Whether it’s to save money, a reluctance to sign a lease or potential environmental benefits, virtual offices have become the solution for many start-up and small businesses.
Fundamentals of the virtual office include a professional business address, a personal mailbox, live professional reception service, meeting facilities and video conferencing services.
It’s easy to understand why virtual offices are popular amongst many industries – perhaps most favored by those in the financial, legal, real estate, marketing, media and technology sales fields – as a virtual office allows staff to work together no matter where they are physically located so long as the proper digital tools are in place.
That said, there exist a number of do’s and don’t’s to consider when going the virtual office route.
Do embrace the virtual office as home base. In addition to the above mentioned elements, a virtual office typically includes administrative support as needed, voice mail services, call forwarding, copy services and mail/package delivery. While you and employees may conduct most of the everyday work from home offices, make sure that the virtual office is the conduit for mail, calls and other outside communication.
Maintaining a professional appearance is essential to a successful business, so make good use of all attractive “bells and whistles” a virtual office has to offer. These perks can come in handy during regularly scheduled meetings with staff as you will not be interrupted by ringing phones.
The potential for networking is another open door of a virtual office; take the time to get to know other shareholders in “your” office for you never know where those professional relationships may lead.
Do make sure that key employees are full-time. The office may not be an actual brick and mortar building, but that doesn’t mean that staff should be without structure.
Do as much in the “cloud” as possible. In brief, cloud computing is a general term for delivering hosted services over the Internet. It provides the ability to run a program on many connected computers at one time. A cloud service is characterized in three distinct ways – it is sold on demand, typically by the hour; a user can have as much or as little service as wanted at any given time; and the service is fully managed by the provider, therefore the user is not required to have anything but a personal computer and access to the Internet.
Do utilize software such as LogMeIn, (remote access and desktop), Join.Me (free screen sharing and conferencing tool), and Skype (free service that allows users to communicate across an Internet connection by combining voice, video and instant messaging).
First on the don’t list is avoid hiring people who cannot work effectively on their own. Employees must be trusted to work without supervision, as the bulk of the work will be conducted from individual home offices. Take particular note of red flags, such as unresponsiveness or missed deadlines.
Don’t get into hermit mode. Utilize your virtual office not only for client meetings, but also for regular “brainstorming” sessions with your staff.
Don’t cut costs on communication technologies, software or hardware. In a virtual environment, effective communication and reliable equipment is critical.
Don’t provide employees or vendors access to equipment and/or information they do not need or is client sensitive.
Virtual offices allow great flexibility for small business owners and their staff. The ability to work from a home office, the availability of a professional meeting place and dependable administrative coverage help to place the focus on conducting work and running a successful business.