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Who goes VO?

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Is the Virtual Office just a fad set to fade? Or are we to get used to speaking to receptionists in the sky? THERESE MEYER of Regus, tracks the VO market.

The rise in popularity of the Virtual Office (VO) in recent years among organisations of all shapes and sizes would suggest this smart use of technology to run a business remotely will soon become as run-of-the-mill as machinery was after the Industrial Revolution.

Recent research by international office services provider, Regus, found 60% of executives asked predicted a decline in the need for fixed office space. They recognise flexible working opportunities as a keystone of good employer practice and better bottom lines ‚ and VO forms an important part of the modern mix.

In essence, VO provides businesses with prestigious addresses in city centre locations and real people to deal with telephone calls and mail at a fraction of the cost of taking on their own physical office and staff.

Praxis Computing, a growing IT consulting, business software development and implementation company in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, gained a business in the right location and reduced travel times for sales consultants by using virtual offices in Durban.

Praxis sales manager, Dean Moodley, says ‚The business we have in Durban is little compared to Johannesburg but we still need to go there to meet clients. If someone calls the office it has to be a Durban number because it’s important to our clients that we are local. We needed a telephone answering service but also wanted to project a good business image without driving up costs‚ .

Projecting the Right Image

Initially, it was thought VO would appeal only to start-up businesses ‚ fledglings keen to project the right image to potential clients, while sole-operating from the back bedroom on a shoestring budget.

It is true that the services offered by VO ‚ made possible only by tremendous advances in technology over the last two decades ‚ are proving a godsend to thousands of entrepreneurs and small businesses. At Regus, the use of virtual office by this sector has grown by 10 to 15% per annum in the last three years.

Let’s face it: even if today’s billionaires do boast about how they began their empires in the garage or bedroom, they probably weren’t so keen to shout about it at the time. Even if a virtual receptionist doesn’t know the nuts and bolts of the business as intimately as its owner would like, it’s got to be better for a potential customer to hear a professional voice at the end of the telephone rather than some repeated answering message, an ongoing ringtone or even a muttering teenager.

With basic services in the SA starting from R590 a month, it seems the decision to go VO is a bit of a no-brainer for new businesses.

Testing New Markets

But it would be painting a false picture to suggest that young businesses are the only client making use of organisations such as Regus, which provides both real and virtual offices around the globe.

Regus can name a host of major companies who have complemented their existing network of offices with virtual ones ‚ including Dell. Most commonly, multi-nationals will exploit VO when they’re looking to expand into a foreign market and want to test the waters before they commit to buying any real estate. Once they’re satisfied the market is good, they look into setting up a physical presence. Sometimes, as in the case of Google ‚ who recently went VO in Portugal, Eastern Europe ‚ companies want to create the impression of having a presence in a certain place, while not actually needing any staff on the ground.

The system also works for growing enterprise because, as is the case with Regus facilities, the virtual office addresses are also the addresses of actual office suites and lounges for hire. Once a business is thriving, it can start using high quality meeting rooms and workspaces without changing its address.

Employees Like VO

Regus research also showed nearly two-thirds of large companies have already rolled out new ways of working. They have found that by offering flexible working practices such as VO, they attract high quality people into their business. Not only do workforces welcome opportunities to cut down on travelling times by home working with open arms, but the pool from which talent can be fished in the first place is widened when employees are not corralled under the same roof. It’s no surprise that Regus has seen the big business sector take a growing percentage of its client base since 2008.

As communications technologies improve further and business becomes even more mobile, this pattern looks to continue. To a greater or lesser extent, the virtual office is making sound commercial sense to all sizes of progressive organisation. Nothing like a fading fad, VO will be in vogue from now on.

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