Professionals and “SMBs” Thrive in Virtual Offices.
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Professionals and “SMBs” Thrive in Virtual Offices.

Sydney : Australia | Aug 14, 2012 at 8:23 PM PDT
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Maybe Grandma carefully should cross-stitch a new sampler to hang beside the old standard, “Home is where the heart is.” The new stitchery will read, “The office is where the laptop is.” More and more professionals are abandoning not only their old-fashioned downtown offices but also the not-so-friendly confines of their basements, garages and dens, setting up shop wherever they are and whenever they must. Not only economic hard times but the decided advantages of virtual offices are contributing to record-high vacancies in brick-and-mortar office complexes. By most standards, work in “the cloud” just works better.

“No one really works at work.”

“Everybody knows that you cannot really work at work,” quips Dana Morrison, a southern California freelance journalist who abandoned her traditional office nearly 10 years ago and never has felt a moment’s remorse. “The news happens out here,” Morrison points to the Orange County landscape, “and business happens in here,” she points to her laptop. “The rest is totally negotiable.”

Recent surveys indicate that Morrison has lots of fellow tenants in virtual office space. Andrew McAfee writes in Technology Review, “The idea that the office is a specific place where our professional lives happen is becoming less universal, and less important. These days many knowledge workers can be productive anywhere, thanks to smarter, more numerous mobile devices, faster network access, and a growing number of online collaboration tools.”

Advantages of a virtual office

Virtual offices are becoming especially popular with independent contractors and owners of small and medium businesses who say they increase productivity and radically reduce operating expenses when they stake out space in the virtual world. They point to several significant advantages:

  • Substantial cost reductions: In 2011, Virtual PBX carefully surveyed more than 600 owners and CEOs of small and medium businesses. Somewhat surprisingly, the majority reported they feel more effective and productive outside traditional offices, but their reports of cost savings stunned the experts: “On the cost-savings front, 43 percent said they save $1,000 or more each month on items such as rent, IT equipment, phone service and supplies by using a virtual office. (Eight percent of this group said they save more than $10,000/month.),” David Needle reported for SmallBusinessComputing.com. Of course, survey participants also reported huge reductions in their commuting costs, and many expressed tremendous satisfaction from shrinking their carbon footprints.
  • Increased access for clients and colleagues: Ironically, virtual office workers say they communicate more often and more effectively via cell phones, e-mail and instant messages than they did when they had adjoining offices or met in the company’s conference rooms. “An office visit is inevitably formal and intimidating,” says Morrison. “An instant message seems far less threatening.” Smiling, she adds, “And nobody cares what you wear.”
  • Access to efficient collaboration tools: Cloud-based documents and spreadsheets make collaboration easier, more efficient, and far less contentious. When virtual workers collaborate via video-chat and shared documents, they say they reach consensus faster and produce better work than they did when they labored with paper and pencils in offices or meeting rooms. “You can see the changes in expressions and substance right there in front of you,” Morrison exults, “and the best stuff just naturally emerges because you can see it right there in black and white.”
  • Increased efficiency and productivity: “I admit that I loved working in the City Room at the big newspaper where my by-lines used to appear,” Morrison says somewhat wistfully, “but my love for the office had absolutely nothing to do with the work we did. It was all about distraction, gossip, friendly rivalry and constant badinage.” Shaking her head sadly, Morrison confesses, “The only truly productive hour was the last one before deadline.” Studies clearly show that this phenomenon is by no means unique to big newsrooms.

The “hangout” replaces the office.

The old song tunefully told, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came.” What used to be the getaway place now has become the principal location for “quality face time.” Morrison asks rhetorically, “Is it really such a big surprise that my sources open up and reveal the whole story when I take them to lunch at my favorite diner instead of meeting them in an office or conference room?” Because the best business relationships are personal, virtual office workers say they arrange their important meetings in congenial surroundings to put people at ease and promote meaningful discussions. “Cold, sterile, enclosed places make people shut down,” says Morrison. “Good food and warm atmosphere encourage people to talk.”

Marshal Ryans is a small business owner who utilizes cloud services and virtual office tools to send large CAD files, hold virtual meetings and manage project files remotely.

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Professionals and “SMBs” Thrive in Virtual Offices.
Professionals and "SMBs" Thrive in Virtual Offices.
edralyn is based in Manila, National Capital Region, Philippines, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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