I am sure you have heard of it. Virtual Offices are popping up everywhere and everyone offers a different thing.
So far there is no standard definition as to what it truly is. However there are certain things a Virtual Office should have, and here they are:
1- An address. A real life physical address, unique to you, in a commercial zone. If you can locate it on Google Maps, so can your clients and customers. Would you have them see your office located in a residential area of town? You have to project a professional image, but not only that. Commercial locations offer several additional features like proximity to services, ease of access, and availability of commercial grade services like higher internet speeds.
2- A land line and an extension number. Having a land line means two big things. You have an established, real life business place AND your phone line has business hours too. You might do business from 9 to 5 and most of your clients will respect that, but a few won’t. Giving your personal mobile phone to everyone is not the best practice and you might find yourself in an awkward situation in the wee hours of the night.
3- A real life assistant or receptionist. Not only will you have someone to help you with tasks that require time to solve, but you will also benefit from having your calls answered by a person instead of voicemail or an automated response system. Not that voicemail is bad, but let’s face it: you rather talk to a human than a machine, right? So do your clients.
Ok, now you have these basic services. Now you have to pay for them. There are two ways of doing this: Exclusive and Shared. Exclusive means they only serve you, and only you pay for them… see where I am going? Chances are you are not sitting on your desk all day. Maybe you don’t even touch your office for days. And maybe you don’t talk or need an assistant 8 hours a day. Why not share them and spread the cost among many users? This is where the Virtual Office excels. You have this shared resources at your disposal if and when you need them, and you only pay for what you really use, and not a penny more.
Now, the market is crowded with Virtual Offices that limit themselves to these basic services, but there are some more adventurous companies that are building more functionality into their offerings, and some are even crossing over into the Cloud Office:
- IP Phones. You have internet connection at home, on your mobile phone, on restaurants, coffee shops, so basically everywhere! Why not take advantage of this and, instead of using a regular land line or mobile phone with their associated costs, use a more efficient IP Phone? With this technology you have many advantages: Your extension follows you wherever you are, and you can reach your assistant just dialing an extension number. You can make and receive calls on your office landline from anywhere. You are no longer tied to your office to get that important call, you could be on your car or on the beach and still be connected. Most IP Phone providers will give you nationwide calling for a low monthly fee.
- Cloud Storage. There are several offerings out there to buy cloud storage, and they all work great. Some have advanced features like file sync and apps for your smartphone and computers. This technology is now being incorporated into some Virtual Office offerings and it makes sense. You can have access to your stored information at anytime from anywhere, and you know it is secure and protected, even more than on your own computer. One of the most interesting benefits is that you can email a huge file, say 100MB, in a second by just sending a link to that file on your personal cloud storage. This way you only share what you want with who you want, and if for any reason you want to stop sharing, you just deactivate the link you sent. It is that easy.
- Digital Dashboards. A dashboard is basically a place where you can see at a glance what is happening. You are used to this; after all you see it in your car every day. A digital dashboard is no different. At a glance it tells you if you have new e-mails, phone calls, messages, mail and other things. And the beauty is that you can just drill down. Say you see that you have 2 new e-mails. Just a few clicks should take you to where you can read and reply. Go back to the dashboard and see that you have a missed call and voicemail. Another couple of clicks and you are now listening to that voicemail, and returning the call. A digital dashboard is the fastest way to take care of business.
- Room Reservations. You have a virtual office now, and you want to use it. Actually let’s say you want the meeting room with the big TV for a special product presentation you are giving to a client. With a reservation system in place you can just go into the meeting room you want, check out its calendar and see when it is available, and with a couple of clicks reserve a specific hour for you, your partner and your clients. Some Virtual Offices allow you to also add coffee service to your reservation. Your assistant can take care of this too. The best reservation systems are available online, but some Virtual Offices still require you to make the reservation by calling.
- Mail handling options. The traditional workflow is quite simple. New mail gets to the office, it gets sorted and stored and it patiently waits for you to retrieve it next time you visit. The more proactive Virtual Offices will send you a notification. But some will also allow you to personalize your own workflow. For example: New mails gets here, scan it and send it to my inbox on a PDF. The original will be Stored/Destroyed/Forwarded as requested on my profile; IF a check gets here, don’t scan it, notify me AND deposit on my checking account. Is this not better? With this type of personalization you can expect a small bill at the end of each month, but it is worth it.
- Business promotion. Picture this: There may be more than one thousand users of a Virtual Office, and all this is a community of like-minded business professionals. Why not list your services and do some internal promotion? And if you think about it, why not list your services and publish them to the web? Some Virtual Offices have this service for you to use. This is the best type of business exposure you can have, because you will take advantage of a community that you already belong to.
- Additional Services. Your Virtual Office might offer a variety of services to help you be successful and concentrate on what you do while they deal with the hassle of office operations. Think about IT services, accounting services, personal assistants. And chances are that since you are sharing these resources with your Virtual Community, you will also pay less for them, and only IF and WHEN you use them.
Concluding. A Virtual Office is a community of business professionals, sharing resources, costs and working smarter, anywhere they are, and at any time of day or night. You think you might benefit from this?