There are definitely plenty of advantages to working out of your home – the daily commute is all the way from your bedroom to your living room, the dress code is clothing-optional and there is no costly fit-out, furnishing, or parking concerns.
Nevertheless, you must also keep in mind several important factors that make your garage, not the greatest choice – or at least as far as others are concerned.
What is the image you want to give?
Sure, Apple pulled off the garage workplace but they also benefited from being on the cutting edge of the personal computer explosion. In this day and age, you need to engender confidence, trust, and professionalism in those that you will deal with. Sorry to say, but your garage just doesn’t have the same punch as an office space, particularly if you are providing professional services.
Do you have investors?
With the rise and fall of both the dot-com bubble and the global financial crisis behind us, investors are increasingly cautious about who they are back and where they put their money.
It’s true that a smart investor understands risk and reward and – you would hope – evaluates each concept purely on its own merits but, hey, why risk your reward?
Having an office can put you on a higher footing, giving an impression of professionalism and stability.
Is your regional location the most suitable?
Following on from the above, is your home in the most appropriate geographic location? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be said for the quality of life and good country air. However, depending on what your business does and the customers you are targeting, you may be well advised to place yourself within a major city.
To illustrate, Blayney, NSW, is a nice enough place – if a little cold. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with living and working there, it is easy to see why a Blayney-based company may stand to enhance its profile with the international community, let alone fellow Australians, by promoting a Sydney office.
Never mind that the real work still happens back at your home, it is still prudent to remove barriers and obstacles that hinder others from connecting with you – no matter where they are geographically located.
Would you benefit from a bricks and mortar address?
Ever since the first person got scammed, online experts have recommended shoppers be wary of businesses that don’t list a ‘bricks and mortar address.
Don’t fall prey to this sage advice and let the lack of physical office space be a hindrance to gaining your prospective clients’ trust.
No matter the size of your business, if there is more than one person, there will inevitably be a need for communication and collaboration. Telephone calls and irregular flying visits will only go so far.
This is especially true when expanding and seeking to gain a footing in an entirely new area. A successful growing company will ultimately strive to get a repeatable economic model down pat so that they know just how to completely service a radius of ground from each major hub.
That’s the model used by Doug Paider, Australian chief operating officer for EasyPlus, a channel provider of unified communications software. “When we target a new region we always kick off with a virtual office until we have enough business to warrant a regular office,” he says.
So, what’s the lesson from all this? Essentially, whether big or small, starting out or established, if you want to do business it’s a safe choice to have a ‘real’ address.
While the thought of having to rent or purchase a ‘real’ office can be disheartening – even perversely contrary to your lofty goals – it doesn’t have to be a burden or even particularly expensive.
There are varying options that provide serviced and shared offices, but one that is particularly relevant is the concept of a virtual office.
As you might expect, a virtual office provides the impression of a professional business counteracting the issues raised above, but uses address services and communication technologies to keep many office expenses low.
How does it work?
The first part of a virtual office is something low-tech but necessary to give the right impression – namely what is known as ‘space services’.
A space service can be anything from a professional address for receiving mail and courier parcels without using a private post office box, to a casual workspace and meeting space that is rented on-demand.
Australian company Servcorp lists among the features of its virtual office package the use of a world-class city location on your business correspondence. This can include mail, fax and courier handling, local fax numbers, and voicemail delivery via e-mail or SMS.
Many shared and serviced office providers, as well as large law firms and accounting firms, can provide these facilities. Alternatively, providers exist which will simply manage your mail or calls for you. These providers can forward your post to your home address and may also scan letters and small documents for a fee.
The second part of the virtual office equation is the technology side. You need ways and means for the team to work together. Fortunately, there is a rich plethora of software to help.
Depending on the size of your group, free instant messaging clients can provide a measure of communication – but it’s best to have a voice option for when required. Skype can serve you quite well here, up to a point. For top-notch document sharing and voice-and-IM collaboration with up to 25 participants, you would be hard-pressed to go beyond Citrix’s GoToMeeting. There is an iPad app for the busy worker on the move but it doesn’t permit either running a meeting or taking control of the session.
Pitfalls and problems
Of course, virtual offices aren’t for everyone or every environment. There are some quite clearly definable cons. All the technology in the world can’t help your business if your employees can’t manage themselves. One downside of telecommuting, as far as the business is concerned, is that it simply cannot know what each person is doing with his or her time. It is imperative that a small and growing company addresses this from the start and determines how it will track attendance and achievements.
Another downside is the potential risk of misleading people. Generally, if you are upfront that your listed address is a ‘corporate address’ and that workers are geographically distributed then there should not be any confusion or concern.
Application developer specialists Readify, for example, list their head office and a 1300 phone number on their website, but a spokesperson advises that the software developers and consultants are working from home-based virtual offices when not on client sites.
For Readify, the virtual office concept ensures top talent can be recruited without confining them to a local office. For EasyPlus the virtual office choice is a means of gaining an initial foothold in an area. Either way, whether as a launching platform or long-term strategy, the virtual office can be a successful option for your business, keeping costs down while making you look good.