Road warrior essentials (Your mobile checklist)
by Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA
Traveling more than 100 days a year for the past two decades has helped me become a more agile road warrior and better prepared for future mishaps. There are some essential items that I always carry with me when I go on the road that I would recommend to fellow CPAs. My list also provides considerations for budding road warriors who may have different workstyles.
Mobile device(s): I carry three devices for working remotely and meeting both business and personal needs, but some CPAs may prefer laptop/tablet and tablet/smartphone hybrid options, which will also do the job. The choice of optimal road warrior hardware platform depends significantly on your work requirements and whether you plan to work primarily in a home office or need to use your devices on the road and at home.
- Laptop: On the road, I mostly work with Microsoft Office applications and minimal numerical data entry, so I use a 13” Ultrabook (Dell XPS 13) due to its long battery life and small form that make it perfect for the smallest airplane tray table. The latest CPAFMA survey found that auditors favor 15.6” laptops with the full keyboard/number pad from Dell, HP and Lenovo. If you’re a tax practitioner working with the laptop display and another external display, however, consider going to a 17” model, which the CPAFMA survey found about one-fourth of firms had been buying during the past two years (with HP and Dell being the most commonly selected).
- Smartphone: Smartphones are essential in today’s business environment, with applications that integrate mobile capabilities such as GPS, mobile hot spot, contacts, calendar, boarding passes, security, camera, etc., onto one platform—a critical need for road warriors. Since Apple and Android are basically equivalent, I recommend sticking with the platform you know and skipping at least one generation between device replacement because you get new applications with minimal additional training needed.
- Tablet: We all need a break when travelling, so for watching movies, catching up on news, casual reading, personal email and social media, a tablet is the best device when you really want a bigger screen than a smartphone. I like my iPad, but there is seriously a tablet to fit every need, size, and price range. They range from under $100 (Amazon 8” Fire HD) to well over $1,000 (Apple 12.9” iPad Pro), so it is well worth thinking about how you would use the tablet in conjunction with other devices.
- Hybrid: Hybrid laptop-tablet or tablet-smartphone combinations provide another option for users who want to combine the functionality of two mobile devices into one unit. Microsoft’s Surface with detachable keyboard and 2-in-1 branded laptops that can flip the screen 360 degrees to act as a tablet offer an alternative if the battery life and features are adequate. Users who want to merge their smartphone and tablet needs into a single device can also go to the oversize smartphone category (iPhone 11 ProMax, Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus) as another alternative but must consider the logistics of easily accessing and carrying a larger device.
Privacy filter: CPAs are trusted with confidential information, so I always use a privacy filter (3M) when working on email or client information. A word of caution, however: If you have a touch screen you will need to purchase a removable filter for those times when you need to do “touch” input.
Mobile monitor: For auditors who use dual monitors while working remotely, the CPAFMA surveys have found the most selected portable displays are the ASUS 169 and ZenBook devices, followed by those from HP and GeChic, which are under a half-inch thin and can connect to the laptop for both display and power (no power brick). Be wary of low-price models, which auditors complain are thicker, heavier and don’t stand up to the mobile wear and tear of heavy remote usage.
Mobile printer/scanner: Since printers and scanners are no longer needed in the field, I suggest users proactively train clients to use the firm’s portal and digital delivery solutions for file transfer. I also suggest all firms prohibit the use of USB thumb drives, which can introduce malware.
Mobile power: When you need to charge your devices, use mobile power strips with surge protectors (Belkin Surge Plus). They’re compact and offer multiple three prong and USB electrical plugs to quickly and safely charge all your devices as well as protect them from power surges.
Spare battery power: When you rely so heavily on your smartphone, running out of power can be a catastrophe. I always carry at least one spare portable battery charger, plus an adapter cord that can charge other digital devices if necessary. For devices that run on replaceable batteries, I always carry two spares (i.e. headphones, travel clock).
Cord bag: Where can you put all your display adapter/dongles and miscellaneous cords or backup headsets? There are all kinds of cord bags and cord wraps available to keep them organized in one place that fit easily in your computer bag.
Earbuds with microphone: When traveling I carry two devices that can backup each other and be used for phone calls (including a microphone), listening to media and blocking out ambient noise. Over-the-ear noise cancelling headsets (Bose Quiet Comfort) not only block out external noise when you are on a phone call or watching a video but can also help you cut off a chatty seatmate when you have to concentrate on getting some work done. I also carry a wired in-ear headset with a microphone to use for shorter hands free calls when in transit with my suitcase or in Ubers and it is necessary to be more aware of the surrounding environment. I’m transitioning to wireless earbuds, but they also need to be charged so I will probably still keep a spare wired device in my bag.
Travel clock: A mobile alarm clock keeps me on time in meetings and serves as a secondary alarm clock.
Personnel essentials: Finally, in addition to basic travel necessities, I always pack a clear Ziploc emergency kit with a small sewing kit, spare collar stays, a shoe shine sponge, earplugs, and sealed medical supplies, such as different size band aids, prescriptions, and small quantities of allergy, cold/flu, headache, stomach distress, cough and sore throat tablets to carry me through a day or two until I have access to a pharmacy.
In addition, I keep two “grab and go” personal kits with all grooming essentials (deodorant, cologne, Q-tips, shaving cream, razor, nail clipper, etc.) in a clear pouch that meets TSA travel requirements. Travel can be stressful but having the right tools and resources at your disposal will help you handle most unexpected scenarios like a pro!
Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA, LSS BB, is the Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks and works exclusively with CPA firms to implement today’s leading best practices and technologies, incorporating Lean Six Sigma methodologies to optimize firm production workflows. Roman is also the author of the 2019 Edition of “Quantum of Paperless: A Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization,” which is available for download to members of the AICPA PCPS.