropbox syncs files to your computer, so you can find them with Windows Desktop Search, Google Desktop, or whatever you prefer.

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