Geraint Evans, sales and marketing director at Avanta Managed Offices, discusses the benefits for small companies of choosing virtual offices.
For decades, the image of working has always been inextricably linked to a physical place of work – usually an office. For many people that is, of course, still the case. And there are many good reasons why most businesses still work from a central hub, including the importance of face-to-face contact and the need for visibility when managing people.
However, times are changing as the concept of flexible working gains traction and popularity, driven largely by technology and more progressive management techniques. In response to this, there are a plethora of emerging alternative business structures and working arrangements, supported by new products and services. One of those is the virtual office.
What are virtual offices?
Virtual offices provide some of the many benefits of having an office – a city centre address, a receptionist, call handling – without the physical space, allowing people to portray a professional image but without costly accommodation. The services available start with ‘address only’ packages, which provide a business with an address and mail forwarding services.
Operators are also offering additional services needed by those people based at home or remotely, such as PA services, access to meeting rooms (at a discounted price) and phone call management.
When should a business use virtual offices?
The first driver for taking virtual office space is often price. It is, of course, significantly cheaper to take a virtual office service than renting space in the city centre, especially if a simple ‘address only’ service is taken. This is often the driver for start-ups and micro businesses, but there are other reasons for taking virtual space.
For at least the past decade, the idea of working from home has been an accepted part of life for business people, especially those starting their own enterprise or working freelance. Increasingly, working from home isn’t seen as a temporary solution but rather a lifestyle choice that people use at various stages in their life – when they have children, when they decide to move to the countryside, or even move abroad. It’s not just owner managers either.
There are people working within bigger businesses that are based, at least in part, from home. But there are perception problems, as one man bands and people based in far-flung areas worry that clients and prospects see them as remote and removed from the ‘real’ world of business. There is no doubt that when you look for a prospective supplier (for work or pleasure), you do tend to go for one based in a well-known area and with an office address, accompanied by an office phone number. It’s human nature to think that permanence and location suggest success and security.
We find that a lot of small business and start-ups seek virtual space because they are not yet ready to move out of the home office or because, for various reasons, they want to stay in the countryside or an out of town business park. Indeed, 74 per cent of virtual office clients are London-based and are taking virtual space in the West End or the City, showing that even within the capital, location is everything. These clients often use virtual space for an initial stage of their development until they are ready to take ‘actual’ office space, which can be at the same location – saving on changing business cards.
Geographical reasons for virtual office use
Other regular virtual space users are businesses that employ people who are geographically spread – whether they are sales teams or consultants. Permanent space for all staff doesn’t make sense, but a central address, location for client meetings, and in many cases, access to a PA, is vital. A third typical virtual office client is the permanent ‘home worker’ who just feels they need administrative support provided by PA services.
Good providers will act as if part of the client’s team, offering services that help the professionalism of the business and reduce admin. As businesses seek ever more flexibility and technology continues to develop, services like virtual offices will become increasingly popular. They provide businesses with a cost-effective way of getting a city centre address and offer a host of other virtual PA services. They don’t require a big commitment and services can be scaled up and down at short notice. They are just one of the many services available that, put together, make working remotely just as good as (or sometimes better) than that trip into the office every morning.