Appearances can be deceiving. Call ThoughtLink owner and co-founder Julia Loughran, and you'll reach her quickly. But will you find her in her Vienna, Virginia, office or out on one of her frequent brainstorming walks?
You'll probably never know, and it really doesn't matter. That's because, for 42-year-old Loughran and her million-dollar company, work isn't tied to a particular location or hour of the day. It's about being available virtually everywhere, virtually anytime.
Loughran's team of five, which crafts distributed team strategies for government and commercial clients, reaches out with numerous mobile technologies. They employ notebooks connected over Cingular Wireless' broadband cellular network and headsets for talking over Skype's VoIP phone service. Team members don't use their computers only to place low-cost calls--Skype also has an IM service that lets them track work buddies.
"We use it even if we're just trying to reach someone at the office," says Loughran. "It gives you an idea of whether someone is present, and dialing is easier than looking up a phone number."
On the road, she's personally armed with a Sony VAIO FS790 she bought last October. It includes a 15.4-inch screen and a full-size keyboard, and it cost less than $2,000. If Loughran can't find a Wi-Fi hot spot, she can wirelessly hook up to a Bluetooth-capable cell phone.
A Business Born to Be Mobile
Given her line of work, Loughran's use of mobile technology is understandable. But she's just one of a growing number of entrepreneurs convinced they couldn't run their companies without round-the-clock connectivity through laptops and other mobile technologies.
"I have more than one business, so I have to multitask and be accessible," says Gregg Steiner, 36, vice president and co-owner of Pinxav.com , a family-run, Shaker Heights, Ohio, company that markets a diaper-rash cream.
Steiner's current computer of choice is a Gateway Tablet PC with a 14-inch screen, capable of running two web browsers side by side. The $1,300 system can run a full workday on a single battery charge. Steiner also pays $60 monthly to download e-mail and make Skype phone calls over Verizon Wireless' broadband EV-DO network. His tablet has been his traveling companion in places as far west as San Francisco and as far-flung as picturesque villages in Italy.
Some entrepreneurs, like 45-year-old Scott Gray of Philadelphia-based Gray Consulting, are even turning their own mobile computing expertise into value-added services for their clients. As co-founder of the multimillion-dollar events management firm, Gray observed that those who attended his events needed connectivity back to the office just as badly as his own employees did.
Over the past three years, Gray has spent $120,000 working with IT consultancy Decisive Business Systems in Pennsauken, New Jersey, to make that happen. Gray Consulting is outfitted with multiple Hewlett-Packard servers, notebooks, printers and scanners with Citrix client/server software for remotely running applications over a VPN.
An Altigen analog/VoIP phone switch and Castelle Faxpress let voice calls and faxes be routed to employee notebooks wherever they happen to be. Client information is readily accessible from notebooks and Palm Treos alike. A similar setup is available to clients during offsite events, saving them hefty hotel telecommunications surcharges. Says Gray, "To us, this is part of the customer service philosophy."