The conventional office space has been a vital part of standard business operations for many centuries. Eventually the crowded workhouses first utilized in cities like London during the Industrial Revolution began to give way to cubicles which offered more individual privacy. The popularity of the office was further facilitated by the invention of the elevator in 1852 which allowed for multi-story office blocks which permitted increasingly scarce and expensive city space to be better utilized.
More recently there has been a move towards “open plan” offices to facilitate better communication and teamwork between employees and even more innovative designs have been implemented by companies such as Pixar and Google to bolster their workers creativity. However the days of the traditional office may be numbered as more and more small businesses are looking towards alternatives which significantly reduce costs through the use of cutting edge technology.
The New Serviced Office
Serviced offices have garnered an unfair reputation as being rather shoddy, temporary workplaces either for small businesses who cannot afford to pay for a “proper” office or for international business people needing local premises for a short period of time. However there is a new breed of serviced office, particularly in international business centres like London or New York which are providing an attractive alternative to traditional office spaces. These high-end serviced offices are particularly attractive to small businesses and start-ups which are in their initial stages of growth.
This new style of serviced office is extremely appealing for a variety of reasons. They allow small businesses to have premises in prestigious, central locations without having to pay the exorbitant leases one would usually find for similar conventional office space. They generally have flexible monthly contracts which allow growing businesses the room to expand to larger office space and relocate if needs be. This can be a double-edged sword however as it means that the service office is free to increase rent without very much notice if the owners feel they can find someone willing to pay the higher amount.
Another benefit of the serviced office is that businesses get one all-inclusive set price including all of the office furnishings as well as most of the overheads such as electricity, heat and water, internet and telephone connection, maintenance and repair and many other small day-to-day costs.
It is always advisable to be clear on exactly what services are covered in your agreement however as different serviced offices may not cover all costs. Another great feature of the serviced office is that businesses have access to luxuriously furnished meeting rooms and high-tech conference rooms on a needs only basis, rather than having to pay for the furnishings and upkeep themselves.
The Virtual Office
Virtual Offices provide small businesses with not only significant savings on costs but also provide an unprecedented level of organizational flexibility, made possible by significant advances in internet, conferencing and mobile technology.
By using these new technologies to their advantage small businesses can actually replicate many of the benefits of a conventional office without the high monthly costs. This allows small businesses to work without a central office, hiring employees working from home, free-lancers or even outsourcing work overseas.
Unfortunately many people still believe that it is unprofessional not basis your business in conventional offices. Virtual offices solve this issue by providing members with a business address at a prestigious location, creating the desired image for a modest monthly fee.
Many virtual office locations will have luxury lounges and meeting rooms included as part of your membership or available for hire on an hourly basis if you need to meet with clients in person. They will usually also include services such as phone answering, mail handling and secretarial services
Perhaps the largest hurdle for virtual offices to overcome is the lack of personal contact – between management and employees, employees and other employees and the business and its clients and partners.
Despite constantly improving technology for networking as well as monitoring employees’ productivity many people still believe that these conferencing solutions are still not a viable substitute for personal interaction. As well, the sense of loyalty, camaraderie and company spirit which many businesses try to foster can be lost when a company goes completely virtual.
Why the Conventional Office will become Obsolete
The death of the conventional office will not happen overnight. Business has been done in this way for hundreds of years and people are always hesitant to move away from an idea which works. However there are three variables which will expedite the process.
First of all, the price of office space is increasing at an alarming rate in major city centres, despite the meagre state of the world economy.Rent is now so high that many small businesses risk going under if they do not turn a profit quickly. Serviced and virtual offices are increasingly attractive to small businesses as they provide most of the benefits of the conventional office for a fraction of the price, making them much less risky expenditures.
Secondly, advanced technology is now making many of the benefits provided by a conventional office obsolete. An increasing amount of work is done on computers and over the internet which can often be done just as easily from any location, not necessarily from a costly central office. Monitoring technology can be used to help to ensure that employees are on task and online networking allows them to stay in constant communication. Many secretarial tasks can now also be accomplished through virtual software.
Finally, social attitudes and perceptions towards business protocols are changing. More people are willing to accept alternatives to the conventional office as legitimate; particularly given the success of so many online start-ups whose business models did not follow traditional structures.
When the prestige of the conventional office is no longer important, simple costs analysis will provide the motivation for many small businesses to move their operations completely online, only hiring conference rooms when it is necessary to meet with clients in person.
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