For a number of years now I have successfully managed to volunteer abroad and keep the business running as usual very easily. I thought I’d share my practical business tips on how I do this, as I prepare to depart on my next assignment.
Being a highly organised person I find this easy but communication is still important. Discussing upcoming projects with clients and how they can contact you while you’re away eliminates any issues/or concerns of potentially being unavailable. However having said that I receive calls from clients that had no idea they had called me in Laos (an undeveloped poor country surrounded by rich neighbours).
Written communication such as email is effective as generally there is 3G or WiFi everywhere – I purchase a local SIM loaded with data. In addition to email, some people contact me via WhatsApp or Viber if it is more urgent as the notification is more noticeable. However I check email regularly and often reply directly from my mobile phone.
What about when I need to provide support on the client’s server or desktop? I usually connect directly from my laptop or even my phone (if it’s after-hours) using secure Remote Desktop apps. It is the same as being based in New Zealand. And even from Laos this is very reliable and fast.
Ok, but what about when someone needs to go onsite. There are these moments, not very often but that is when having other consultants on the ground is important. We use a support email address and on-line system for client’s to send or log a problem. We then all are notified so the client’s problem is resolved within the usual time frames.
Talking is something people seem to do less and less, with many preferring to email or log issues. However our VoIP phone system allows people to call me in Laos just be using my local NZ number. There are some free/cheap VoIP systems available for single lines as well and you can assign a number to your Skype account which may be a good solution for a business with a single line. This is very simple, with WiFi or 3G my mobile rings whenever my office phone rings. Likewise I can call anywhere in NZ from Laos as if I was sitting in my office. I can speak with collogues by ringing their extension. This is a real advantage – free phone calls to most countries in the world. Then there is always WhatsApp etc but business client’s don’t often this so not having a local number would be a barrier to business.
There is a 5-6 hour time difference. I do get the odd call at 3am Laos time. That’s just part of being available to clients. The monks start banging their temple drums at 4am anyway so it’s not a bit deal. If I am volunteering in class and unavailable the phone rings my colleagues in NZ, just as sit does under normal circumstances. So it is very seamless, easy and effective.
Accessing clients systems is taken care of remotely but what about access to and working on my own files? I am constantly working on client files and documents and my own time-keeping system etc. This all sync’s via Soonr – a secure cloud storage and file sharing system. If I work on my laptop, phone or desktop back home everything is updated and in sync. Totally seamless and a life-saver. When I work on a Word document or file in Laos, I save it in and in a second it is saved via Soonr to the cloud. Sometimes I email a link to the file (or whole folder) to clients so I can also easily share files and databases.
I use Trello at home and abroad to manage projects, my current work and tasks. It is web based and such a breeze to keep myself organised. So everything I am working on is available to me when working from Laos. It takes seconds to jot down a note and schedule it to be done.
I have thousands of passwords of my own and clients’. These are stored encrypted and against sync’d. I can access them on my computer or phone so everything is right at my fingertips. I recommend KeePass for this, Lastpass is another good option.
This small toolbox of goodies allows to run a business, keep everyone happy and fulfil my volunteer work all at the same time.
See my list of useful apps for other great tools, many are free apps. If you are interested in working smarter see my Getting things done board which is packed with heaps of other apps to help you plan, manage your time or business and communicate effectively.
See my blog about my work in Laos.
If you wish to support us fundraise to ship children’s clothing and laptops to Laos in August, you can make a small donation here. I have $847 left to raise.