Virtual Offices: Everything you need to know
Remote working has gone from being a niche trend among tech start-ups in Silicon Valley to a widely accepted way of doing business across the world. In fact, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, in the 12 months to December 2019, the number of people working mainly at home in the UK was 1.7 million. Open the definition up to people who worked at home at some point during that period, and the figure jumps to 8.7 million.
The survey covers the period leading up to (but not including) the major jump in homeworking that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it. But long before the outbreak, virtual office services were already on the up, keeping step with the rise of the remote worker.
So what does virtual office rental mean in practice and is it right for your business? Let’s take a look in our complete guide to virtual offices.
What is a virtual office?
Popular with everyone from start-ups to multinationals, a virtual office provides a service in which people rent a fixed office address away from where they actually do their work.
The idea of the virtual office has been around for a long time – it was initially realised by entrepreneur Ralph Gregory back in 1995, but since then, virtual offices have been put into action by businesses across the globe.
What are the benefits of a virtual office?
Virtual offices offer lots of benefits for companies and entrepreneurs alike, but here are the most common attractions:
A virtual business mailing address
In the early days of running a business, many owners will work from home. However, to attract the best clients, they might need a more prestigious address – the problem is they simply can't afford one.
This is where a virtual office comes in. You pay for a virtual mailing address at an attention-grabbing city location, and then you can use that address on your correspondence and marketing to potential customers.
A mailing service
As we've mentioned above, if you're paying for a virtual company address that adds extra gravitas to your offering, you'll use it in your emails and promotional material. But what if people start trying to contact you at that address?
It's for this reason that most virtual offices will also provide a mailing service as part of the package. They'll forward your business post on to your home address, or open and scan your letters before emailing the scans over to you.
A trained receptionist
A letter-forwarding service is great for written correspondence, but what if clients and customers start calling your virtual office to set up meetings?
Most virtual office packages will include a fully-trained receptionist who'll be able to handle calls and book meetings on your behalf. So, even though you're not located at that office, your customers will still enjoy a totally professional experience.
Your virtual receptionist has taken a call from a potential client, and they've requested a meeting at your city centre virtual office location. But you're not using that address as your workplace, so what do you do?
Fortunately, many virtual office packages will also offer meeting rooms as part of the service. So, even though you're not there from day to day, when it’s time to make an impression in person you can accommodate clients and customers on site.
Do you need a virtual company address?
Renting an office in a prestigious part of a big city is most likely out of the question for most start-ups and small businesses. Early in the lifecycle of your business, finances will be tight and you need to be careful about every expense. Sinking your budget into a flashy office in a central location is hard to justify, because it’s massively expensive and for much of your daily activity you don’t really need it.
That said, you need to be able to display an air of professionalism and a random address in the suburbs won't really cut it. So, a virtual office address at a much smaller cost is the ideal answer. A virtual office address in a central city location means you still get all the kudos at a fraction of the cost, reassuring potential customers that you’re a serious, professional proposition and making them more willing to do business with you.
Virtual offices are flexible and cost-effective
Flexibility is a key benefit too. According to one survey from 2019 40% of remote workers consider their flexible schedule to be the biggest benefit of working remotely. Just behind it on the list is the ability to work from any location. Virtual office solutions mean you get a valuable work address, without being physically tied to that location at all times.
The reduction in administrative costs is also a big plus. In any lean business, recruitment costs will be focused on hiring specialists to help growth, rather than on employing admin staff. But that leaves a hole in the company's day-to-day running. The dedicated assistance that a virtual office receptionist can provide means the gap is covered, so you get help in managing office logistics, without the hefty bill to go with it.
Is a virtual office right for my business?
But is a virtual office right for you? Of course there’s no one-size-fits-all and overlaying the benefits of a virtual office on the specific needs of your business and your customers is something you’ll need to pay close attention to. That said, setting up virtual headquarters can pay dividends for businesses of all sizes.
When a business is finding its feet and profits haven’t yet started to roll in, a virtual business address is ideal. Without lengthy contracts or a hefty monthly bill, you'll be able to benefit from an established address without the financial strain.
Contractors and consultants
Despite attracting healthy fees and interest from major corporations, many contractors and consultants work from home, rather than having a central office. But not having a city address could make potential clients think twice.
A virtual office will provide reassurance for customers, without forcing the contractor or consultant out of a proven and practical way of working.
Bigger businesses looking for a new city hub
Bigger businesses can benefit too, especially if they’re looking to expand and have ambitions to operate on a global scale. Having a perceived presence in major cities really matters, with financial powerhouses such as London and Singapore standing for credibility in the eyes of clients and investors.
It's crucial for a company with its sights set internationally to be able to establish bases in key cities, but while a full-blown office might be too expensive, a virtual office plants a flag for your brand in the location of your choice.
What should you look for in a virtual office?
As with any business expense, if you decide to rent a business address it’s important to ensure that you're getting the most out of your investment. As such, it's worth carrying out some research on any potential virtual office operation you're thinking of joining forces with.
First, make sure you choose a virtual address space that suits your requirements. While some virtual offices might provide lots of bells and whistles, if the address isn't going to raise the perception of your business in the eyes of customers, is it really worth your money? Instead, put the prestige of the address at the top of your list.
Listen to what other business owners have to say about your chosen virtual office provider too. Take advantage of review sites such as Trustpilot and ask around in your network of fellow professionals as well. Nothing beats a personal recommendation.
The costs of a virtual office
The costs of a virtual office can differ greatly, depending on your chosen city and provider. In terms of location, globally significant cities will cost more than regionally important ones. For example, a London virtual office space could be up to double the cost of a Manchester virtual office.
Likewise, pricing structures from virtual workspace providers can vary, so it’s important to really understand what you’re getting before you sign on the dotted line. Here at Rovva, for example, we offer a range of products to suit different budgets. This kind of approach lets you choose the level of service that’s right for you, while still ensuring you get to take advantage of a virtual address at a competitive price.
The future of the virtual office
Now we've taken a look at the benefits of virtual spaces for businesses, as well as what to look for when selecting your own, how does the future look for virtual working?
The opening months of 2020 have seen an explosion in the numbers of people working somewhere other than their regular place of work. It’s unexpected and it’s unprecedented, but it’s also occurring at a time when communications technology is mature enough to make it possible. As a result, many businesses, Twitter among them, are rethinking their approach to physical office space, while the advent of 5G is set to make it even easier to work remotely.
That means many businesses may not want to pay for expensive serviced offices in future, but they won’t want to lose the prestige of a central city location. As such, we can expect to see a further increase in popularity for virtual offices.
Additionally, as globalisation continues at pace, cities that were once smaller regional hubs are fast becoming international powerhouses. In these cities, virtual office locations will allow businesses to position themselves locally, without having to dilute workforces by placing them in ever more distant outposts.
Getting a virtual office for your business
The rise of remote and flexible working has changed the way we do business forever. On top of this, globalisation is putting extra pressure on every business to be where the money is.
Fortunately, virtual offices are the perfect response to this challenge. Your business gets to fly its flag in the best locations, you get to stay in an agile frame of mind, and you don't have to lose sleep over expensive and impractical long-term rental agreements.
As with so many things, in office space, it looks like the future is virtual.
the virtual world