Five ways to build your virtual office

Running a virtual business is easier (and cheaper) than ever -- if you have the right tools

4. Outsource your calendars

It was a happy day here at TynanWood when we finally ditched Microsoft Outlook for handling our schedules and went with Google Calendar. We set up calendars for everyone in our organization (including our kids and their schools) and shared them; now we can view everyone's appointments in one screen by clicking a few boxes. Google sends alerts to my e-mail inbox and my mobile phone when I'm about to miss an appointment, and even synchronizes with the calendar on my Windows Smart Phone (via a free third-party utility called GooSync). The downside? Unlike Google Docs, the calendar service has no offline capability yet, so we can't access our schedules when we're flying or when the Net connection goes kablooey.

Fortunately, there's a groovy alternative in Scrybe, which lets you update your calendar even when you're offline, and then sync up when you reconnect. Scrybe offers some extremely cool-looking features, such as the ability to zoom in and out on particular days or time slots and produce miniature calendars on actual paper! The bad news: Like Google GrandCentral, Scrybe has closed its public beta for now, so you'll need to find a sympathetic Scrybe user to invite you.

5. Do the virtual meet and greet

These days, most of our meetings are virtual. And while plenty of tools can help you trot out a dog-and-pony show without leaving your desk, most of them cost more than we want to spend. You'll pay at least US$40 to $50 a month to use GoToMeeting or WebEx, for example, and often much more.

If you only occasionally need to meet and greet the outside world, FreeConference.com is a reasonable alternative. The standard free service lets you schedule phone briefings up to 4 hours long for as many as 150 of your closest friends. If you want to record the sessions, you'll need to pony up US$9 a month; goodies such as a toll-free number or a dedicated bridge line cost 10 cents per user per minute. Want to do live demos or foist PowerPoint slides upon your audience? At press time, FreeConference was offering the SharePlus desktop-sharing beta for no charge--a price that's hard to beat.

Contributing Editor Dan Tynan is the lesser half of TynanWood and bloviates frequently on his blog, Tynan on Technology.

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