What is a virtual office?

Virtual offices are cheaper and more flexible than traditional office space and coworking facilities - and yet still provide some of the major benefits. Could a virtual office be right for your start-up?

Learn more about the different types of workspace for start-ups and small businesses:


For entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses, renting a physical office space isn’t always financially or logistically viable; with working at home or the local cafe a cheaper and easier option.

However, the benefits of having a professional business address, meeting space and other office-style services at your disposal are undeniable.

Fortunately, it is possible to have it both ways – and that’s where the futuristic-sounding, technology-enabled virtual office comes in.


What is a virtual office?

As the name would suggest, when you rent a virtual office you’re in fact renting a selection of services which you can access while working at home (or in a library, on the train, or wherever you choose to work). You are not renting an actual office space to work in.

As an overview, the services offered by virtual office providers can include:

  • A city centre postal address assigned to your business, plus mail handling services to forward post from there to your home
  • A business phone number which forwards calls to your personal devices, and sometimes call answering/reception desk services
  • Video conferencing capabilities
  • Discounted access to professional meeting rooms

In short, a virtual office enables you to work wherever you want using your own devices, while still benefiting from the professional business image and communication tech that comes with being based in a traditional office.

Virtual offices for start-ups and small businesses

For entrepreneurs who have been building their business from home, a virtual office can serve as that first step towards getting established in a physical space – but without the commitment of renting an actual desk or room in an office building.

So, if you’re looking to give your business a more professional image but aren’t ready to move into an office, a virtual office is a more flexible, much cheaper alternative to taking that leap.

Similarly, if you’re already working in an office but are finding it to be too much of a strain on your time and purse strings (we all know that start-ups have to use their resources carefully), a virtual office could be a better compromise for you.


The benefits of a virtual office

So, what are the benefits that a virtual office can offer – as opposed to working at home with no virtual services, or working in a traditional office space?

Professionalism

One of the key benefits of renting a virtual office is that doing so gives your business a greater degree of professionalism.

Having a business address (rather than simply your home address), a business phone number (rather than your mobile or home number), and a professional space in which to meet with clients (rather than your home or your local cafe) gives the impression that your small business is professional, well-established and, ultimately, trustworthy.

Affordability

Another pivotal advantage of the virtual office – and often what ultimately drives entrepreneurs to adopt one – is that they cost much less than renting a traditional office or coworking space.

You can read more about this in the section on virtual office costs below.

Dedicated services

If you plump for a virtual office package which includes a telephone answering service at a call centre run by your provider, you may well find that you save lots of time that you’d usually spend answering calls.

Not to mention that the communications services, such as video conferencing, that you rent are likely to be more reliable and consistent in quality than those which can be used via the web for free.

Flexibility

Having a virtual office means you’re not tied down to a single location as, essentially, your virtual office can be wherever you are, so long as you’ve got the devices you need with you.

This means the flexibility of your hours is under your control, and other important responsibilities don’t have to fall by the wayside – or stop you from working. For example, if you need to head out on the school run at 3pm, you can do so while continuing to take client calls and emails.

Productivity

Less time spent commuting to an office (which in some cities can take a number of hours) means more time to spend working on your business.

Similarly, with a virtual office you’re free to find a place to work that suits your needs and fosters your productivity. Of course, the flipside of this is that your home or chosen public space might boast more distractions than an office. What’s key is knowing how to ignore them and remain focused – or, of course, simply finding somewhere else to work.

A flexible workforce

Virtual offices aren’t strictly the domain of sole traders and lone entrepreneurs – it’s also possible to manage a team of remote workers through your virtual office.

Today, the expectations employees hold their employers to are changing, and the ability to work flexibly – in a location they want and at hours that fit around their other commitments – is becoming increasingly valued among workers. In renting a virtual office for your business instead of basing your team in one space, you’re offering this benefit to your staff.

Top tip: If you’re worried about your workforce staying on-task, look to utilise online productivity software, such as Asana, ClearVoice and BetterWorks, with which you and your staff can set tasks and update and monitor progress.

You should also keep in regular contact with them, whether by phone, email, video call or face-to-face, to ensure they’re on track.

More talent

In the same vein, the fact that your workforce can be remote and do not need to travel to a specific location each day means that you can broaden your recruitment to a much wider area – potentially even hiring people from across the country – so you’re less likely to lose the talent you need to geographical constraints.


Virtual office costs

Paying for a virtual office can be done flexibly; rather than an upfront payment or a contract that lasts a set number of months or years, most virtual office services can be paid for on a month-by-month basis.

The total monthly cost of your virtual office will depend on:

  • The services that you require. With each virtual office service you add, your monthly rental cost will increase
  • Your location. Virtual office addresses in London – and other popular industrial and cultural hubs – will invariably cost more
  • The virtual office provider you choose

Virtual office prices start at as little as £10 to £50 per month for a basic postal package – which just gives you a prestigious business address and mail forwarding services.

Meanwhile, renting the whole suite of virtual office services available – including access to meeting rooms, a dedicated reception service to field phone calls to your business, and more – can cost around £100 to £300 per month, depending on your provider.

Depending on your location, the price you secure for a virtual office may well be a mere fraction of what it would cost you to rent a physical office space, as you can see in this comparison table:

Office type Average lowest cost (per month) Average highest cost (per month)
Virtual offices £10 to £50 £100 to £300
Coworking space £199 (Sheffield) £613 (London)
Serviced offices £275 (Sheffield and Cardiff) £750 (Central London)


Starting a virtual office

If you do decide to start your business in a virtual office, it’ll likely be down to you to ensure you have all the equipment and software that you need to make the most of it.

Consider whether you’ll need:

  • A telephone or telephone system for taking and managing client calls (your smartphone may well be all you need for this – but if you’re looking for more sophisticated software, complete the simple form at the top of this page to compare providers.)
  • A powerful laptop
  • A cloud-based email service such as Outlook or Gmail, so you can read and send messages from any connected device
  • A cloud-based file sharing and storage system such as Google Drive or Dropbox, so you can access important documents anywhere
  • Productivity software (if you’re heading up a team)
  • Video conferencing software (if not provided by your virtual office provider)

For home-based entrepreneurs and start-ups looking to gain a more professional image, renting a virtual office could be the perfect solution.

As you progress, you may find that a virtual office is no longer appropriate for your growing team, and you’d rather be based in a single office together. In this case, you might want to look into finding coworking space, serviced offices or your own premises.