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Virtual offices have been around for a while, but they’re not really what the name “virtual office” suggests. Unless you’ve already read about virtual office businesses or used one for yourself or your business, you’ll likely be surprised to find out the mainstream concept regarding this term. However, in light of new technological trends like the metaverse and the widespread interest in virtual reality or VR, the generally accepted concept of the virtual office is being challenged and is slowly beginning to change. That’s why, in this post, we’ll cover the different concepts of the virtual office and explore the benefits they offer to businesses across the globe.
The “classical” definition of a virtual office
Traditionally, a virtual office is a B2B business that provides a collection of remote services to companies that want or need to operate remotely. These services start with providing a real physical mailing address but have branched out to various other services, including physical meeting rooms and call center capabilities. While many modern business processes can be automated by using different software tools to take care of things like outreaching, sending out cold email campaigns and even managing supply chains, things like handling physical mail have to be done physically.
Virtual offices first came about in the early days of the Internet, around the late 1990s. At that time, businesses started to pop up that would offer physical mailing addresses and local phone numbers to other businesses. The idea was that these businesses could use the virtual office’s address as their own without worrying about the hassle and expense of renting their own physical office space.
In the early 2000s, the virtual office concept started to change and evolve. With the advent of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology, businesses were no longer limited to using local phone numbers. They could now use VoIP numbers that could be forwarded to any phone anywhere.
Regardless of the above examples of virtual office business evolution, the term “virtual office” itself has evolved in recent years. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
The benefits of “traditional” virtual offices for business
Some of the most important benefits virtual office businesses offer to startups and other businesses are:
#1 A physical address instills confidence.
If you’re a startup, especially a remote business, one of the main benefits of using a virtual office is that it gives you a physical address to list on your website and marketing materials. Having a physical address, instead of just listing a PO Box or home address, can inspire confidence in potential customers or clients. It conveys that you’re a legitimate business, which can go a long way in boosting conversions and sales.
#2 You can choose an address in a prestigious location.
Not only do you get a physical address, but you can shop around for virtual offices that provide an address in a prestigious location, even if you can’t afford to rent office space there. This also allows you to get much closer to your target audience and save on shipping costs if you cover some of those expenses for your clients.
#3 Someone else can handle your incoming (physical) mail.
One of the hassles of running a business is dealing with incoming mail. If you use a virtual office, you can have somebody else handle that for you. All virtual office companies offer different mail-handling services, including open-and-scans, shredding unwanted mail and even sending out checks or making bank deposits. This can be a huge time-saver, especially if you’re a solopreneur or small business owner who wears many hats.
#4 You can relocate without having to change your business address.
If you need to move or relocate your business, a virtual office gives you the flexibility to do so without having to change your business address. This can be a big advantage, especially if you have a well-established address that’s getting good results in terms of inquiries and sales.
#5 You get access to meeting rooms and other amenities.
Another great benefit of using a virtual office is that you can usually access different meeting rooms and amenities, depending on the company you choose. This can come in handy if you ever need to hold a meeting or event or if you need to use a conference room for a video call or presentation. Some virtual office companies also offer access to day offices, which can be a godsend if you ever need a place to crash for a few hours between meetings.
#6 You can reduce operational costs.
Last but not least, one of the main reasons businesses choose to go virtual in the first place is to reduce operational costs. When you have a virtual office, you don’t have to worry about the overhead associated with renting and maintaining a physical office space. This can free up a lot of cash flow to reinvest back into your business.
A “new” definition of a virtual office
When those who have never heard about virtual office businesses think about a “virtual” office, the first thing to come to their mind is probably, well, exactly that: an office space just like the brick & mortar ones we’re used to, only in virtual reality.
The last couple of years have seen immense growth in the development and deployment of VR technology across the board, especially with companies worldwide working hard to bring the next step in the evolution of the Internet: Internet 3.0, aka the metaverse. With everything around us moving to virtual spaces, including entertainment, work and even the economy, it’s only natural that we start associating a virtual office with a space on the metaverse.
In this context, we can define a true virtual office as the digital rendering or representation of a 3D office space accessible through the Internet and where remote team members (rendered in the virtual world as 3D avatars) can get together, meet and collaborate on different projects using various tools.
There are different ways businesses can set up and use these virtual offices. For example, some startups might want to use a preexisting VR office space that already has the bare essentials they need to get started, or they can build (or have someone else build) their own custom-made virtual office and host it on different online platforms.
The benefits of the “new” virtual office for businesses
A true virtual office offers some of the same benefits as a traditional virtual office services but with several others on the side:
#1 The flexibility to work from anywhere.
Since all you need to access a virtual office is an Internet connection, this type of office gives you the flexibility to work from anywhere, allowing you to run your business remotely. Whether you’re on your way to a meeting or working from home, as long as you have a VR headset and an Internet connection, you can enter your company’s virtual office to continue working, and so can your collaborators.
#2 Reduced overhead.
Just as with a traditional virtual office service, you can save on your overhead because you won’t need to worry about renting or maintaining a physical office space. But a true virtual office offers the potential to save even more because, depending on how you set up your virtual office, you could run it for free.
#3 Increased productivity and collaboration for remote and hybrid workplaces.
True virtual offices can also help increase your team’s productivity and collaboration, as they provide a more immersive and realistic communication and collaboration experience. Platforms like Microsoft Teams and their Mesh integration, for example, offer users a complete collaboration package that includes Microsoft 360, VR interaction with personalized avatars, chat, video conferencing, file sharing and more, all within the same VR environment.
This makes phone and Zoom calls a relic of the past, vastly improving the effectiveness of communication and your teammates’ motivation.
#4 Connect more easily with younger generations of workers and customers.
Since younger generations are the early adopters of new technologies, it’ll be easier for you to connect with them if your business uses a virtual office. As we’ve seen, the line between work and play is starting to blur, and people are expecting businesses to adopt new technologies so they can have a more immersive and fun experience when working and interacting with the brand. Adopting a virtual office today is a good strategy to future-proof your business.
The bottom line: Are virtual offices good investments?
The evolution of the metaverse and the possibility of deploying true virtual working experiences make the term virtual office adequate only for the “new” virtual office. Unless they start offering true virtual office spaces, businesses previously dubbed virtual office companies should adopt a more adequate term like “remote offices” instead since they offer their services in the physical realm, not the virtual one.
That said, these two types of services don’t compete against each other directly, and true virtual offices will not replace traditional ones since they are meant for two very different things.
Traditional virtual office services are still a good investment for companies that need or want to have a physical location without the overhead of renting or maintaining an office space. They can use these services to have a professional address to receive mail and calls, host meetings and instill confidence in their customers.
On the other hand, true virtual offices are perfect for companies that want to ditch the physical office altogether and move their operations online. They’re also a good investment for companies with remote or hybrid workforces, as they offer increased productivity and collaboration by providing a more immersive and realistic communication experience.