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Are virtual offices in UAE a smart option?

With an increase in the number of small businesses and overhead costs of running a physical office, many entrepreneurs are taking up a ‘Virtual Office’. But are they really benefitting?

By  Diksha Vohra 

It was nearly 6pm in Singapore when Mr Roman Konovalov returned to the hotel after a day of sightseeing with his family. Just then, he received an email from a client based in Saudi Arabia asking him to sign the attached contract and email it back at the earliest.

“It was a very important contract, something I had been waiting for a long time so it had to be signed and emailed urgently,” said Roman Konovalov, Founder and Managing Director of Greenrain Healthcare Intelligence, Dubai. “I immediately rushed to the Servcorp office in Singapore, asked them to print out the document, signed it and emailed it back. I also asked them to call him up on my behalf to let him know that the email has been sent.”

Like Roman, many other entrepreneurs are now able to attend to their client needs while traveling and without having a physical office space - famously called Virtual Office. The concept is gaining popularity worldwide with over 27% of businesses worldwide going virtual. According to a latest survey, more than 60% of corporates are in-fact encouraging their employees to work remotely. But why are they doing so?

There are many reasons to it. Richa Bhagnari, co-founder and Managing Director of You First, Dubai attributes it to the flexibility and the cost-effectiveness of virtual offices. “The office space is ready to use with wifi, electricity and water covered, which translates into no hidden cost for a new startup. It is ideal for new companies who want to keep their cost low in the first year.” She also states that while Government licensing fees is almost the same for any physical office, having a virtual office/ flexidesk solution allows entrepreneurs to pay for only what they use, in-turn allowing them to invest their finances judiciously.

Moreover, with the onset of technology, face-to-face meetings have significantly reduced. Today, people working in the same office also choose to communicate via email instead of personally visiting their colleagues and getting work done. In such a scenario, a virtual office space comes as a breath of fresh air.

It is, however, interesting to know that this concept is not recent. “The virtual office concept was established in 1986 and has been a fantastic offering for companies who do not need a full-time, full-fledged office,” says Rachel Hobin, Manager - Business Package at Servcorp. Servcorp, in-fact, has been offering these services since 1978 when they first established in Sydney. They’re now located in over 160 locations worldwide.

Apart from providing a flexible office space, they also offer communication services including a secretary to answer business calls on behalf of their client, and address services. “It (virtual offices) provides our clients the ability to work from a prime, central location and utilize our professional team and IT infrastructure without the overheads of establishing their own office space,” Rachel adds.

Roman too notes in his experience that finding fluent English speaking administration staff is especially very difficult and expensive to hire. Having an eloquent secretary taking calls on your behalf leaves a lasting impression on clients who’re based overseas. Virtual offices, thus, become a practical option for those who want to save on the costs of hiring full-time admins.

Under You First, Richa too offers similar office spaces and administration services to her clients. “…it gives them the option to use conference rooms for meetings with an assistant to take down messages when they are away.” She, however, feels that a virtual office space isn’t meant for everybody.

“Individuals holding an industrial or trading license are better suited to having a shared office space or an individual office,” Richa adds. Industrial offices need a lot of machinery, equipment and warehouse facility so working remotely is often not an option for them. For others, however, in the IT or service industry, a virtual office can be a groundbreaking move.

Benny Rahman, founder of B Creative, an upcoming online fashion portal, too has opted for a virtual office setting. “There is flexibility in my day to day operations as what I do is not a nine-to-five job. I am out most of the time procuring material or meeting with potential designers and a physical office is not an ideal requirement especially if I am never there. B Creative will also be positioned as an online portal making it convenient and accessible for shoppers where being online is ‘fashionable’ in itself in this current day and age.”

B Creative’s online portal will be showcasing designs of Benny along with others who’re looking for a platform to promote and sell their designs. Considering the kind of industry she is in, she feels that such a setting allows her to be more productive as her activity is not reduced to fixed office timings.

Many other employers worldwide share the same thought process. Traditionally, productivity was measured by the hours one puts into work which has changed to the quality of work today. Besides, more and more businesses are striving for better work-life balance and businesses see the benefit in remote workers.

“My team is spread across the globe,” says Roman. “We’re a team of 10-people and we all work at different hours. Our business model is based on completion of tasks more than the hours you’re physically working. If you can finish a task in two-hours, why should I pay for eight?”

There has also been an increase in the number of collaborative applications developed for such spaces like Google Drive, Dropbox and more where you can share your documents and work in real time. Moreover, task scheduling and monitoring applications like Trello make it a lot easier for employees to work and monitor each other’s progress especially when a process is to be followed.

Experts also point out the environmental benefits of a virtual office. Companies no longer need to print out documents or spend extra on stationery. Eliminating the need to drive to the workspace also reduces unnecessary stress and gains back hours during the day.

As we can see, productive and progressive thinking can take place anywhere so if you’re a startup or a medium-sized business wanting to focus on deliverables and save on costs, virtual offices can be worth a try. As Roman says: “If I were to launch another business, I would also do it virtually. If I can make money sitting in my comfort zone with less financial stress, why shouldn’t I? For those who aren’t trying it, I guess it is high time we think smart.”