A virtual office is a service that enables employees and business owners to work remotely by providing a range of business functions accessible through the internet. It also enables organisations to create and maintain a presence in a desirable location without the need to pay rent for an actual space.
So you can have an office address here:
but actually work from here:
A virtual office enables businesses to have many of the benefits of a physical office but without any actual space or desks. The idea came from the Executive Suite industry, and was effectively started in 1994 by Ralph Gregory when he founded the aptly named ‘The Virtual Office, Inc”.
What does a Virtual Office provide?
These virtual offices enable businesses to have the following:
- a business postal address
- this helps businesses seem a little more prestigious than they might otherwise be if they used their real address “No.1, My Mum’s Basement, Still Living At Home’ville”.
- a receptionist
- this helps if you are arranging meetings in and around your virtual office, because it makes that virtual office seem a little less virtual to your customers and business colleagues.
- envelope opening and scanning service
- if you’re getting mail sent to an address that you are not, this is a great service where you can get all the post scanned and emailed over to you so you can stay on top of your admin.
- meeting rooms
- you might not have access to a ‘full-time’ desk, but you can at least arrange meetings in these places too.
- phone answering and voicemail services
- this just simply helps you manage your incoming calls, and means that you don’t have to offer out your personal mobile, instead use a real landline number than makes you look a little more ‘pro’!
These are just some of the services offered by virtual office providers, but make sure you check beforehand. Some might offer less, and some of the premium services might very well offer more.
Where did the idea for virtual office space come from?
As stated above the idea came from the Executive Suite and has evolved because of the ability for businesses to function remotely using ever-advancing technology for communication. The joys of Skype, Google Hangouts and many other platforms has empowered business owners to reduce the costs of renting office space.
This flexibility has afforded young businesses the ability to build teams outside of higher profile locations, reduce costs and yet still look ‘prestigious’. For many businesses, a prestigious postal address is irrelevant, but for many it makes a real difference. If you are a high-end lawyer you will want to make sure that your postal address in Central London, otherwise your clients might think your abilities are lacking as much as your actual business address. This is not great for business.
Can I hire the best talent to work in my more remote office location?
Now let’s be clear: the use of a virtual office 100% depends on your business type and so you should be sure to evaluate the pros and cons specific to you and your needs as a business.
But one thing that I have been made acutely aware of is that the best talent in London wants the best office space in London, near to the action – and they are not willing to compromise on that one. The best developers, growth hackers and strategists want to be where they feel they can make the most money. This implies to me that a large proportion of the best talent out there wants to be in a more central London location. Don’t get me wrong, there are many people that will work more remotely but half the fun of startups and young businesses is that daily hustle that takes place over meetings and meet-and-greet coffees.
So before you make the decision to take a virtual office and a more remote actual office location figure out what your hiring needs are, and ask around to get a feel for their reactions to working remotely. If you need knowledge workers I would suggest looking at a more central location for your actual office space. The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a position where you struggle to recruit the best talent.
How can I work in London but keep my costs down?
Now this is the right question to ask! Having read the book ‘The 4 Hour Work Week‘ by Tim Ferris, where he advocates the use of Virtual Assistants, I now believe that businesses can get the best of both worlds.
Virtual Assistants are amazing. They are individuals around the world that choose to be Internet workers, helping businesses with administrative, design, and daily tasks remotely. I have been working with one such Virtual Assistant for about 4 years now. She has come with me through 3 businesses and I trust her implicitly. She lives an amazing life in the sun in Manilla in the Philippines (of which I am a little jealous!). What I love about working with Virtual Assistants is that you can pay them a lower wage than you might employ someone locally but pay them FAR more than they might earn in their city. It’s a win-win if I’ve ever seen one!
How can I use Virtual Assistants in my business?
So if you have decided that you need to be in the hustle and bustle, near the action in the heart of London (or any other city for that matter) then you can leverage a combination of in-situ team and virtual assistants working around the world.
And remember that you don’t need to be renting a private office anymore, or signing a long-term lease (even though those have their own benefit). Instead you can find some beautiful and truly inspiring shared or co-working office spaces these days.
So this would be my recommendation for those needing a more central location, but hindered by cashflow…
Rent the desk space that you need. Those essential team players that are performing more technical work, and require constant team and project collaboration should be in-house. This helps you build a culture and a team ethos that should make innovation and creativity flow more readily.
For those tasks that you can describe, and are less technical (perhaps a little more repetitive) recruit some amazing Virtual Assistants using a platform such as Upwork. Bring them into your business using all the awesome remote team collaboration platforms (Skype, Google Hangouts and Slack etc) to work with them. You still need to make them feel part of your gang, inspire and lead them. But I know that this can be done, as i have done it. Martin Shervington has written a great series around leveraging Google products to build your virtual team and culture that helps you get to grips with the gnitty gritty of setting it all up.
Also leveraging all these amazing collaboration tools also enables your business to function remotely should it need to. Remote work for your in-situ team is important for keeping people happy in the workplace. So if and when they choose to work from the beach or home for a few days, there is no disruption to your business functioning at all.
There are so many combinations that might work for you, and each business is unique.
Here are your options in short:
- Find a more remote office space and use this as your business address. This might work for companies that are logistically and operationally heavy and require warehousing and access to transport links.
- Find a more remote office space and use a Virtual Office. This is likely to suit service professionals who want to live in the countryside or near the sea but can easily commute for relevant meetings.
- Rent the desk space in London that you need, and work with remote Virtual Assistants from around the world to bring your staffing costs down but still get your admin done. This is likely the solution for young businesses and startups.
- Rent a private office, install a slide and a trampoline, employ a full in-house team and have full team collaboration. This is really only the option for successful startups and well established businesses with solid cashflow tor funding.
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