Thanks to the rapid proliferation of telecommunications, work is no longer a place you go. It is simply something you do, and where you do it is essentially up to you. Subsequently an office can pass as anything from a coffee shop (a bit clumsily coined ‘the coffice’) to the kitchen table or the tray table on a plane.
But it would be premature to say the 9-to-5 traditional office space is dead. Certainly, working conditions are becoming increasingly flexible, challenging conventional ideas of business spaces and spurring on a series of innovative new reinventions of the office, among them the increasingly popular virtual office.
Yet even those pushing at the boundaries of information communication technology still recognise the importance of giving your business a physical epicentre. Yahoo’s announcement last year that it would no longer allow its employees to work from home came as a surprise to many. Surely they of all people would recognise the ease and efficiency with which businesses can now operate from a virtual space? Criticism came from far and wide, deriding the search engine for its backward-mindedness. And perhaps it was indeed a regression. But the debate itself remains a useful one for considering the changing role of the workplace.
While virtual offices may sound a bit ephemeral and well, virtual, they also meet the very tangible demands of smaller businesses.
Technology has irrevocably changed how we define the workplace.
From the humble yet fundamentally important email, to automated answering, highly-optimised and digitised cloud storage and online HR social networks, all have affected what is a considered a disruptive shift in the way we do business. It has, according to Andrew McAffee, ushered in the era of Enterprise 2.0. Call it what you like, these advances have major ramifications for big businesses and small enterprises alike.
These changes have been particularly beneficial for start-ups. In their formative years few small business need a designated boardroom and often simply cannot justify the expense associated with installing fancy video conferencing equipment or setting up telecommunications infrastructure. Many won’t even need permanent, professional desks, let alone a full-time receptionist.
Technology has not made the work place redundant.
Yet all businesses, regardless of their size or age, will at some point develop a need for at least some of these services. Enter the virtual office and by-the-hour business centres.
Even the most tech-savvy, cloud-based, start-up telecommuter will benefit from a call answering service, an occasional place to meet clients and an address to direct their mail to. Beyond those very tangible basics there remains also the need to network with colleagues, share ideas and generally tap into the atmosphere of a professional business environment.
And herein lies the true utility of virtual offices. It is not so much that they allow modern entrepreneurs to transcend the trappings of the traditional office by relegating administration to a virtual space, but rather that they let you to define your work space on your own terms. In that way a virtual office can be both very real when you need it and not there at all when you don’t.