The benefits of the virtual office are many and include 24/7 accessibility and presence, as well as having data and comms at your finger tips, wherever you are and whenever you need. So what is a virtual office? A virtual office is patently not virtual in the sense that is doesn't exist. It is virtual in the sense that it doesn't take up the same physical space and cost as traditional office space. It is a set of physical attributes that combine people, systems and technology and facilitates their communication, collaboration and effectiveness, regardless of proximity. The infrastructure is usually rented and paid as needed or on a recurring basis, meaning that it is economic, controllable and scalable. It does not require the capital expenditure of traditional office space and associated systems. Aspects of the Virtual Office. Telephone Answering Who will answer your calls when you are not there? Because, if you are with clients, on the phone, presenting to prospects or just plain busy, you can’t answer the phone. For small businesses this can be a problem. Missed enquiries, missed client calls, even missed supplier calls can lead to missed opportunities. So, a telephone answering service makes sure every call is answered quickly, professionally and dealt with as though it were you answering the phone. Additionally, sales calls are fielded for you, saving you time and hassle, and no-one gets to hear a voicemail message. After hours, calls can be dealt with, transferred or messages left, as you require. Answering the phone is important. It speaks volumes about your business, the care you take over your clients and it ensures you do not miss opportunities. If you can't guarantee to get every call, then a telephone answering service may be the answer. Business Mailing Address For many organisations, including small businesses and the self employed, a professional mailing address can bring credibility, avoid using a home address and help with your Google profile. A prestigious business address can be positioned among your customers, your competition or just in a convenient location. It can save time dealing with unwanted post and be more secure than a home address. Some clients expect you to have an address and it can also be convenient place to work and meet clients, prospects or suppliers. Cloud Computing Storing data in the cloud means that any team member can see and work on information and files, at any time, from anywhere on any device. This can enable flexible and remote working and help manage dispersed teams. It increases efficiency, communication and easily facilitate collaboration. The data and software could be on your own server with remote access, on an off-the-shelf cloud platform, like Windows, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc., or on a bespoke cloud platform from a multitude of providers. Or your best solution could be a hybrid of these options. Services available in the cloud range from simple data and files, through standard or bespoke software programmes to complete systems like hosted telephony. Security is always an issue and should be a major factor in your decision-making process. It can seem like the best option is to have your own server and keep control. However, the big providers, gaining from economies of scale, can afford to invest the most in security, fail-safes and back-up. From a financial viewpoint, your own systems require investment, maintenance and security. Updates are also your responsibility and cost. Outsourcing requires no capital investment and they are scalable; plus, the updates come as part of the package. Whatever you choose, access and ease of use, adaptability, scalability, future-proofing, encryption, security, back-up are all things that need careful consideration. Hosted Telephones A cloud solution, you are basically buying into someone else's telephone system, hosted remotely from your business. You rent telephones, your call reporting and charging is done for you and you have the option of choosing VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones, which can reduce call charges further (VoIP to VoIP is usually free). A number, or range of numbers, will also be provided; the phones will be programmed by the supplier, although individuals will also be able to programme their own phones; there is no capital outlay and you have all the major updates as they occur. You will need good internet (sometimes, the same provider can supply this), especially if you are using VoIP, as voice uses more bandwidth than data. You will also need a good router and switch. For VoIP phones you will also need SIP (Session Initiated Protocol) trunks to facilitate this. These are replacing the old ISDN lines which will be phased out by 2025 (which is why it doesn’t matter what ISDN stands for). The ultimate in flexibility and scalability, hosted phones can be in the workplace and in individuals homes, all linked and working just like a traditional office-based system would. You can also integrate mobiles and video Mitel, for example, works very well with Skype for Business). Benefits of the Virtual Office. Virtual office services can save you time, money and hassle. Outsourcing telephone answering, computing, even telephone systems saves on capital expenditure as well as time on research and set-up. These services are scalable, up and down, so can cope with peaks and troughs in business performance. And they can be individually tailored to your business needs giving you competitive advantage in responding timely and economically to changes in your organisation. Updates are usually part of the package. This means you do not have to reinvest from time to time and you will usually get improved security when you outsource these services. They also help with disaster recovery, ensuring the sustainability of your business and livelihood. In a digital world, the benefits of the virtual office are many abd can provide a sound base for your business.