What is a Virtual Office?
The first thing we need to consider is what is an office? Typically a business office is the communication and administrative center for a company. Traditionally a company would rent and staff an office so that they had a mailing address, a direct telephone and a fax number as well as a place for administrative tasks and document filings as these were core business requirements for any active business. The trouble was this could be expensive for Small Medium Businesses so many would use a virtual office address which was a service operated by an independent provider that shared their office space and other facilities such as a shared receptionist and meeting rooms and perhaps even payroll or finance facilities with the guest SMBs for a monthly fee. This became known as a virtual business address.
The Modern Virtual Office
Today the concept of the virtual office is now based largely on cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) that provide the SMB with all the communications and business admiration tools and functions they require via a standard internet connection. This makes a modern virtual office pretty much cloud-based which means there is no physical office premises anymore just technology that provides the interfaces and the illusion of a traditional bricks and mortar office. This greatly reduces operating costs as now many SMB can be run from a laptop or even from the workers mobile phones. This means that the virtual office has become even more a true virtual business rather than a virtual business address.
Today’s Virtual Office Solutions and Services
SMB today will likely go down the route of deploying a cloud-based virtual office in order to save on initial startup and running costs. Nonetheless, they can often pick and mix individual software packages to provide the services and functions they require or they can subscribe to SaaS virtual office solutions. Either way there are some common functions that practically all businesses will need to cover and these are:
- Virtual Office Address – The concept of having a virtual address for business is often overlooked but is still very important to have. You may initially register your company using your residential or home address and this is often the case with freelancers and solo entrepreneurs. The problem is with that approach is you want to clearly define what your home expenses are and what your business expenses for tax purposes are. Seeking out a mailing address service can prevent any potential misunderstandings with the Taxman. One service is Spheremail’s All-In-One Virtual Office, which can provide a business address anywhere. Spheremail will ensure that any received Mail is scanned and viewable over the internet even on your mobile so you can decide what to delete and which to save and download.
- Virtual Office Phone – Having a virtual office phone number is another key requirement for delivering a professional image to your potential clients. Again you might want to use your home number or your personal mobile number but that doesn’t convey the right impression so get yourself a virtual business number. Skype has been supplying these for years. For SMBs working from home you might want to look at Skype, Phone.com or RingCentral, for those businesses that need to operate from their mobile phones then Grasshopper serves the purpose. Regardless all these virtual telephone services will provide you with a business number with an auto-receptionist with custom greetings and programmable call forwarding that will ensure no business calls go unanswered.
- Domain Name – A clear indicator that a company is very small and probably new is if it doesn’t have its own registered domain name. You can register a suitable domain name through many online registrars.
- Email – Another very popular form of business communications is email so you will need to give your clients the option of emailing your business. Two very popular email engines are MS Outlook and Google’s Gmail there are free and business version available. However once again the email address you choose should reflect your business name preferably your domain name.
- Social Media – Clients will use many channels to communicate with businesses some are through social media updates and comments of Facebooks, Instagram. Twitter, TikTok and the like. Social media needs a lot of work and some unified communication packages like RingCentral and Nextiva have dedicated social medial channel support.
- Fax – This is still an important requirement especially for legal documents so make sure you have the facility to send and receive faxes. Most virtual telephone services or virtual business services will handle incoming and outgoing fax.
- HD Voice/Video Conferencing – today this has become a staple for business communication especially for those working from home. Hence the huge success or Zoom and Blue Jeans and also the ubiquitous Skype during the recent lockdown due to the covid-19 pandemic.
- Sharing and Collaboration – If you have co-workers then you will need a way to collaborate and share documents. A great free but high quality service is Google Apps that has a whole suite of business orientated programs for spreadsheets, documents, presentations. Videos and meetings and all sorts of desktop and screen sharing capabilities.
Cloud Platforms for Unified Communications (UCaaS)
As we have seen when addressing the virtual office concept there is a wide array of excellent freely available tools available for the SMB to create a virtual office environment. However, if you don’t want the hassle of downloading and switching between all these diverse applications you may favor the UCaaS approach. Many of the premier virtual PBX’s are now UCaaS platforms as they have developed omnichannel support for voice, video, chat, email, instant messaging and social media updating. These are not cheap but the likes of RingCentral, Nextiva and Vonage provide excellent enterprise level features for a cost-effective monthly subscription which is affordable for SMB with only a few power users.
The advantage of UCaaS is that you have many integrated services so you don’t have to flip between apps as everything is all in one app. The other is that UCaaS platform like RingCentral or 8×8 virtual office solutions and the others are tightly integrated with many business applications such as SalesForce or Outlook. This allows you to open a client’s history automatically upon answering their call.
Nonetheless, where UCaaS platform really excel today is in managing multichannel communications within a single platform that includes social media updates and comments.