In recent years virtual office solutions have become more and more popular with an increasing number of businesses and offices using at least one of the many services on offer.
And of all of the virtual office solutions available, one of the most powerful and most popular has to be Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, technology.
This incredibly useful and versatile service has a range of far reaching implementations that, together with other technological innovations, is driving virtual office solutions.
An overview of VOIP
VoIP in its simplest form is the process by which a sound – i.e. your voice – is digitalised and sent via your internet connection to a recipient.
This can be utilised by companies in various ways, but basically means that a business can make long distance phone calls free of charge.
Extras like video capability and extensions can be added to a VoIP system, making it incredibly versatile and easy to tailor to suit an individual business.
Enabling remote working
As effective communication is one of the main obstacles to overcome when developing a more mobile working situation, the fact that VoIP offers a comprehensive solution means that it makes remote working a real possibility for many businesses.
Employees can work from wherever in the world that they want, without incurring extra charges for making long distance calls. Plus, the employer knows that they can reach their staff easily, quickly and cheaply, helping the business to run smoothly and efficiently.
As VoIP covers this basic need for good communication, it means that companies can take on a whole host of other virtual office solutions, transforming their workplace into the office of the future.
As VoIP becomes more and more common – and this is almost guaranteed to happen as old-fashioned telecoms systems become obsolete – it will become easier for companies to expand globally while still maintaining a team spirit and shared goal.
The nature of a VoIP system also makes it incredibly easy to add new extensions or to move the location of an extension if an employee has changed offices.
This will help to reduce the costs of expanding and reorganising your company, so you can make it work as efficiently as possible all of the time.
Once you’ve got your VoIP system set up, you can easily integrate it with other virtual office solutions as well as other technologies.
For example, VoIP gives you the opportunity to have a ‘click to talk to a member of staff’ button on your website.
You can also combine VoIP with email so that users can access their voicemail through their email clients, or set up a system where VoIP can be used on mobile phones, further reducing the cost of communication.
VoIP is an incredibly flexible service, with systems ranging from the simple to the complex.
It gives companies the opportunity to expand and contract their communications systems as circumstances allow, all while saving a lot of money on calls and helping to integrate your virtual office services.
By enabling this ease of growth and globalisation, VoIP technology is helping to increase the demand for other virtual office solutions and therefore driving the technology that will help to push everything forward.
This might well mean that, before we know it, almost all office communications will work on a VoIP platform, allowing limitless growth and flexibility and allowing companies to have offices and staff wherever in the world they want.
Using CMS to power a website gives tremendous power to the website owner to alter the content as and when required to get the best out of the space. Many websites fall into the trap of being infrequently updated and as information becomes more and more out of date, the less likely they are to be used by web browsers and potential customers.
The initial creation and design of a website can be carried out by a professional web designer but once this is done, it’s possible for the designer to build in a CMS to allow ongoing updates and maintenance of information to be handed over to the website owner. This not only makes things easier for the owner, it also reduces costs in the long run. When it’s necessary to pay a third party for every piece of new content that goes onto a site, it tends to sap motivation to maintain a relevant website. Handing that control back to the owner means there is more chance of the website retaining its usefulness over time.
The engine behind the vehicle
In metaphorical terms, what you see when you visit a website is the exterior of a vehicle. Some of these may be shabby while others are beautiful and well-maintained. However, what keeps the vehicle moving forward is the regular provision of new content that keeps the wheels turning.
Behind the whole thing is the engine that powers the vehicle. In this case, the engine is the CMS that is included in the design by the web developer that enables and empowers local website owners to keep the site up to date. Current information is the fuel that keeps a website working well and with a CMS it’s possible to refuel regularly rather than having to wait until the site is running on fumes and calling in the website equivalent of roadside recovery.
No experience required
Keeping with the vehicle analogy, one of the joys of car ownership is that you don’t need to have any specialist knowledge in order to run one. When it comes to filling up the tank or, in the case of a website, updating information, the CMS is the equivalent of a high-street fuel station. Anyone can go in and top up the tank provided they have the keys to open the fuel cap.
Of course, at some point down the line there may be a need for further maintenance on the website in the same way as cars may need repair of servicing. The CMS doesn’t interfere with the running of the website on a day-to-day basis but it also doesn’t remove the need for an expert to work under the bonnet if major changes are required.
Scale to fit
One of the great things about CMS platforms is that they can be as simple or as complex as the end user wants them to be. If the website owner wants to be able to do all kinds of whizzy things like embed videos, post up polls and surveys and generally engage with their visitors in varied and interesting ways, the web designer can configure the CMS to offer all of these options.
If the website is more of a way to provide simple information, on the other hand, there is no need to include a whole bunch of formatting and content options that will never be used. A simple text editor that allows the website owner to create headings, bullet points and straightforward text may be more than enough and keeps the interface simple to use.
The power of a website comes from how useful it is. Whatever the website owner wants to get from their site, a CMS can be configured to be the engine behind their plans.
The nature of business is changing in the UK. Larger corporations are breaking up, downsizing and outsourcing their activities to other European countries or the Far East in order to cut costs leading to growing numbers of people finding themselves out of work and looking for alternative employment.
Where larger organisations are moving out of the country, the more entrepreneurial redundant employees are moving into their own businesses to plug the gaps where local solutions are no longer available to provide products and services that have been discontinued or moved elsewhere.
Small business economics
The nature of the growing freelance and small business market is different to how it has been at any point in the past. While small businesses have previously had to be self-sufficient and provide for all their needs or do without, there are new solutions that allow them to take on the services they need while sharing the costs with other like-minded small business people.
The growth of the software industry has led to open-source software providing free or minimum-cost solutions to small businesses that are just getting started. Similarly, open source offices are now available that give entrepreneurs and freelancers the chance to take advantage of a place to work or a place through which their business correspondence can be routed. By sharing the costs of these services with other small businesses, they can find affordable ways to meet their needs to precisely the scale they require.
Shrink to fit
Small businesses and freelancers face a range of challenges at the start of their business lives and even once they become more established. While being small can make a company flexible and able to react to changing demands or market conditions, it can also bring with it a number of specific problems that lead businesses to choose to do without certain things or invest and risk over-committing.
One of these areas is in the acquisition of premises. In order to present a professional and established image to customers and clients, it can help enormously to have an office to which they can be invited and a receptionist to helpfully direct their calls. However, office space is at a premium and it can be very difficult if not impossible to find an office that will offer a small enough portion of an office building to accommodate a one-man band; more difficult still if that means the organisation still doesn’t have the business services that come along with being established in office accommodation.
Virtual offices can provide a great way for small businesses and freelancers to set up an office without the need to tie themselves into a long-term lease. Offering just the right amount of space whenever it’s needed, virtual offices can provide hot-desking space and meeting rooms as and when required.
The “virtual” part of the virtual office often refers to the services that are provided on site. One of the most valuable of these for small businesses is the virtual receptionist. Giving clients a landline number to call and a real receptionist to answer the phone with the name of the company gives the kind of impression that many organisations pay £25,000 and more to create by employing an office administrator but on a pay-as-you-go basis. Charging only for the amount of time the virtual receptionist dedicates to the individual company, small businesses get exactly what they pay for with none of the risk of taking on an additional employee.
Another useful service for businesses is mail forwarding. Providing clients and customers with a city centre office address looks considerably more professional than giving 29 Acacia Avenue as the base of operations. With a quick turnaround and post forwarded on every day, there is minimal delay and an improvement of the professional image of the company.
Investing in virtual office services allows small businesses to manage within limited resources. Giving the chance to operate their business on the move, it allows the opportunity to flex to meet demand while maintaining a central point of contact for clients and customers.
If you want to start a new business or grow your existing startup, the harsh reality of business overheads can be a tough wake up call.
The costs of office rental, utilities, furniture, wages and everything else that goes with running a business can quickly add up, making your dream seem unattainable and your business goals unreachable.
Thankfully there is an alternative that can save you a significant amount of money and make your dream of starting a successful company possible. And that alternative is the virtual office.
What is a virtual office?
The term ‘virtual office’ covers a wide range of services that, when combined or used individually, can be used in place of a traditional workspace.
Virtual offices can give you fantastic flexible telecoms solutions, postboxes, mail forwarding systems and even a virtual secretary, so you can run your entire business from the comfort of your own home, or from anywhere else that you choose.
How can you save money by using a virtual office?
If you’ve begun to research what kind of financial resources you’d need to move your company to an office, hire staff and install all of the basic infrastructure that you’d need for your business to run, you’ll know how pricey it can be.
The costs of using virtual office services on the other hand, come in at a fraction of the price, while still providing you with all of the resources and support that you need to run your business effectively.
Is a virtual office an efficient use of resources?
One of the main advantages of a virtual office is that you only pay for the services that you need, and once you no longer require those services you can cancel them quickly and easily.
So if you’re going to be on the road for a few weeks and need a virtual secretary or call forwarding system to manage incoming communications, you can simple hire the service that suits you the best for the time that you need it.
Can virtual staff do the same work as a traditional workforce?
Though virtual staff can’t do all of the jobs normally covered by a traditional workforce, they can cover almost all of the basic business requirements so that you, and any staff that you ay already employ, can focus on your company’s main workload.
And if you do need extra staff to fill the gaps, these can also be sought online with many websites now acting as internet job agencies for those seeking remote work.
Where can I save the most by using a virtual office?
The best way to save money with virtual office services is to take a thorough look at your company’s business requirements and see where you can make cuts or adjustments in order to incorporate virtual services into your business.
For example, if you want a prestigious business address without having to pay for a top notch office, you can save huge amounts on rent by arranging a mail forwarding service.
Or if your secretary could better spend their time on admin or company management, you could hire a call forwarding or IVR service to remove the strain of answering calls.
Virtual offices provide a modern and flexible alternative to old fashioned business premises, giving business owners and start ups a real chance at success without having to deal with the financial burdens of running a workspace.
In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine a working life before the advent of the internet. While personal computing was around for a number of years before the internet really took hold, it has now become so much a part of most people’s working lives that it’s difficult to envision life without it.
While there are a number of obvious ways in which the internet has changed the ways in which we work, there are some less readily apparent impacts that computers and the worldwide web have brought about in our workplaces. It’s also worth noting that while many of the changes will be in office-based work, there are plenty of ways in which other types of work have been irreversibly altered by the internet and its attendant services.
The ways in which we communicate have changed in the working lifetime of many of the people in most workplaces. Speak to anyone over the age of 30 and they are likely to remember the likes of intra-office memos, post with compliments slips and faxed correspondence.
These days, just about all of those types of text-based communication have been replaced by email and the huge volumes of email traffic and changes in use of postal services can attest to just how large a change that has been. A study by the Radicati Group forecast that this year daily worldwide email traffic would top 500 billion messages per day. At the same time, Royal Mail noted a fall in mail volume of 4 per cent in 2011 alone, a trend that is likely to continue.
In addition to text communication, the internet has revolutionised the way we communicate verbally. Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP, powers services such as Skype and Google Hangouts that allow people to videoconference using free and widely available software that’s easy to download and install. This is not only cutting costs for telephone calls, but also allows people to reduce travelling expenses by offering ways to hold meetings online rather than in person.
The virtual workplace
The electronic means of communication, together with more widely accessible cellular data and smartphones, means that the workplace is now able to run virtually rather than being fixed in a single location. Online collaboration tools such as Google Drive, Dropbox and shared calendars mean that projects can be undertaken remotely and shared online for colleagues to contribute.
For those who work out in the field, the ability to search on the go can be a lifeline. Rather than carrying around heavy portfolios, the new generation of sales reps, account executives or even engineers and architects can turn up on site with a laptop or smartphone and access all the information they need to demonstrate to clients, finalise plans and place remote orders.
The ability to work remotely is also altering the way that companies organise their physical workspaces. Gone are the days when workers inherited their own office when taking on a job, replaced instead by hot-desks providing space to charge a laptop and a network connection for those who are in the office to take up minimal space and do what they need to do before packing up and moving on again.
The internet has completely changed the way in which most people work. Whether it’s a garage uploading information on cars they’ve inspected for the MOT or remote working by medical professionals viewing patients through HD video links, there is scarcely a walk of life that hasn’t been touched by the advances brought about by internet technology. The pace of change is unlikely to slow either, and as we grow more accustomed to the tools that the internet affords us to work differently, we will continue to expand our view of work and how it looks.