The Virtual Office in the UK - Its History and Importance in Today's Business Environment

What a virtual office is and how it helps business control expenses.

The advances in technology have helped businesses - large and small - to revolutionise the way that they operate. Internet, the laptop and mobile phones mean that working is not restricted to sitting in an office. Work has become more mobile--which means that it does not have to stop once you have to cross time zones or even cross the street. It means that you can print out that report whilst having your lunchtime pannini. You could arrange a meeting whilst sipping your coffee. With the current global crisis, saving money and streamlining are the order of the day and outsourcing and teleworking are some of pillars in achieving in this. In the United Kingdom, virtual offices have become popular and this article will show you, the reader (and budding businessperson), the reason why.

A virtual office is as the name suggests. It combines the off-site live communication and address services which include not only office space but telephone answering services, mail forwarding services, faxing services as well as bookkeeping.

The idea of the virtual office has its roots in the work-from-home idea, but really evolved from the executive suite industry. Because it was so inflexible, it did not work for many businesses and business models. Thus the virtual office was born to fill the void. The first successful application of the virtual office was in 1994 in Boulder Colorado when Richard Gregory founded The Virtual Office Inc. It rapidly expanded throughout North America into what we know today.

So what does this service/commodity include? Well it is divided into communication services and space services. We will deal with each one in detail. Communication Services deal with things such as:

Telephone and voicemail services - most of the calls are answered using a call centre, and is not always perfect (language barriersand security are just some of the problems that have been reported with these services). Voicemails are stored electronically to be accessed by the businessperson when needed. There have been often been problems with this also. So sometimes the best thing would be to have a separate line/cell phone for your business and work it that way. As your business grows, then you can look into having these for your company. But it is very important to do your homework first.

Virtual Assistant (or VA services) - this is something that I am looking to expand into as it seems a natural progression from what I currently do now. Enough about that, back on the subject. These work from home and very rarely meet the client face to face. They will provide a range of services that a normal secretary/PA provides, except that it costs your business less.

Remote Receptionist - using ComputerTelephone Integration software, they can replace traditional receptionists.

Space Services include some of the following:

Providing Business Meeting Space on demand hourly, daily or weekly so that businesspeople can hold meetings with clients, staff or contractors.

Having a professional mailing address so that any parcels or mail can be accepted and forwarded without the sometimes unprofessional-looking PO Boxes that small businesses use.

Casual Workspace - all the convenience of a home office but without the distraction. You can drop-in whenever you need to whether it be hourly, daily or monthly.

So what does this mean for business?

If you want to know one of the few businesses that are truly recession-proof, this can be classed as one of them. Trimming expenses is the order of the day, and virtual offices are one of the ways to do this. Paying for meeting-and-greeting space only as and when needed works out much more cheaply and helps minimise expenses. Virtual receptionists and assistants can be hired at the fraction of the cost.

The critics will say that this will mean that more people will lose their jobs as the need for people grows less. I agree that is a risk. However, on the plus side, there is the opportunity for those who have the skill and the business sense, there are entrepreneurial opportunities out there for you.

So there you have it, I hope you enjoyed it.

Take care and God bless readers...

© Ngozi Nwabineli October 2009

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Daniel Pedro
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Ngozi Nwabineli
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