Virtual offices (VO) are rapidly changing the face of business, offering an alternative solution to entrepreneurs who are looking for professional services without renting a physical office space. These offices ultimately give business owners the best of both worlds — for a majorly reduced expense, businesses are able to utilize their virtual office provider’s amenities whenever they want without being tethered to a traditional lease.
With home-based businesses accounting for nearly $427 billion USD in annual revenue, there is a huge market of work-from-home entrepreneurs that could benefit from the services provided by virtual office operators. And, with more people than at any other time in history currently working from home, the opportunity to capitalize on the vast amount of remote workers is not to be overlooked.
If you are a coworking space operator with one or several locations, it makes sense to consider whether implementing virtual offices at your own spaces would be a lucrative business endeavor. To kick off your decision-making, it’s important to asses the technology at your workspaces and available manpower.
But first, you should spend time researching the advantages and possible drawbacks of offering virtual offices so you know exactly what you’re getting into. To truly know if virtual offices are right for your coworking brand, you should understand exactly what they are, what services you will need to provide, and what else you’ll need to be successful.
First, what is a virtual office?
According to Investopedia, a virtual office “is a company that operates as one unit and has a physical mailing address, but does not exist in one specific location.” First founded in 1994, these online offices are particularly appealing for startups looking to save on the maintenance and upkeep costs that come with traditional office spaces. Generally ranging in price from $50 USD to $200 USD per month, virtual offices are a much more manageable and economical option for businesses that are just starting out.
Moreover, virtual offices are a great way for small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to appear larger than they actually are by offering services like a desirable mailing address, in-house receptionist, and video conferencing. This can effectively strengthen a business’ reputation, especially if the selected address is in a prestigious location that the company might not otherwise be able to afford.
Typically, virtual offices extend the following services:
- A physical address
- A phone system
- Receptionist support
- Meeting rooms
Additionally, many virtual office providers offer add-on services such as product shipping, document shredding, training rooms, and online networking, which can be extremely useful for ecommerce companies and new startups. In most cases, virtual office providers give businesses the choice between these features, designing their own all-inclusive or selective plans that align with their needs. As their needs grow, business owners can add on various services to accommodate their size and development.
Already, there are a number of established virtual office providers that have a global reach like SphereMail, but many smaller, independent coworking brands are also capitalizing on the trend and creating new competition.
How virtual offices Can benefit coworking operators
For coworking operators, virtual offices are an effective business strategy to not only draw in new members, but to make the most of the professional services your space already offers.
What this means for coworking spaces is that their amenities are utilized not just by daily members, but by a wide range of business professionals who can create new opportunities for the space. For example, a web designer with a virtual office plan might hold a meeting with a client at a coworking space, and the client ends up liking the space so much that they decide to book their own memberships or use the meeting rooms for their own projects.
It’s also a great way for coworking operators to generate greater revenue without actually filling any additional desks or private offices in a space. You can thus increase your number of members by offering VO plans without gaining any new physical workers. By offering the option of using the space’s meeting rooms and service features, you can satisfy their virtual office members and simultaneously create new opportunities for up-sells and additional income streams.
What You’ll Need to Get Started
If your coworking operations are already up and running, you’re ahead of the curve when it comes to establishing a virtual office service. While it may seem counterintuitive to focus on the brick-and-mortar element of your virtual office as your first priority, having a physical space that can operate as your home base is key.
For customers, a physical space instills a level of trust and consistency in your operations from the outset. Even if they won’t be utilizing the shared office for their own work, people like to know that they have access to a physical space and a team of people making sure the VO’s services are always running smoothly.
Once you have the physical space secured where your virtual office will be housed, your next focus should be technology. Obviously, the majority of your services will be communicated and delivered over the internet, so a solid connection is critical. If you’re already operating a coworking space, you know how important a fast internet connection is to your members. You’ll want to make sure that the new VO services you will provide won’t impact internet speeds, so all of your customers — in-house and remote — are satisfied.
.Your internet connection will ultimately be the foundation for three technologies that will be essential to the success of your virtual offices:
- VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) System
- Unified Messaging System
- Cloud Computing
Having these technologies in place will not only allow you to quickly and effectively communicate with your VO customers no matter where they are located, but they will also assist in delivering certain services, such as mail forwarding, receptionist assistance, and meeting scheduling,
For example, VoIP technology simplifies the process of making long-distance calls using a broadband internet connection instead of an analog (or traditional phone line. In other words, it’s an easy-to-use system for delivering phone services via the internet rather than from a local phone company. If you plan on providing live receptionist services to your VO customers, a VoIP will allow you to receive calls from virtually anywhere in the world with a strong working connection.
Similarly, a unified messaging system will make mail forwarding seamless, which is an incredibly important component of virtual offices. Oftentimes, unified messaging works in coordination with VoIP systems, storing all forms of incoming communication — such as email, fax, voicemail, text messaging, and video messaging — in one place. These messages can then be easily and instantly transmitted to VO customers, giving them one designated place to retrieve their messages and offering seamless communication.
Lastly, utilizing cloud computing will make all of your business operations run more smoothly, including online billing, invoicing, backup, and file sharing. With cloud computing, you can also integrate solutions such as a customer relationship management (CRM) system, which will improve your organization and efficiency.
To implement all this you can build your custom software solution that unifies all the mentioned above features or you can use one of the on-the-shelf solutions that are more cost-effective, but at the same time limiting. Both choices have their pros and cons. You can learn more about them from this guide on custom telecom software development.
As you look to launch your own virtual office services, having the requisite technology in place that allows you to provide the expected services is the most important step. Once the technology is in place, you can slowly begin to reap the benefits of virtual offices for coworking operators, bringing in new members and new business.