Savvy small and midsize businesses are always looking to keep expenses and overhead low. One of the top ways they can do this is by leveraging a virtual office, which offers many of the benefits of a traditional workspace with lower associated costs.
Virtual offices merge the professionalism of a traditional workspace with the flexibility of working remotely, elevating your organization’s image while decreasing your risk and your own capital investment. This best-of-both-worlds solution allows you to run leaner and more efficiently, freeing you up to work smarter and more innovatively.
But when it comes to selecting a virtual office, there are so many varied offerings that it can be difficult to discern which is right for your company. This comprehensive guide will outline everything you need to know about the benefits of a virtual office, virtual office costs, and how to choose the virtual office that best fits your business’s needs.
A virtual office is an alternative to a traditional office, offering many of the same benefits and services of leasing or owning a brick-and-mortar workspace or building at a price point that may work better for some small and growing businesses.
Owners and employees can work from home (or wherever they like), while maintaining the image of conducting business from a business address, and enjoying the support of business services without the actual cost.
Amenities of a virtual office may range depending on provider, but they typically include a professional mailing addresses, mail and package collection, and mail forwarding and phone answering services. Virtual office services also generally come with physical workspaces available for rent by the hour or day, so workers can conduct meetings in a professional setting.
Some virtual office providers may additionally offer digital services such as cloud storage and web hosting.
While modern offerings are tech-forward, the virtual office actually dates to the 1960s, when the first-known serviced office was created in response to changing work styles and an increase in real estate and staffing costs. (A serviced office is a fully equipped workspace managed by an office provider that rents offices and/or floors to other businesses.) These spaces usually included furnished suites, conference rooms, and photocopiers, along with reception and telephone answering services.
OmniOffices Group becomes the first serviced office company.
Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), a packet-switching network that is the precursor to the internet, goes public by connecting 40 computers in different locations.
Jack Nilles coins the terms "telecommuting" and "telework” while doing formal research on the topics as Director for Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Southern California.
The Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) — the foundation for the internet — is standardized, allowing worldwide interconnected networks.
Journalist Chris Kern coins the term “virtual office” in his September column for “American Way” magazine while discussing how portable computers allow workers to do business on the go.
British computer scientist Timothy John Berners-Lee develops the World Wide Web, and entrepreneur Alon Cohen invents an audio transceiver that later enables the creation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Entrepreneur Richard Nissen trademarks “virtual office” and pioneers the digital exchange telecommunications system in the U.K.
Skype debuts publicly, offering free IP-based communications.
Premier workspaces opens their first location in the United States.
A virtual office is not the same thing as a coworking space - it’s not a place you go to work every day. While one of the benefits of a virtual office is access to physical workspace, those utilizing the service work elsewhere the majority of the time. Professionals who use coworking services, meanwhile, work primarily in an office building that provides shared spaces, services, and equipment.
Real estate agencies
Entrepreneurs and startups
Because the barriers to entry are lower than renting or purchasing traditional offices, startups and small businesses can give themselves more resources critical for growth. With a virtual office, a company has the flexibility to choose the type and amount of services it needs, without being locked into major financial commitments. And a virtual office allows for easy and cost-effective scaling as a business grows.
However, the service is not limited to any particular industry; the savings and benefits of a virtual office can also serve the needs of international firms that want physical addresses based in multiple locales to better serve certain markets and demographics.
But saving you money on overhead isn’t all a virtual office can do.
Beyond the cost savings of choosing a virtual office over a traditional one, the service offers many benefits. A virtual office can serve any business that wants to remain limber without committing to a permanent space; seeks to establish an address at a location where they may want to open a physical location later on; desires to quickly or immediately start up; wants to have a presence in multiple markets while maintaining one home base; or wishes to test out a presence in a new market with low risk (and low cost).
For example, if you want to expand your company’s demographic and tap into the Los Angeles market — without having to commit to the large capital expenses associated with real estate — a virtual office can provide a prestigious Beverly Hills mailing address. A virtual business address lends your business the credibility you desire with the flexibility of working remotely.
Of course, you’ll need to choose a location or multiple locations that make sense for what your business goals are. If you plan to meet frequently with customers in person in a specific part of town, you’ll want to choose a virtual office in that area. Similarly, if you aim to target clientele in a different city than the one in which you’re based, you’ll need a virtual office where the customers are.
The physical mailing address that a virtual office provides displays professionalism, as well. For instance, a small business or startup may still be just one or two workers operating out of a garage or a basement, but clients need never know the business isn’t, in fact, based in San Francisco’s Financial District.
And, if you decide to scale your business, most virtual offices offer multiple virtual locations, allowing you to grow your geographical footprint at a nominal rate.
One of the major benefits of a virtual office is an answering or receptionist service. This can be a major boost to a business’s customer service when the company doesn’t have the funds to hire a full-time staffer dedicated to covering the phones. Depending on your industry, it could be bad for business to let calls go to voicemail; a professional phone answering service, however, demonstrates to clients that you’re reliable and devoted to them. It also frees you up from having to man the phones at all hours so that you can get your work done.
Likewise, virtual offices provide support in the form of mail and package collection. This feature enables businesses to receive checks and other important physical mail without having to share a personal, residential address.
Additionally, an additional key benefit of a virtual office is access to physical offices. These workspaces are usually rentable by the half-hour, hour or day. Holding meetings in an office can send a stronger message of professionalism to clients than meeting in a coffee shop, and they also give teams a chance to connect in a quiet space that’s not a cafe or a living room.
Conference rooms for groups both small and large. These are typically equipped with Wi-Fi access, video technology, and complimentary local or long distance calling.
Furnished day offices for hourly or daily use. These often include amenities such as Wi-Fi access, access to equipment such as printers and scanner, and access to a kitchen. While advanced booking is available, walk-ins are often accepted.
Private, furnished office suites. Many virtual offices offer flexible plans to accommodate a growing business’s needs. Whether a company needs one executive office space or a private suite with multiple offices, a virtual office can help, providing further features such as on-site management and administrative support, flexible terms, and 24/7 access to the space.
The costs of a virtual office will vary depending on the provider, the location or locations you choose, the amenities you desire and a few other factors. But typically, a virtual office can save a business thousands of dollars — if not tens of thousands of dollars — in office expenses.
Additionally, having a virtual office also lowers substantially lowers the cost of commuting to and from work for both business owners and employees, both in terms of gas and vehicle wear and tear. A virtual office provides an environmentally friendly alternative, as well, as employees will mostly be working remotely and not using their cars, lowering your business’s carbon footprint.
One of the most appealing features of a virtual office is often its pricing structure, which is typically tiered or membership-based, as well as flexible based on a business’s needs. And these needs will undoubtedly change over time: many vendors can customize a plan for your growing business without your company having to pledge a long-term commitment. As your organization scales, changes or pivots, this plan flexibility makes things much easier on the business — and your bottom line.
Don’t discount peace of mind as an amenity of a virtual office service either. While it may not be a tangible benefit, knowing you can be flexible at any time could be the lifesaver your business needs in a tricky situation.
As described above, a virtual office should offer a range of services and amenities. Here’s a handy checklist that highlights exactly what features you should expect from a virtual office. While not all providers will offer every single item on this checklist — nor will your business necessarily need each of these features — it should serve as a guide for what to expect to see from many virtual office services.
Because every company’s needs are unique, you may decide to add or subtract items from this checklist. No matter what virtual office features you decide are crucial for your business, the key to finding a great virtual office is to choose what makes sense for you, and to utilize every perk that your provider offers.
Once you choose a service that makes sense for your business, the next key step is learning about and maximizing all the features it offers. After all, you’re saving money by investing in a virtual office over a traditional workspace; it only makes sense to take advantage of every amenity at your disposal. Research exactly what services and features come with your virtual office, and contact your provider with any questions you have.
A virtual office is a valuable resource for small and midsize businesses, as well as anyone looking to save on overhead, stay flexible and pivot easily, and open in new markets with low risk and low cost. No matter the size of your business or the industry in which you operate, understanding the benefits of a virtual office and using this guide to choose one can help you achieve the success your business deserves.
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