10 Tips: Remote Working from your Car

I’ve been working remotely and outdoors since 2003. Here are the best ways to get started working from your vehicle.

Photo: Nick Baker via Unsplash

1. Manage your Power

Unless you have a 120 inverter, your AC plugs aren’t going to work, so I would be sure to charge everything overnight to get a good long working session. Make sure your vehicle’s battery is in good condition, and if you’re charging stuff a lot from the car, consider getting a car “battery tender” to keep the car battery in good shape when not in-use.

2. Leave the Driver’s Seat

Don’t sit in the driver’s seat—you’ll soon find yourself battling the steering wheel. If you have a large rear seat, that usually offers more privacy, but also moves you away from your vehicle’s controls. I tend to use the front passenger seat most often. #protip: Tint those front size windows as dark as is legal in your area for privacy.

3. Be Connected

I almost always need to be connected to the internet for my job, so I typically tether to my phone. I make sure I have a decent phone plan that lets me do this. (At the time of writing, I’m using T-Mobile’s Unlimited plan on an iPhone 7 Plus.) You can spend a fortune for satellite internet if you’re really that remote, but you probably don’t need it.

4. Be Healthy & Supplied

I make sure to bring a large thermos to hold 20–30 ounces of coffee while I’m working, and some healthy snacks like nuts and fruit. Eat healthy, because how you feel is a large factor in your success. Get out at least once an hour to stretch & exercise. You’ll get more productive hours in when you feel good.

5. Use your Mobility

With a car as my office, I can work from nearly anywhere. I like 4WD vehicles because I can get into the mounatins a bit. I can go even further if I don’t need the internet, so I try to group tasks that don’t require a connection and spend a few hours in the mountains. I try to move to a few different spots each day for a change of scenery and fresh inspiration. Get off the beaten path and explore to maximize results.

6. Nap Time

Sometimes I like to recharge with a nap, which I try to time right after lunch. In most vehicles I’ve used, I can flatten a length of seats to let me lie down nicely. Some cars have nice enough passenger seats to recline for a quick nap. If it helps you get in the zone, bring a pillow and blanket, or play a soothing track on the car stereo. (Again, privacy is key here, and a windshield sun-shade works wonders for that.)

7. Get a Lap Desk

This is the most transformative $15 I ever spent. Get yourself a lap desk! I use this one from Amazon. Lap desks keep both your laptop and your legs cool, and improve ergonomics so you can keep working in comfort.

8. Maintain your Vehicle

Making sure your AC is charged up, everything’s working, you’ve got plenty of fuel and the vehicle is tidy and reliable really improves the experience. A clean working space will help you stay relaxed (as will having a reliable vehicle).

9. Use your Vehicle’s Features for Work

If your vehicle has a sweet sound system with Bluetooth, connect your phone or laptop to it. Get a good cigarette USB charger (I use this one) to keep your mobile devices juiced. A Bluetooth-enabled stereo can be great for taking calls… and while charging, you can deeply integrate with your mobile phone by upgrading to a stereo with Apple CarPlay (for iPhones) or Android Auto (for Android phones).

10. Outfit your Vehicle

To really go the extra mile, get a 120w power inverter so you can charge your laptop. Alternatively, store a Goal Zero Yeti 400 in the back and keep it charged with roof-mounted solar panels. Crappy stereo? Upgrade it to a Bluetooth-enabled version (and get a good microphone for taking calls). Boost your mobile phone’s reception with a roof-mounted signal booster, and do your ‘coverage’ research when choosing phone plans. You can even run a 12v refrigerator for those summer months. Side window deflectors let you ‘crack’ your windows for a bit of ventilation—even while it’s raining—which is great for napping. If it’s cold, a 12v seat heater works great (I use this one).

If the weather is changing a lot, I like to bring my folding chair to use outside with my lap desk. If you’ve got a larger vehicle, a roof-mounted awning isn’t a terrible idea for those times you want to get outside.

WHEN I work in my car

  1. When I can’t find cover for the rain
  2. When it’s over 80°F
  3. When it’s under 30°F
  4. When I need a quiet place to take a call

For the remote worker, these are relatively extreme circumstances. I work from my car on average about 10% of the year here in Northern Colorado. That 10% is the time that one or more of the above conditions are met.

WHY a car, and not an office?

Offices are expensive, and I don’t like co-working spaces. I like to be mobile and work from any place that has an internet connection (and sometimes without). I do maintain a small working space at home, but I rarely use it because I like to be ‘out’. Working from a car is fun and flexible.

Car shopping?

To-date, I’ve worked from these vehicles: 1995 Subaru Legacy sedan, 2004 Audi S4, 1994 Subaru Legacy wagon, 1987 Subaru XT, 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser, 1995 Land Rover Range Rover, 2015 Subaru Crosstrek, 1995 GMC Suburban

The Toyota FJ Cruiser was my favorite to work from for a few reasons: 1) It would take me wherever I wanted to go in the mountains, 2) It had a relatively large front passenger seat space, and 3) It had a great rear cargo compartment, and 4) it was reliable.

Unless you’re kitting out a stinkin’ cargo van, most passenger vehicles are good enough to work from.

Unless you’re kitting out a stinkin’ cargo van, most passenger vehicles are good enough to work from. I’ve found that the most significant factors for me are 1) space around me, 2) vehicle amenities, 3) privacy and 4) capability. Those are the things I look for when car shopping — knowing that I’ll be working inside the vehicle.

Those are the factors I’ve found as the most important for me, but everyone’s needs are different. Before you go buy a vehicle, spend some time learning about what’s important to you. When possible, rent the vehicle you’re considering for a couple weeks and get to know it intimately before purchasing.

But if you’re in a hurry, the most significant factor you should consider is space. All the amenities can typically be addressed later if necessary. Sit in the seats, test the elbow room in them, check where the cupholders are and whether there’s a nearby space to set your work stuff. In my my experience, the quickest way to have a bad experience is by feeling cramped.

In my experience, the quickest way to have a bad experience is by feeling cramped.

Next Level

Of course, for us full-on Digital Nomads, a giant van with an office in the back isn’t a terrible idea. I’ve toyed with it several times. I’ve even thought about outfitting a small trailer, getting an RV, and things of that nature to make my work experience even better. In the end, it comes down to your own needs, but there plenty of ways to get creative with any vehicle.

How have YOU worked from your vehicle before? Share in the comments.