With the continued improvement of mobile technology, expansion of Cloud-based software programs and data storage, and the desire for lower startup costs, many new businesses are ditching the traditional office space and opting to go virtual -- using the Web to connect employees, clients, customers and partners.
According to experts, the benefits of establishing virtual headquarters for your business include increased productivity, lower overhead costs, and environmental friendliness.
Here's a look at what one business found when they tried going virtual:
In 2010, the editorial staff of Inc. magazine experimented with becoming a virtual office for a month. Reporter Max Chafkin highlighted some of the pros and cons of the experiment in his article, "The Case, and the Plan, for the Virtual Company":
- Save on overhead: Savings on going virtual include leasing office space, paying for utilities and internet, and purchasing office furniture. Companies should still plan on reimbursing employees for equipment they need for work, including computers, software and cell phones.
- Utilize free services: Inc.com noted that businesses can also save on using enterprise software, instead relying on the free or low-cost programs that consumers use every day like Skype, Gmail and DropBox.
- Increase talent pool: When it comes to hiring, being a virtual company is a boon. Not only do potential hires like the idea of working from home, they see the company as being more flexible and valuing productivity more than attendance.
- Decreased collaboration: Since they're not sharing a physical space where they can pop in to chat with each other or have spontaneous brainstorming sessions, employees need to seek out space to share ideas online. While it's possible to use chat rooms and video conferencing as virtual water coolers, these meetings don't have the same informality and ease that working in close proximity has.
- The virtual stigma: Virtual offices and working from home comes with a stigma -- customers can be skeptical and distrustful of companies that don't have a central location. Tony Conrad, founder of Sphere, told Inc.com that businesses should never refer to themselves as a "virtual company" and that it might even be wise to lease a small office to use for meetings with clients and investors.
- Isolation: Employees can end up feeling isolated or out of the loop. Managers need to be cognizant about checking in regularly.
Communication is Key
As noted by Inc.com, one of the most important aspects of any business is the ability of employees to communicate with each other and the ability of the company to communicate with clients.
While the lack of a traditional office changes how some of these crucial interactions happen, it doesn't mean that a virtual office is any less effective about sharing information easily with all interested parties.
In fact, with the improvement of mobile technology, the ability of virtual businesses to share information on a variety of platforms is better than ever, especially when it comes to new phone systems.
Picking a Business Phone System
One of the keys to ensuring seamless communication is picking the best business phone system for your virtual business.
Without a physical office, there's no need to consider purchasing key-less, KSU or expensive PBX-based or phone systems that are tied to a landline and often require specialized maintenance.
This leaves a Voice over IP (VoIP) phone system as your best option. With VoIP, regular voice calls are sent via the internet, rather than a traditional landline. Keep in mind, in order for the highest call quality, you and your employees will all need access to high-speed internet.
The cost savings for long-distance and international calls are significant compared with traditional telephone service (most VoIP providers offer free local and long-distance calls anywhere in the country and very low per-minute rates for international calls), making VoIP ideal for companies with employees and clients based across the country and around the globe.
What Does VoIP offer?
Not only will a VoIP phone system save your company money, but the fierce competition among service providers means you'll also find improved service and cooler features (think high-def video conferencing) than with older phone systems.
Here are some of the features VoIP can offer your virtual company:
- Local phone numbers anywhere you want to do business
- Toll-free number for your business
- Auto attendants to help route calls to the appropriate person
- Calls forwarding to business, cell or home phones, meaning you'll never miss a call
- Dial-by-name directories
- Holiday and after-hours special greetings
- On-hold music
- Call screening
- Caller ID
- Virtual fax
- Visual voicemail
- Call logs
- Call recording
- Video conferencing
- Instant messaging
- Call encryption
- Integrated messaging
Hosted phone services like VoIP also mean you don't have to hire anyone to maintain your office phone system -- your service provider manages any technical and service problems.
Depending on the service provider you choose and the number of added features you use, VoIP can actually help you better manage all the incoming and outgoing communication for your company. Faxes, e-mails, texts, chat, conferencing and calls can all be accessed from your computer desktop, smart phone or tablet, meaning you can take your business anywhere there's Web access.
What more could a virtual company want?
Learn more about choosing a business phone system on Business.com.
Photo courtesy of office-designz.net.