Modern times are staggering. In terms of the digital technologies available to even the most basic offices there really is a shocking degree of flexibility and accessibility. With an internet connection you can do almost anything work related. From online office productivity suites to web meetings and chats – it’s all right there at your fingertips. This begs the question, could your company get rid of the physical office altogether and go into a totally virtual office environment?
Writing in the Telegraph in 2014 Hazel Davis reported a Stanford University study that concluded “workers are 19 per cent more productive when they work remotely”. The potential for a more efficient business is quite enticing and making the jump is a bold move, but it might well be ideal for your company. Many startups waste significant amounts of money renting office spaces. If you’re ready to get rid of your office space you can choose a virtual office package now.
If you’re not sure, we will look into how losing your physical office space works in practical terms in a bit more detail.
How Does A Virtual Office Actually Work?
Well, it does pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s an office, but it’s not a physical space with a door or desks or anything else you might expect.
What a virtual office really is an environment for people to work and collaborate that is fluid and readily accessible via the internet.
It largely consists of two things:
- Communications – This is the ‘virtual’ part of the virtual office. It is essentially a digital office space. A lot of the time this will be the way that you interact with colleagues and collaborate on work with things like remote messaging applications and productivity suites. This would also cover things like phone services, although not all businesses utilise this.
- Space – Yes, indeed there are some physical spaces in a virtual office. However, they are flexible – and they are only used when required. You don’t pay for the time you’re not using them (as is the case when renting an office space) and you don’t have to utilise all the features. Examples of this part of the virtual office environment includes meeting room booking facilities.
So that is basically the long and short of it. It’s really just a separation of your business from a physical space when you don’t need it – and many businesses function this way, particularly in startups and the digital sector.
Digital Communications & Working Environments
The virtual office is made possible by the advanced capabilities of the internet. Essentially digital communications are instantaneous. Whether that’s via email, chat, web-based telephone conversations or video-conferencing – you can achieve the same goals as you would in a traditional office.
The real advantages lie in the use of online productivity suites. Examples of this include Google Apps for Business and Office 365, which have all the traditional desktop applications but are available via the web.
These bridge the gap between a physical and virtual office space in the following ways:
- Collaboration – By far the most powerful feature is the collaborative abilities offered by these office suites. The possibility for multiple users to edit and adjust a document at the same time is something you don’t get in non-virtualised systems.
- Storage – Access to your files is all in the cloud. Storage is adequate (typically starting around 10-15GB) for most normal businesses, although large files like design or creative assets may be more difficult. There is the possibility of upgrading should you need.
- Accessibility – This accessibility means that all computers are able to be used for work as long as you login to your account. There are also abilities to sync files for offline work, whilst still using your browser. Google Docs support pages say “You can work on files on a Chrome browser even when you’re not connected to the Internet”.
The virtual office environment is extremely powerful, it’s as simple as opening a web browser. There is no needless attaching of files to emails, all files can be shared within the company via a link. It’s fair to say that a totally virtual office is impossible without online productivity tools.
Dealing With The Physical Requirements
Now and then, every business has to deal with something that is not virtual. A parcel to sign for, a phone call to deal with – or perhaps even a meeting to attend. That being said, virtual offices are flexible – and as a result it’s entirely possible to keep your office mostly virtual and just use physical space when necessary.
This works in the following ways:
- Registered Office – If you have no office space, you still might need an address to give to customers or to put on your company registration details. It’s not necessarily something you would use all the time, perhaps only for official documents that are required. As a result many mail forwarding services, including our own, are available on a pay-per-item basis.
- Phone Services – It’s perfectly possible for a company to have a dedicated customer support agent that works remotely, as with an internet connection or VoIP phone there are no technical limitations. If you’re a small company though, or just running a business by yourself, you might need to take calls on a dedicated line – which is tricky if you’re remote or going from place to place. However phone answering and forwarding services can be utilised to resolve this.
- Meeting Spaces – There will always be a need for a face-to-face meeting occasionally, and without a dedicated office space this might be difficult. You could bring a client or colleague to your house, but that’s not always practical. However virtual offices providers can offer meeting room space charged by the hour, should you require them.
You might be somewhat unsure of how a virtual office deals with physical requirements, but it’s essentially just a matter of it being there when you need it – so you don’t use or pay for it unless you actually have to.
The Argument Against…
Some businesses do not believe in the virtual office. It is worth mentioning this fact. For example, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned all forms of telecommuting in 2013. This was announced in a memo which said “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices”.
It is a relatively compelling argument, and former Google chief Mayer certainly has some business clout. The memo went on to say “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings”. It’s an argument that seems to make some sense.
You could consider the argument effective in the following circumstances:
- You May Really Need An Office – It’s fair to say that ditching your office is not for every company. It’s easier for a team of 5 web designers to work without a physical space than it is for a manufacturer of artisanal scarves for example, as there are physical limitations to some types of business – so it might not be appropriate for you.
- You Might Want A Balance – When you’ve got 10-20 employees, an office space might be worthwhile and quite practical, but you can still benefit from a virtual office and allow employees to work from home occasionally.
- Your Business Is Customer Facing – For many companies, dealing with customers in a physical space is essential and therefore a complete virtual office is not possible.
Mayer’s ban proved controversial, with Los Angeles Times reporter Jessica Guyn saying some tech insiders speculated that “Mayer was looking to trim unproductive workers without the costs associated with a layoff and in the process may have gotten more bad publicity than she bargained for”. Guyn also quotes University of Texas sociology professor Jennifer Glass who said “There is no functional reason that people who work from home can’t work just as productively as they do from the office”.
Billionaire and veteran entrepreneur Richard Branson also weighed in on the debate with a blog entitled ‘Give people the freedom of where to work’. Commenting on Mayer’s decision, he said “Working life isn’t 9-5 any more. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick”.
Virtual Office – Ditch The Space, Or Keep It?
It’s fair to say that your business might not necessarily be able to totally ditch physical office space, but it’s not an all or nothing situation. It’s totally possible to keep a physical space and outsource certain things that might not be aligned to the main values of your business. Phone services and meeting spaces are good examples of this.
It’s totally dependent on your business needs, and there are flexible packages that can be tailored to suit them. Browse our virtual office packages today and choose the best one for your business.
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