The Ultimate Guide To Virtual Offices
5 million employees, the equivalent of 3.6% of the US employee workforce, works from home at least half of the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics. And following the coronavirus outbreak, even more businesses are set to embrace remote working.
Quite often, businesses that are able to operate remotely in times of crisis are more resilient than those who rely heavily on physical workplaces. There's also a growing demand among the global population for flexible jobs that allow people to achieve a better work life balance.
As a result, traditional commercial real estate and full time office leases are no longer necessary for some businesses. Virtual offices which were once considered an "alternative" solution for companies are becoming part of the mainstream - even corporates are getting on board.
Alongside coworking spaces, virtual offices are the go to solution for businesses with distributed teams; anyone requiring the benefits that come with a physical office such as a business address, a business telephone number, mail forwarding and occasional conference room access.
So whether you're looking for a virtual office in Beverly Hills, New York, or somewhere in between the two, this definitive guide to virtual offices is for you.
What is a Virtual Office?
Business phone number
Again, using a business telephone number means you won't have to make your personal number public. It also looks more professional in the eyes of clients and customers.
Live Receptionist service
A couple of steps up from a call answering service, a Live Receptionist service is designed to help businesses manage their admin tasks without having to hire a full time receptionist. Scheduling appointments, taking calls and responding to customer inquiries all fall within a Live Receptionist's remit, allowing business owners to invest time in growing their business.
You can also get the calls to your business phone number transferred to your personal one. Call screening is also available at an additional cost.
Can I use a virtual office as my registered agent address?
- Using a virtual office as your business' commercial address can help you protect your personal identity and can work wonders for client perception. Using your personal address, on the other hand, can make your business seem unprofessional - untrustworthy even.
- It's important to understand that your business address isn't the same as your registered agent address. The latter refers to a business or individual whose job it is to accept service of process documents, in case of a lawsuit, for a business entity (e.g. a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a corporation). It is required by law.
- Using your virtual office as a registered agent address can be slightly tricky, however some offer it as an additional service as "service of process" (SOP) and correspondence from the secretary of state must be managed differently than commercial mail.
- For instance, some virtual office members choose to have commercial mail forwarded to their address once a month, so if they decide to register their company using a virtual office address without setting up a way to handle registered agent documents, they might not receive critical notices in time.
How much do virtual offices cost?
- Virtual offices are known for being cost effective, but the amount you pay will depend on the services you choose (including additional ones) as well as the location.
For example, a virtual office in a prime location is likely to cost more. As a rough estimate, you can expect to pay anything between ~$50 to $300 per month.
- Unlike traditional offices you won't be tied into a long contract or have to worry about other overheads like utility bills and cleaning. The majority of virtual office providers operate on a monthly basis and are flexible when it comes to adding and subtracting services.
Virtual Offices vs other forms of flexible workspace
Virtual offices fall under the flexible workspace umbrella and were one of the first flexible workspace solutions to hit the market. However, there are a few other options out there. Find out more about each below and make an informed decision about which is best for your business. For instance, if you want to make new connections, coworking might be a better fit. If you need a full time office for employees, an executive office space could work.
Executive suites provide businesses with a private office space within a large commercial property. Numerous businesses occupy space within the building, and all the amenities - kitchen, lobby, event space, breakout space - are shared between the occupiers.
Most executive suites contain different sized offices. For instance, an entire floor might be occupied by a larger business and another floor might be split into five different offices, each varying in size. Executive suites are typically pre-furnished and ready to move into straightaway.
Another benefit is that unlike commercial leases, executive suite agreements are flexible, allowing you to scale up or down within the space at relatively short notice.
Coworking spaces are hugely popular right now. Designed for freelancers and smaller startups, a coworking space is an open plan workspace that accommodates a range of people working in different industries. It's great for solopreneurs looking to make connections and helps alleviate the feeling of isolation that can come with working from home.
It's not just about a desk in a workspace. Nowadays, coworking memberships offer a variety of ancillary perks. Complimentary coffee, free events, networking sessions and 1:1 business support workshops are just a few examples that come to mind.
Private Mailbox Service
A private mailbox provides you with a business address and mail handling service. Your mail is scanned, enabling you to view it from any device and you can request to have individual items opened, scanned, forwarded or destroyed.
Private mailbox services are suited to small business owners who need an address and mail handling support as well as freelancers who don't need the other mod cons of a virtual office such as call answering, meeting rooms and hot desking.
Essentially, private mailbox services provide a mailing address much like a VO does, however, they are usually located in retail stores (VOs are always in an office building).
If you're a business a VO would make sense because a client searching for your address will find the address of the office building, whereas if you only need a basic and cheap mail receipt facility, a private mailbox could work just fine.
Why do businesses use virtual office space?
To sum up, businesses use virtual offices for a variety of reasons, many of which are described in further detail below. First and foremost though, virtual workspaces are popular because they offer flexibility. It's very difficult to predict what the economic landscape will look like in five years' time these days, making it hard for businesses to plan ahead.
Agile solutions like virtual offices, executive suites and coworking spaces are great in these circumstances. Business owners don't have to worry about committing to a long-term agreement and huge costs, and they can scale up (take on more services or move to a physical office) at relatively short notice.
Another reason is that, as we mentioned in the introduction to this guide, many businesses just don't need a physical office, but they still need to bolster their reputation by having a proper business address and telephone number. It's quite quick and easy to sign up for a virtual office if you have all the relevant ID and business documentation ready.
Top 5 advantages of using virtual offices for business
You can work from anywhere
Running your business remotely and using a virtual office as your business address means you can work from anywhere with a WiFi connection. Many remote business owners work from home, while others opt for public spaces like coffee shops.
Virtual businesses are often more resilient in periods of adversity such as the coronavirus epidemic. This is the case for a number of reasons, including the fact that employees are used to working remotely and you dont have to pay for office space youre not using.
Running a business remotely also provides you with access to a wider, global pool of talent. As mentioned in the introduction, the option to work remotely is desirable at the moment. In fact, 99% of Buffer's survey respondents said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers, suggesting that its not just a passing trend.
It helps you build business credibility
Home-based businesses are becoming more commonplace, especially in sectors like tech and ecommerce. Theres no stigma attached to running a business remotely, however having a business address in a prestigious location will add legitimacy to your enterprise.
While you may not be able to afford an office space in, say, Manhattan, you can probably afford to rent a virtual office there. Also you can use the address on your website and business cards, helping you build up trust with customers, clients and potential investors too.
No long-term commitments
Lengthy rental agreements simply dont exist in the virtual office world. This is great news for businesses requiring flexibility - and lets face it, most of us do at the moment. When it comes to virtual offices, you only pay for the services you need at any given time. So, when scaling up your operations, you can focus your budget elsewhere.
Enhanced customer communication
Depending on the package you opt for, using a virtual office can help you deliver a better service to customers and clients. Call forwarding ensures that no inquiry gets overlooked and mail forwarding makes sure all correspondence reaches you at your home address.
If you decide to go one step further and hire a Live Receptionist, you can outsource time consuming tasks to them - things like scheduling, message taking and responding to customer inquiries. This frees you up to take a more strategic role within your business.
Its an eco-friendly option
Sustainability is a hot topic right now, and for good reason. Renting a virtual office is one of the most environmentally friendly things a business can do, for obvious reasons. Co2 emissions are reduced due to the absence of a commute for a start.
General waste is also reduced when businesses operate digitally. Think about everything youd consume in a regular office: from printing paper to plastic cups and cutlery.
How companies use virtual business addresses
Let's hone in on the virtual business address benefits now.
A virtual office could be the ideal solution for home-based entrepreneurs who want to gain a more professional image and maintain their privacy. Replacing your home address with a business one, your personal phone number with an office one and your local coffee shop with a professional meeting space gives clients the impression that you're running a professional, trustworthy brand.
Depending on your plan, you can use your virtual business address for the following:
- Receiving mail
- Your business license
- Opening a bank account
- Commercial business address
- On your website, business cards, etc.
A brief history of virtual offices
Some experts believe that the virtual office as we know it today, or the first commercial iteration of it, began in the early 1990s. However evidence shows that virtual offices go back even further - all the way to the 1960s.
Let's take a whistlestop tour through the history of virtual offices.
Virtual offices in the 1960s
The first known Executive Office Space operator was called Omnigroup and it was formed in 1962. In the mid-sixties, Paul Fegen founded "Fegen Lawsuites". He rented out office space to fellow lawyers and other professionals. Services included telephone answering and conference room access.
Virtual offices in the 1970s
In 1973 Fegen Law Suites began to provide an "off-site tenant" programme to semi-retired law professionals in Orange Country who required a headquarters in LA. Around about this time, technological advancement was beginning to accelerate, paving the way for widespread telecommunication (remote working and dispersed teams) later on.
More specifically, in 1974 transmission control protocol / internet protocol was developed, enabling different networks to communicate with each other.
Virtual offices in the 1980s
In 1981 the Osborne 1 was released. It's acknowledged as the world's first portable computer and allowed employees to work remotely (although it still required a power socket to operate).
Then, two years later, Chris Kern used the term "virtual office" in an editorial column to describe the potential to work on the move with a portable computer.
Virtual offices in the 1990s
In 1992 Richard Nissen registered and trademarked "The Virtual Office" in the UK. The summary of services they provided are described as follows:
"...telephone and telephone rerouting services; rerouting of telex and facsimile messages; mobile telephone services; mail forwarding; message delivery and sending services."
Virtual offices in the 21st Century
Since the 1990s, the virtual office market has boomed. Cloud technology, portable devices and widespread access to WiFi means that people no longer require full-time office solutions as they did before. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of virtual offices to choose in almost every city across the globe, from Rochester to Reykjavik.
Also, virtual office brokers like Your City Office make finding the right solution quick and easy. Which leads us nicely onto our next section about choosing a virtual address.
How to choose the right virtual business address
Think about what your business needs right now
Virtual offices provide a range of services and you can pick and choose which ones you want in your plan. So, you need only purchase what you require right now because you can always add more further down the line.
If you only need a business address and letter forwarding, the simplest plan will probably do. However if you'd like access to meeting rooms and the option to hot desk every now and again, it's worth considering a more comprehensive package.
Pick a great location
Location is everything and can hugely influence client perception. A virtual office business address in a prestigious location like Beverly Hills, for example, will boost your credibility.
When selecting a location, it's also good to think about what would fit with your industry. For instance if you're in tech, you may want to consider a virtual address in Silicon Valley. Remember: you can use the address on your website, business cards and marketing collateral.
Dig a little deeper
Most virtual office operators offer flexible plans, but it's always a good idea to double check. See if you can cancel your subscription at short notice and add/ subtract services on a month-by-month basis. You might not need access to conference facilities now, but this might change further down the line when your client base starts to grow.
Consider customer service
It's no secret that superb customer service is at the heart of every successful business. Think about how you can leverage your virtual office to help you achieve high levels of customer satisfaction. For example, would call forwarding be enough?
Or could your company benefit from live receptionist support? It's good to know that like virtual offices, you'll usually only need to pay for the hours you need on an ongoing basis.
Use a search platform
With so many options to choose from, online platforms like Your City Office simplify the process somewhat. You can type your desired location into the search bar after which you're taken to a page displaying all of the available options.
Pricing is transparent and it's easy to see what you'll be paying for. Also, you can submit all the required documentation securely through the platform, and you can rest assured that the offices you're browsing are 100% legitimate.
Things to avoid when choosing virtual office solutions
Don't underutilize it
Once you've signed up for your virtual space, it's easy to forget about it. Don't. Be sure to make the most of all the services you've paid for and think about using the add ons too. Say you've got a meeting with a new client. Will a coffee shop suffice?
Or would it be more appropriate to meet them at your virtual office location where you have access to all of the facilities you need, from audiovisual equipment to first rate refreshments!
Don't fall for a scam
Unfortunately there are scammers in every sector and there are a few virtual offices that don't operate within the law, using their address as a facade for illegal activity.
However, this isn't very common because most countries require virtual office vendors to verify the identity of businesses who sign up. Therefore, expect to go through a detailed registration process. If not, be wary about signing up.
The future of virtual offices
Are you looking for a virtual office in a prestigious commercial location?
Use the Your City Office virtual office search platform to sign up for one today.