Although it may sound like a Silicon Valley buzzword, virtual office space has gained mainstream acceptance among a wide variety of businesses since the explosion of the Internet. Further driven by economic concerns following the recession in 2008, financial advisors, attorneys, and other entrepreneurs are all taking advantage of the benefits of bailing on traditional brick-and-mortar storefronts in favor of virtual offices. But you may be wondering: “what is a virtual office? Am I going to have to conduct important, high-profile meetings via webcam, or at the coffee shop across the street?” Nothing of the sort. In fact, a virtual office provides an even more elite physical location than you would likely be able to afford to rent under a traditional lease. Let’s run through some of the basic concepts of a virtual office, and why it’s a great solution for modern businesses.
All the Perks of a Traditional Office, without the Cost
A virtual office is, simply put, an unbundling of the benefits traditionally obtained when renting office space. Instead of entering into a lease with a landlord for the full range of commercial amenities, the business owner can work from home or another casual location and pick and chooses from among service packages to find a plan that suits their needs. A typical virtual office package includes things like address services, mail services, call center and voicemail services, shared office equipment, administrative staff, and even shared office and reception space. Rather than having to commit to paying exorbitant commercial rents over a long-term lease commitment, the business owner is free to buy only those services they need, when they need them, with the freedom to walk away whenever they choose.
Why pay thousands of dollars a month to a landlord when all you need is a mailing address and an occasional place to meet clients? With most basic virtual office packages costing an average of around $100 per month, you can see what a huge impact this can have on a business’s overhead.
Increasing Business Value While Cutting Costs
Of course, a virtual office is much more than just cheap real estate. It comes with many business-enhancing perks that are a huge boon to small and up-and-coming businesses. For starters, most virtual office providers have multiple locations around the country situated in prestigious, downtown commercial districts. By obtaining a mailing address in one of these corporate meccas, your business will receive an instant boost to its image that will impress client and competitor alike. Because most small business owners could never afford the actual rent in one of these locations, using a virtual office service can raise them to a whole new level. You can take this advantage a step further by selecting a package with office and conference room time, usually offered on an hourly basis, so that you can conduct in-person business in style when the need arises. Moreover, having access to multiple office locations gives you the freedom to meet with clients in a professional setting around the country, providing convenience to them while adding to the credibility of your business. This is also a great strategy for businesses hoping to extend their presence into a new region with minimal cost and risk.
Another important aspect of a virtual office is staffing. Most virtual office companies have their own fully trained receptionists and administrative staff, whose services you can retain under certain service packages. This is huge for many small businesses and entrepreneurs, as it spares them from having to answer their own phones and take their own messages, while giving them the level of legitimacy that comes with having a trained professional greet your clients in the lobby.
Perhaps the most typical, but most important, services offered as part of a virtual office package are phone and mailing services. In addition to the benefits of cost reduction and prestige increase discussed above, having your mail and calls go to your virtual office keeps your work and home separate, so you don’t have to worry about personal address and phone number falling into the wrong hands.
As the sophistication of technology continues to rise along with the costs of running a traditional business, it makes more and more sense to shutter your brick-and-mortar location and enjoy the benefits of a virtual office while conducting your day-to-day business from the comfort of wherever you choose!
Can Virtual Offices Work in Industries like Law?
Absolutely! In fact, a rudimentary version of the virtual office has been in wide use within the legal community since before the advent of the internet. Known as “Fegen Suites,” these original virtual office plans originated in the 1970s and consisted of address, mail, and phone services for attorneys who wanted to take advantage of having their practice associated with a particular commercial address without the hassle and overhead of actually renting the space.
Since the days of the Fegen Suites, attorneys have continued to spearhead the virtual office movement, with lawyers comprising 20% to 30% of virtual office companies’ clientele. Since the internet and the personal computer have eliminated a great deal of the attorney’s reliance on a brick and mortar law firm filled with an army of support staff, more legal practitioners are able to work from home. Due to the economic collapse of 2008, many lawyers are also feeling the pinch of increased competition and overhead. As a result of this changing landscape, it makes more sense than ever before, especially for smaller firms and solo practitioners, to abandon their brick-and-mortar locations.
Still, lawyers and their clients have expectations of the posh, downtown law firm with an impressive reception area, large conference room, and elite staff. A virtual office is the perfect way for today’s lawyers to have their cake and eat it too.
The advantages of practicing law in a virtual office are discussed more fully here: