November / December 2003  Volume 29, Issue 8
ABA Law Pracice Management Magazine, November/December 2003 Issue
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"How I Support My Habits of Working Differently"
Sky-High in the Virtual Office
Wendy R.London
Perhaps there’s some synergy between writing about “new ways of working” and being all tucked up in Seat 6B on the Sydney-to-San Francisco-to-Washington, D.C. flight. Which is exactly what I’m doing, courtesy of the virtual office I’m carrying in a brilliantly designed backpack from Spire.

This office-in-a-bag holds my laptop, my two cell phones, my PDA, my digital camera, all the cables, adapters, battery chargers, cards and plugs I need for all that electronic gear and more (including clothing changes for long flights).
It all keeps me working, productively and time-zone independently, while I’m on the road, or in the air, and away from my home base in New Zealand. Here’s how I do it.

SIM City International. I have my New Zealand GSM cell phone, which works in most places in the world, except for the United States. (GSM, which stands for Global System for Mobile communications, is a leading digital cellular system and the de facto standard in Europe and Asia.) I can get local GSM phone rates in a specific country using a prepaid SIM card, which is a postage-stamp-sized chip that snaps into the back of the phone.

For example, when I went to Italy earlier this year, I purchased a SIM card with an Italian number so I could ring people around Europe more cheaply than by using call roaming back and forth to New Zealand. And I could also pop the SIM card into the wireless GSM/GPRS card in my laptop so I could use a local Italian number to dial into my ISP (CompuServe) to surf the Net and collect my e-mail.

In the United States, I use AT&T’s new GSM network and keep a $20 (US) monthly contract payment in credit, thereby giving me access to that GSM network whenever I am in the States.

Plus, my iPAQ Pocket PC has a “sleeve” that has a slot for my GSM/GPRS card. I also have a keyboard that I can attach to the iPAQ. Result? I can use my iPAQ to surf the Net and collect my e-mail, too.

Never leave home without It. My laptop is the center of my traveling universe. Even more so now that I can access e-mail in the air. Before I left on a recent trip to Hong Kong and Europe on Cathay Pacific, I set up an account with Tenzing, Cathay’s in-flight e-mail service. I was able to access and send messages from 37,000 feet, during all four 12-hour sectors.

Wait, 48 hours of airborne e-mail means there has to be 48 hours of power! No, I don’t carry around a ton of Lithium-ion batteries. The best travel purchase I’ve ever made is a cable that goes from my laptop to the power supply in my business-class seat. The cables are widely available from a variety of sources that specialize in mobile computing, and even from some of the airlines.

Surfing in a foreign land. It’s great to have the devices for staying connected in the virtual world—but what if you can’t get the actual connection? For wayfaring tenants of airline lounges near and far, here are some work-arounds if you have trouble accessing your ISP:

  • Find any Internet-connected computer in the world and go to It’s the best invention since sliced bread. Key in your full e-mail address and your password and, voilà, you’ve accessed your mailbox. Two drawbacks: (1) Since you won’t have your addressbook, you need to take a printout of important addresses with you and (2) because you’re on someone else’s PC, you want to remember to copy yourself on messages you want to keep, and to download them onto your PC when you get home.
  • Roaming, which isn’t only the domain of mobile phones, is another option. For example, in New Zealand I have access to a toll-free number to an Internet service called XTRA, which I connect to through Microsoft Outlook. XTRA has a roaming agreement through iPASS, a global roaming service. (Check with your ISP to see who its roaming partner is.) The free iPASS software, which I’ve downloaded to my laptop, contains a comprehensive directory of countries and cities, with a list of phone numbers for participating ISPs in those cities. If I don’t want to connect through CompuServe (or can’t), I can connect to one of those numbers and collect my e-mail as I normally do, using Outlook.

As I look around on my flight from Sydney, the cabin looks like the demo suite for Circuit City or Best Buy. Tray tables fully extended, workaholics fully awake and laptops humming merrily on full airline power. Connected whenever and wherever we travel.

Wendy R. London (, a technology lawyer and legal IT consultant, is Director of Client Management International Ltd. (CMI Legal) and London Consulting Ltd., in Hawera, New Zealand. She is also Director of Legal Affairs for the Amsterdam-based Customer Marketing Institute.