Working from home is one of the joys of today’s advanced technologies. Not so long ago, the majority of employees and entrepreneurs were chained to a desk regardless of the type of work they do.
Now, it’s a different story.
A study released in May 2018 from workspace provider IWG found that 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day in a week, while 53% work remotely for at least half of the week.
But while the need for a physical office has declined in favour of alternative work spaces - including the home, hot-desk arrangements or third place environments - business owners still need certain elements of an office to streamline business operations and maintain professionalism.
That’s where a virtual office comes in.
Virtually the same as an office... minus the actual office
Thanks to Wi-Fi, secure networks and mobile technology, most business owners can work from anywhere without blowing their budget renting an office, especially when they’re frequently out on the road meeting clients or networking.
But they may still need a physical location that acts as their headquarters that provides a local presence, a place to receive and store mail and to hold occasional meetings.
If you haven’t heard of virtual offices before, think of it this way: you get virtually everything you would find in a regular office rental, such as a place to receive and store mail and a receptionist to answer calls, minus the physical office.
If you do need a physical office occasionally, say once a week, you can turn up and use the facilities by the hour. The same goes for meeting rooms.
A virtual office offers key components of physical spaces, but for far less money and, usually, less commitment too. For instance, a virtual office and a physical office both provide:
- A place to hold meetings and to work
- A commercial address for business mails
- A registered company address (that’s not the client’s home)
- An address to put on business cards and marketing materials
- A local presence in a specific city, or area, associated with the client’s target market
- On-site services such as printing, faxing, copying and other administrative services, such as receptionist or secretarial support
As such, virtual offices are on-demand and cost-effective solutions, which are often more closely aligned with the organization’s day-to-day needs.
Operating as a collection of on-demand resources, a virtual office is as permanent or as fluid as needed by its users. Because of this flexibility and shared resources, it dramatically cuts down the capital expenses that are associated with typical office infrastructures.
What are the benefits of using a virtual office?
For small business owners and home-based professionals, the biggest benefits of a virtual office are the low cost and flexibility. They also help small business owners to look more professional and save time by streamlining business operations.
1. Credibility - having a professional address gives a business the upper hand over competition that doesn’t and sets those all-important first impressions. Given the choice between a finance business using a home address, and a competing firm with a corporate address at say, 48 Wall Street, which one looks more professional?
2. Support - virtual offices provide receptionists, mail redelivery services, and other business support services. For small business owners juggling everything from sales and marketing to invoicing, having someone pick up the phone or greet clients on your behalf saves a lot of valuable time.
3. Customer service - having an on-hand receptionist to deal with queries improves the customer service of a business. When you’re busy running a business, or you’re working from home and the kids are home from school, it makes a much better impression if your calls are handled by a professional receptionist who has the time and the customer service skills, to handle calls in a friendly and professional manner.
4. A professional meeting place - having a professional, physical space to meet with clients sends out a completely different message compared to meeting up with prospects in a cafe or at home. If you’re meeting with a client over a sensitive matter, or a potential investor to talk through your numbers, you need a quiet, private meeting space that’s well-serviced and comes with relevant presentation or conferencing equipment.
5 ways you should use a virtual office
Now that you know why businesses use virtual offices, let’s look at the 5 most popular ways to use them:
1. As a commercial address and mail forwarding service
Every basic virtual office plan includes a business address and mail handling services. This means mail is received by on-site staff, sorted, stored for collection or forwarded to the location of your choice.
2. As a registered company address
This means you can switch your registered company address from your home to your virtual office’s business address. If you decide to do this, it’s worth using a registered agent that can accept important legal business documents. This means you’ll be notified immediately if any important mail comes in that needs your urgent attention (e.g. a letter from the secretary of state or a legal document).
3. To provide a “local” feel
This is important if you’re breaking into new markets or you want to attract more clients in a specific location. Signing up for a virtual office in a certain area gives your business a local feel as well as the chance to meet clients on-site.
4. For meetings or to get work done
Even though we call it a virtual office, it’s still a bricks-and-mortar building. Most virtual office buildings have meeting rooms and office suites that can be leased by the hour or by the day.
5. To improve customer service
A live receptionist service, which is available as an add-on service from most virtual office providers, ensures that incoming calls are answered by professional receptionist staff. Calls are either patched through to your cell phone or messages are taken and forwarded to you. Either way your clients and callers get great customer service, which reflects well on your business.
Whether you’re looking to grow your business and expand into new markets, or simply manage your time a little better and improve your customer service, a virtual office can provide an excellent low-cost, flexible workplace solution for businesses at any stage of the growth journey.