Building a virtual cubicle


In the latest OnTheRun with Tablet PCs podcast (#12) Marc Orchant described how office work is changing due to workers having to be able to work in a more mobile fashion. This rings true to me and something I have been living first-hand for several years. I have been building a “virtual cubicle” for my work that takes me from office to office and I have become quite good at setting up a workspace virtually anywhere. The ability to work anywhere has helped me stay productive no matter my working conditions and I want to share my recommendations for building that virtual cubicle for those who find themselves working away from their office on a regular basis.

The backbone of the virtual cube is the Tablet PC for me. I must have all of my applications, PIM functions, and documents no matter where my work takes me and using the Tablet PC is the main foundation for my work. Countless times I am plopped down in an empty cube at an office and in minutes I am set up more productively and comfortably than many who actually work there full-time. A convertible Tablet PC lets me set up as either a notebook computer or a slate depending on what I need to accomplish. The ability to ink is crucial to me as I constantly need to sign documents that are sent to me for return, mainly legal contracts. On the Tablet PC I can open the file up in PDF Annotator, sign it, and email it back to the sender. No muss, no fuss. I can also use the slate to take handwritten notes in meetings, secure in the knowledge my ink is fully searchable and my notes are thus retrievable in the future. For me it’s the Tablet PC or nothing.

When I set up in notebook mode for document production I usually use an external mouse for easy manipulation of the interface and I can also use the Tablet PC pen to tap directly on the screen. I use both methods depending on what fits the situation best. So what other items do I couple with my Tablet PC to form my virtual cubicle? Here’s the way I usually set up when I sit down in a foreign office:

I open up the Tablet PC (HP tc1100) in notebook mode with the keyboard. There is already a Verizon EVDO card inserted into the Tablet and as soon as my Tablet resumes from Hibernation I connect to Verizon’s BroadbandAccess (EVDO) network. This takes about 5 seconds and I will stay connected for the duration of my work session at this location so my email is always available to me, just as if I was back in my office. I pull out my Bluetooth travel mouse and with one slide of a switch I have a functioning mouse. I can work just as if I was sitting at a desk in my office with no compromises.

When someone sends me a document I virtually print it straight into OneNote so I can read it and make notes to it just as if it was on paper. This works no matter what type of document it is making this extremely versatile. I can work with it without the need to print and carry paper around with me, something that I value highly.

I carry my iPod with me but rarely listen to music in an office setting. No, I keep all my documents backed up to the iPod under Windows and I can locate any file that might be unavailable for some reason and restore it immediately if I need to. I keep older reference material there so I have it if I ever need it but save disk space on the Tablet. I also find it useful to use a cell phone that has good speakerphone capabilities and have conducted many conference calls this way. I have a Bluetooth headset in case I want to make phone calls and don’t want anyone to hear my conversation. I can speak very softly and the headset still picks up my voice well for such calls. I use Skype with the SkypeOut service for making low-cost conference calls using the Tablet PC or the Treo 700w. Both devices are great for making such calls with Skype working perfectly on either platform.

I don’t receive a lot of paper documents during the day but many people do and if that was the case for me I would pick up a DocuPen scanner. This scanner is not cheap but makes great copies on the go and will fit in your shirt pocket. My motto is smaller is better when it comes to mobile gear. If I receive a document that I need to share with someone I would scan it to PDF and then email it rather than print them extra copies. Put the onus of printing on their back, since they likely are working in a static office. On business trips when I need to print something to review (which rarely happens) I fax it to myself at the hotel using the Tablet PC. In just a few minutes (usually, since I mark them as URGENT on the cover page) the front desk will slip it under my door and I have a hard copy without the need to print.

The ability to set up a virtual cubicle in just a few minutes helps me be productive anywhere I happen to be, even sitting in an airport waiting for my flight. I carry extra batteries with me that will let me work outlet-free for at least 8 hours so I can work anywhere and sit anywhere in the airport I want. No more looking for the one outlet that everyone is hogging to recharge my Tablet PC. In future articles I will elaborate on the hardware choices I have made to build my virtual cube and detail the software programs and utilities that help build those virtual walls.



I can’t stand the Docupen personally. Not clean enough scans for my taste.

Rob Bushway

I’ve been using the scanner today and it is great as a portable solution, scanning in the bits of paper that you come across during the day. I wouldn’t recommend it for scanning in text books, though. I think you will want something faster and that work with the binding issues.

I’ll be blogging more about it later this week as I use it more.


Mike, I only use the Tablet at home. I have a docking station with a full suite of peripherals that connect to it.

Michael Venini

James, do you also own a desktop at home? Or do you use your tablet as your desktop at home?



Nick, the OptiBook is the ultimate solution for scanning in books. I don’t think you want to do major scanning projects with a portable scanner like the DocuPen.

Matt, I find PDF Annotator to be a great solution for annotating PDF documents so I have not tried any other solution. I do not use a stand for the tc1100. I find it small and light enough that I can either hold it or set it on the conference table when making notes. I wouldn’t want to carry a stand around with me anyway.

Matt Smith

James, great article. I’m really looking forward to the follow up articles. I’m curious to know if there are any software packages out there, besides PDF Annotator, that will allow me to annotate documents. Also, on days when you’re not using the tc1100 with the keyboard attached, do you use a stand of any sort, and if so, who makes it? I’m finding that I carry my tablet around with me at all times, and often without the keyboard. I need a stand for it, maybe like the one for the U Series (the case with the stand built-in).

Nick Cizek

James, thanks for the interesting and helpful post. I look forward to the hardware and software follow-on articles.

In the meantime, I have a question. Do you know of any reviews on the Docupen RC800? I know Rob Bushway has said he would review his after he has used it for awhile, but as far as I know he hasn’t blogged anything yet.

My interest is that I am another student trying to go paperless and I can’t decide if I should purchase an Optibook 3600 or the Docupen RC800 (I can’t afford both). My primary need is for a system to scan my books into pdf+text format. As a second goal, I’m also trying to implement a GTD general reference filing system that is as digital as I can make it (must include OCR of the majority of scanned documents).

For these needs, the proven Optibook solution would certainly suffice (for items that I can bring home and scan). However, if the RC800 will do book scanning and OCR as quickly and accurately as the Optibook, then I would definitely prefer to spend the extra money and get a scanner I can easily carry around with me to have on hand when I need it.

If you have any information that is not readily available or that I may have overlooked, especially if it specifically addresses the question of whether the RC800 is an adequate replacement for the Optibook for making pdf+text documents, I would sure appreciate if you shared it. Thanks.

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