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A virtual office provides communication and address services without providing dedicated office space. It differs from "office business centers" or "executive suites", which do provide office space.
The virtual office idea came from a combination of technological innovation and the Information Age. The concept has roots in the Industrial Revolution, where parallels to current work styles, specifically working from home, have been drawn. The virtual office concept is an evolution of the executive suite industry. However, the inflexibility of an executive suite lease doesn't work for many business models and helped spur the virtual office concept. The first commercial application of a virtual office occurred in 1994, when Ralph Gregory founded "The Virtual Office, Inc", in Boulder, Colorado.
The term "virtual office" implies space utilization, but a full application includes professional live communications.
- Communications services
- Remote receptionist – A team of workers in an office environment working remotely, using high-tech Computer Telephone Integration software, to replace a traditional receptionist.
- Virtual assistant – A virtual assistant is often a "lone eagle" working from home, who rarely meets their clients face-to-face. A virtual assistant typically has no access to CTI Software. Rates run $25 an hour and up.
- Answering services/call centers operate from a centralized location for the purpose of receiving and transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone. Users lament problems of security, impersonal staff with high turnover, language barriers, translation errors and a less-than-professional image. When selecting an answering service, look for one based in your own country so that there are no language barriers.
- Voicemail is a low-cost technology that stores voice messages electronically. Recent advances in technology allow for the conversion of Voicemail messages to email making message retrieval far more convenient for business owners. In customer service applications, voicemail has limitations. Used for customer service, voicemail has become synonymous with frustration. The complaints are legion and have inspired spoofs on the voicemail experience. Studies also show that up to 75% of callers simply hang up when their call is answered by a machine.
- Virtual office space – Virtual office gives you a chance to own a high profile reputed address in a city of your choice, at a fraction of the buying or renting cost of such an address.
- Phone answering service – Virtual office phone answering service bridging the gap between you and your numerous clients. 
- Space services
- Professional address – A prestigious building to be used as the business address. A professional address alleviates the privacy and personal security concerns of running a home-based business. A user can expand into new markets by utilizing a provider with multiple locations to establish a professional presence in the desired growth markets.
- Mailing address – The professional address can be used for accepting, sending and forwarding mail without the connotations of a PO box. Under US law, a PO box is to be clearly indicated and so not conducive for most corporate entities in this regard. Some VO providers offer 24/7 access to individually assigned and locked mailboxes. This allows the staff of a VO user to have a centralized location as a convenient vehicle for the secure transfer of paper documents 24/7. A mail-only provider may be subject to USPS CMRA regulations.
- Open envelope scanning – A handler opens the mail and scans the contents, emailing or transferring the digitized documents onto a cloud-based file storage system that users can access immediately. The opened physical mail is then shredded unless further storage is requested.
- Reception courtesies – Receptionists at the business address can receive and sign for incoming overnights, deliveries, packages and provide document drop-off/pick-up services. On-site witnesses and notaries may be available, depending on the provider.
- Business meeting space – The on-demand use (hourly, daily or weekly) of conference rooms and offices for meetings. Meeting space can often be rented at short notice.
- Casual workspace – As an alternative to the distractions of co-working or the interruptions of a home office, office space is available on an occasional or "drop-in" basis, either hourly, daily or monthly.
- Executive suite – A small percentage of VO users lease space full-time time.
- On-site amenities – A full-service virtual office will provide broadband Internet, fax-copier-printer, advanced phone features, conference calling, video conferencing, kitchenette and a business-worthy lobby/waiting area.
- Virtual office solution – Virtual office solution gives dual advantages in whichever city you need and a reputed business address which would marginalize the gap created by established brand value.
- Live virtual receptionist – A virtual answering service is an automated system with a live virtual receptionist. This kind of service can be enjoyed without purchasing expensive equipment.
- Other services - Other services may include creation of a website, business cards, attorney consultations.
A virtual office blends home and work to gain efficiencies in both. Office expenses are low, while the user's professionalism retains the image of a traditional, high-cost office. A virtual office user can reduce their environmental impact, as well as the personal negatives of a daily commute. Virtual office clientele have the flexibility to match expenses with revenue fluctuations immediately, as the costs are usually variable. A virtual office can allow for low-cost expansion with no long-term commitments. Users taking advantage of virtual office receptionists eliminate the traditional burden of health care, records, payroll, insurance & rent. Also, traditional time-off (sick days, vacations, personal leaves, etc.…) does not apply to a virtual staff.
Virtual offices are experiencing growth even in a recessionary economy, and not just in the United States. As businesses look to trim expenses, virtual office services help reduce overhead while keeping professionalism high. For example, by paying for space and communication infrastructure on an as-needed basis, businesses can keep office expenses to a minimum. The portability of today's technology also allows for a more flexible work environment. As businesses trend to a more "online" workplace, the notion of paying for space full-time becomes anachronistic. Traditional receptionists making $12–14/hour can be replaced with remote receptionist services at a fraction of the traditional cost. Some virtual office companies or telephone answering companies offer a franchise system, enabling entrepreneurs to enter the marketplace for a fraction of the usual set up costs and with the added bonus of leads being fed to them.
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