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What you need to know about A Virtual Office and Hybrid Work Model

Remote Work, Virtual Office, and the Hybrid Work Model have been topics of conversation in recent years but Covid-19 pushed them into the worldwide spotlight.

Gone are the days where commuting each morning to work in an office is necessary.

Harvard Business Review writes “‘We are embarking on a work-life shift.’ one that, if we can get it right, will allow us to make our work lives more purposeful, productive, agile, and flexible.” * (Harvard Business Review May-June 2021)

What is that shift? It’s the Hybrid Work Model and Virtual Offices. Companies, employees, and entrepreneurs of all sorts can benefit from transitioning to a Hybrid Work Model. 

What benefits does a virtual office provide? How doe the hybrid model improve productivity? Keep reading to find out! 

Table of Contents:

SECTION ONE: History Of The Virtual Office, Trends, And The Best Solution

  1. Follow The Trends: Gig Workers, Remote Workers, And The Great Resignation
  2. What Is A Virtual Office?
  3. What Is A Digital Mailroom?
  4. What Is The New Hybrid Model?

SECTION TWO: Setting Up The Virtual Office

  1. How To Set Up A Virtual Office In Four Steps
  2. Closing

Follow The Trends: Gig Workers, Remote Workers And The Great Resignation

Work has evolved rapidly throughout the last 100 years. The location, cultural norms, and work ethics of individuals and companies have changed with these new trends. 

Take a look at a few of the most influential trends in the last few years.

Gig Workers And Remote Work

Workers are beginning to prioritize their freedom and values over fear of not having a paycheck. 

Chetan Seghal, BDO Canada Partner states “It’s really an employee’s market…” he goes on to say “it’s about reimagining how work gets done… and what tools you need…to help your employees thrive.”

But not everyone who quit immediately took a job with another company. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many individuals had more time at home. The Future Of Entreprenuership in Canada report found this to be one of the reasons entrepreneurs started their businesses during the pandemic. 

Creative freedom, flexibility, and more income were some of the top reasons these entrepreneurs chose to start a business. 

Gig Workers And Freelancer Statistics

Many individuals also chose to work as freelancers or “gig workers”. There has been a slow but steady upward trend of freelancers over the last 10 years. Gig workers now account for 1 in 10 individuals in Canada and over 35% of Canadian businesses hire gig workers. *

45% of these gig workers are self-employed and 25% of them make $40K or more a year. Many of these freelance workers live in urban areas and are between 18-34 years of age. 

However, individuals of all ages are turning to gig work, 8% of gig workers in Canada are over 55 years of age. 

The majority of gig workers prefer to be paid through INTERACT e-transfer within 1-5 days of the contract being completed. 

Statistics sourced from: Canada’s gig economy has been fuelled by the pandemic – but workers and businesses are challenged by payments mismatch

The Great Resignation 

It’s no secret that we are facing an employee shortage. As you drive, its common to see “We’re Hiring!” signs everywhere. So, where are the employees?

Well, in simple terms, they quit. 

With the wave of resignations in the last couple of years, job positions have been opening up right and left. In the USA, over 4.3 million individuals resigned in November 2021. In Canada, we have 80% higher vacancies than what we saw in 2019. *

And with these higher quit rates, we are seeing a rise in the number of self-employed individuals. *

This has been dubbed “The Great Resignation” and it will change the future of work as we know it. 

Companies See The Need To Change

Many companies have been forced to redesign their work spaces and adjust how they approach work. Employees have started working from home whenever possible. 

Covid-19 forced their hand, so companies started to have their employees work at home.  Now many employees would prefer to work from home. 

In response to their employee’s changing preferences and values, companies need to rethink their approach or they risk high turnover and employee dissatisfaction. 

One such company, Fujitsu, has taken these changes in stride. As a multinational tech company, Fujitsu, has expressed their goal of creating flexible borderless hubs. This allows employees to work from home, meet at a hub to collaborate with their team, and invite clients to hubs. 

These hubs will allow coordination opportunities online and face to face. These offices also help employees counteract the isolation experienced when working from home. 

Fujitsu is not the only company making these changes, Microsoft, Twitter, and Apple are all looking into implementing hybrid strategies. *

Companies such as Amazon and Google have suggested 2-3 days working at their physical offices for certain employees.

As employee’s needs and values change, companies must adapt. 

Four Virtual Office Trends Of 2021 And 2022

As the virtual office becomes more popular trends arise. Four of those trends in 2021 include using a Virtual Office Address, using a Digital Mailbox, hiring a Virtual Assistant and Coworking Spaces.

The trends mentioned are gaining noticeable popularity in 2021 and 2022. 

Using A Virtual Office Address

During Covid, many businesses had to abandon their physical offices permanently or for extended periods. Not wanting all their business mail to arrive at their empty office or personal residence, these businesses turned to virtual office addresses. 

A virtual office address is used increasingly by individuals who run an online business or work from home. A virtual office address provides security and saves the professionals time and energy. 

A virtual office address can also provide dedicated business phone numbers. These numbers can be programmed to forward calls to your cell. You can also use an automated response system. 

These virtual office addresses can be linked to a business credit profile and used to apply for funding. 

Using A Digital Mailbox/Mailroom

A digital mailbox can save entrepreneurs and businesses time and energy. Imagine having all of your business mail delivered to your front door each day! For many, that is not an appealing idea. 

With a monthly subscription, users can have their mail collected, organized, scanned, saved on the cloud, forwarded to their personal address, and so much more!

This allows individuals to receive a notification when they have received mail. They can then view a picture of the mail and have it trashed, opened, or forwarded to them directly. 

Coworking Spaces

Coworking spaces are not a new concept, but they are receiving more attention in the last couple years. While the virtual office provides great flexibility and control, there are downsides. 

With more individuals working from home feelings of isolation are increasing. 

Employees and individuals of all backgrounds can benefit from interacting and collaborating with others. Just getting out of the house for a day to work at a cafe can give someone a boost. 

So it’s no surprise that coworking spaces are more in demand. These are locations that can be rented out or subscribed to. You can choose to pay monthly fees or a one time day-pass to have access to these spaces. 

These coworking hubs provide flexible designs that meet a variety of needs and circumstances. These centers may provide single offices, coworking spaces, different sized meeting rooms, soundproof rooms, and single privacy pods for meetings and phone calls. 

Office centers arent the only places redesigning space for work. Some cafes and restaurants are providing privacy pods where individuals can have meetings and phone calls in silence. 

One office space designer, Mark Phillips comments that demand is growing for ‘destination workplaces’ – places where “people want to work.”

Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Virtual assistants, also known as “VA’s” or sometimes “personal assistants,” are becoming a staple in many business operations and especially in a Virtual Office or Hybrid work model.

Whether you’re short on hands or just want to free yourself from menial tasks, there are benefits to hiring a virtual assistant.

For more on this subject, read this article on 7 Benefits of Hiring a Virtual Assistant that will free your time

What Is A Virtual Office?

Well, it’s simply taking what you had with a physical office and making it virtual

One example would be meeting rooms. Meeting rooms used to be a set physical location in your office where employees had to physically show up to. Now it’s a Zoom screen.

Offices used to have a printer room, but now you scan and make digital copies and store them on the cloud. 

What used to be a physical room in your office to receive mail – now can be a Virtual Business Address that you subscribe to and a mail service provider handles your mail, digitized the letter mail, distributes and stores on the cloud. 

A virtual office aims to take anything you physically need in an office and provide it virtually. 

History Of The Virtual Office

A virtual office isn’t really a new concept. Working from home predates the Industrial Revolution. Before working a 9-5 was the norm, craftsman and professionals of all types simply worked from their residences. 

The virtual office is another step forward in improving how we work. Businesses and entrepreneurs now have the option of a virtual office with much lower costs than a traditional executive suite. 

Starting in the mid-20th century, professionals of all sorts began to examine and rethink work. With new technologies and eventually the internet, reimagining the office became possible. 

Take a look at some important milestones:

  • 1962 – OmniOffices Group created, the first serviced office company. 
  • 1979 – Work from home begins to be challenged, one such challenge was from a Washington Post article. 
  • 1983 – The term ‘virtual office’ was coined by Chris Kern. He used this term when describing doing business on the go. 
  • 1990’s – Studies began to be conducted to ascertain the benefits of working from home, one such study was the Federal Flexible Workplace Pilot Project.
  • 2000’s – U.S. Consensus find thats working from home is on the rise. 
  • 2010 – U.S. Teleworks Enhancement Act requires companies make allowances for certain employees to work from home. 
  • 2020 – The “Great Recession” millions of professionals begin to rethink their work. 

As you can see, virtual and remote work milestones have closely followed technological advancement. 

Coworking Spaces And Virtual Reality

Virtual offices are also related to coworking spaces in some ways. As an emphasis on flexible locations and productivity has increased, so has the use of coworking spaces.

Coworking spaces offer appropriate locations for teams and professionals to use on an as-needed-basis. 

Another trend that is exciting professionals is virtual reality technology. This tech may soon be widely used in virtual offices. The potential of this technology is impressive, it allows for individuals to meet and work side by side from two separate physical locations. 

This technology could improve collaboration, innovation, and communication! *

Pay attention to the advancements we will soon see with VR remote work! 

Technology’s Role In Remote Work

Technology has played a huge role in the emergence of virtual offices. It is the foundation of a virtual office. 

The internet, mobile devices, and the programs we have access to allow an individual to work from almost any location on Earth. 

Consider some of the tech we use in a digital office:

  • High-Speed Internet 
  • Online Phone System (VoIP)
  • The World Wide Web, Website Domains, and Email Addresses
  • Instant Message, Chat, and Other Web-Based RTC Platforms
  • Video Conferencing, Including Webinar-Hosting, or Screensharing Platforms
  • Green Screen Technology and Virtual Backgrounds
  • Online Digital Storage
  • Cloud-Based Applications And Office Programs (e.g. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides or Office 365) 
  • Automating Tasks (Autoresponse, Publishing Content, Communicating With Clients…)

The list could go on and on but you get the point. The software and programs we now use are technological marvels. 

An entire team would be writing on the same document, while on a Zoom call, while their content is being automatically published by a content manager. And they could be doing this from the comfort of their own home or from a beach in Thailand😉

The potential of this technology is astounding!

Company Culture

Building a good company culture and improving trust and cooperation are vital to a businesses success. 

There are two things that I have found extremely helpful in building company culture.

  1. Create ritual/habits that you implement into your day to get ready for work, connect with colleagues, and end your workday. 
  2. Take the initiative to be helpful, self-sacrificing, and respectful, especially as a manager or superior. 

Create Routines/Habits To Transition In And Out Of Work Mode

Create a ritual that helps you transition between your personal space and your work mode. When you get up, don’t just walk from your breakfast table direct to your work desk and begin working.

Dont just grab a coffee and sit down to immediately work. When you wake up in the morning, your cortisol spikes. This is your stress hormone. 

Caffeine can raise your cortisol levels increasing stress and anxiety. * Not the best start to your day. I am not saying do not drink coffee, not at all! 

However, there are benefits to creating a morning routine where you properly balance your hormones and avoid spiking your stress hormones. 

You could add some of the following things into a personal morning routine:

  • Have a smoothie or small breakfast before your morning coffee.
  • Take a morning walk around the block, stretch, or exercise. 
  • Some people practice deep breathing or take an ice bath. 
  • Others take a few minutes to journal or meditate.

When you’re ready to transition into work mode:

  • Get dressed as you would if you worked in the office.
  • Grab your tech and supplies or go to your office (home office or coworking space).
  • Read through a goals list to review what you are doing at a high level. 

After you complete your personal morning ritual, you are ready to get to work and your mind and body are prepared to be productive and focused. Each person’s ritual will look different, find what works for you. 

At the end of the day, create a similar ritual. Organize your desk, get out of the house, and/or exercise. Then you can head to your personal space and non-work environment.

PRO TIP: Include your colleague(s) into your morning routine. In the morning, after completing your personal routine, jump on Slack or Zoom with a colleague and chat about non-work topics. 

Come up with ideas for discussions not related to work. This could be anything sport, hobbies, music, etc. Ease into the workday with this relaxed interaction.

At the end of the day or end of week, could be just listening to some music together and sharing beverages online and telling funny stories.

Sounds simple, but this will bring a benefit and will help you sustain company culture.

This single tip can provide tremendous value and if you include the company culture aspect, you can tick two boxes in your pursuit.

Take The Initiative In Interacting And Communicating

A company’s culture is greatly affected by the attitude of the employees that work there. 

It falls mainly on the manager(s) and superiors on the company to promote the right attitude. Superiors can take a self-sacrificing and patient approach when working with their subordinates. 

Team managers can make a special effort to be approachable and supportive, especially when working with new team mates. 

This will encourage teammates to continue to rely on each other and it will encourage these employees to be willing to help and go the extra mile for other employees. 

However, employees, freelancers, and other professionals can do their part in building company culture. No one can “check out” of this aspect of work. Successful business requires effective communication. 

What Is A Digital Mailroom?

Physical mail is a vital aspect of running a business, it cannot be ignored. But if you do not have a physical office you need to find another solution to receiving your mail. That’s where a digital mailroom comes in. 

A digital mailroom is a service where you send your mail to a virtual address and the company automates the process. The company follows your delivery routes, business rules, and any other instructions. 

The company you work with receives, organizes, and scans the mail. You are then notified that you have received mail and shown a photo. You can choose to trash, open and read, or forward the mail to yourself. 

Using this solution can save you time, energy, and frustration. This solution allows you to receive your mail quickly, share information with remote workers or stakeholders, and avoid disruption if you move addresses. It also protects your privacy and personal time. 

What Is The New Hybrid Model?

The new hybrid model is a blending of technology, work-from-home, coworking spaces, and traditional offices. 

This new model aims to meet the needs of individuals and companies without sacrificing productivity and collaboration. This model allows employees to work based on their preferences and specific needs. 

Peak performance can be affected by an individual’s preference. So, when creating your own hybrid model, the preferences of each individual should be noted. 

Housing, transportation, personality, experience, confidence, and tenure can all affect an employee’s preference in working from home or meeting at an office.

One employee may prefer working from home more due to their location, personality, and preferences. Another employee may prefer to come into work or a coworking space each day. 

The hybrid model, when done right, allows employees to choose the location and time to perform at their best. 

Benefits

Work is no longer directly connected to the physical office. Many tasks and jobs can be completed at home or in a coworking space. 

When using a hybrid model, employees have more freedom and control over their daily lives. 

Individuals who work-from-home may have the flexibility to work when they want. 

The hybrid model does not stunt team building and collaboration. In fact, it can improve it. Designating an office space or coworking space as a creative hub allows the best locations for employees and individuals to collaborate and build trust. 

These creative hubs can be used when employees need to meet to collaborate physically. They also can be used as coworking spaces and activity spaces. 

How To Set Up A Virtual Office in Four Steps

Step 1. Set Up Functional Communication Tools

When working with a team required communication. When using the hybrid model, employees and teammates need reliable communication tools. 

Collaboration Tech 

Before discussing collaboration tools, we need to look at the tech and hardware. 

Employees and freelancers need the right tech to ensure their communication is effective. Businesses and freelancers alike would benefit from investing in high-quality web cams, noise canceling headphones, standing desks, and other useful office tech. 

Large companies and organizations would do well to take a no-compromise approach here. With the right equipment, employees and freelancers can maximize their efficiency and ease in communicating. 

If you travel a lot, make sure your equipment leans on the travel friendly side. 

Video Conferencing Tools

Face to face communication allows team members to communicate very effectively. Right now some of the most well known tools for video calling are Zoom, Google Meets, and Skype

Zoom does require a subscription to host meetings with multiple participants for longer than 45 minutes. Depending on your team’s needs you may want to consider a Zoom Pro account. 

Google Meets and Skype are more budget-friendly options. However, in my personal experience, Zoom is more reliable and the Host has more control over the meeting. 

Whatever software you choose, make sure it meets your specific needs and budget. Don’t be afraid to test out different programs to find the right fit. 

Messaging Tools 

Sending written messages is also important for team members. Today programs such as Slack, Whatsapp, Teams, and Skype are used for team messaging. 

Each program comes with its own pros and cons. Right now, I believe Slack is the most popular choice. 

Slack provides a lot of control for the manager of the team. They can create specific chats for different topics and events. Slack is like the Zoom of video conferencing. It may take a bit more time and effort to learn, but the utility and control it provides is well worth it for many. 

Again, experiment with the messenger you choose to use for your team and find what’s right for you. 

Step 2. Commit To Intentional Scheduling 

Without any restrictions, you or your company can operate from anywhere. 

If you need to, you could book meeting rooms, coworking spaces, event space, buy out a cafe for the morning, and still not spend the amount equivalent to office rent. 

So what kind of hybrid office should you curate? Well, the answer to that could be based on your schedule and deadlines.

Do you have new projects weekly? Do you get assigned new projects or workloads regularly? If so, that may be a good time to have a meeting. 

Do you have regular presentations or pitches? If so, your team may benefit from meeting in person beforehand to practice and finesse last minute details. 

Or, are you a freelancer who works from home? If so, do you benefit from regularly getting out of your home office and going to a coworking space or cafe?

If you need to meet a client in person, you could reserve a meeting room at a coworking space. 

There are many factors to consider when creating your schedule. Keep in mind these basics when building your specific work schedule:

  • Regular meetings to assess workload.
  • Meetings to determine progress.
  • Client meetings, sales pitches, or internal company presentations. 
  • Events and meetings to build company culture and team cooperation. 
  • Your personal preferences/circumstances and that of your teammates if you have any. 
  • Requirements of your work. (Does the job have to be done in person with my teammates or at a specific location.)

Once you understand your needs and preferences, you can build a hybrid work solution around them.

Step 3. Set Up Productive Admin Tools

When building a virtual office, you need to transition old admin tasks to virtual solutions. 

The main tasks that will need your attention is your mail, phone reception, document storage, and collecting digital signatures. 

Also, mail handling and an Auto/live receptionist for a professional answering service.  Going paperless and operating 100% on the cloud, VPN and digital signatures

Virtual Business Address

Now you don’t have an office any longer, so where is your location? What address do you publish on your website? Where does your mail go? These are a few small headaches the Hybrid work model causes, but here are a few simple solutions.

Business Address subscriptions are now available in many locations. These services allow you to list your business at a professional looking address where you can receive mail and register your business. 

A Virtual Business Address is different from a PO box, so you should know the few differences before you sign up. You can learn more about differences in this artilce “Does your company need a business address, virtual address, or PO Box?“.

Digital Mailbox

And your physical postal mail? How do you handle that now in a hybrid model? Well, along with a subscription for a business address, you can purchase a subscription service that handles all your mail for you. 

This would be the digital mailroom service mentioned earlier. 

Virtual Phone Number

A virtual phone system is an almost main stream and many companies use only their mobile phones, but a central business number with extensions is ideal and recommended. 

If your office has been there for a while, chances are you may have had a conventional phone system from a local provider. Usually thats a physical phone connected to a phone line but that setup is pretty muh obsolete now. 

New phone systems consist of all cloud hosting technology, so no more on-premise equipment.  

You can choose a business number or port your existing business numbers to the system. Setup multiple extensions to all your departments or individuals.  All incoming calls can be forwarded to mobile phones without revealing the forwarded personal numbers.

Cloud Storage (Hosting Your Entire Business On The Cloud)

Many companies offer storage subscriptions and team storage options. Most documents and media are now stored or shared using some form of cloud storage. 

Google Cloud, Microsoft One Drive, and Drop Box are commonly recognized cloud storage options. You can compare pricing and storage needs to decide which service best meets your needs. 

Step 4. Continue Fostering Team Culture

Fostering team culture can take many forms. But in its simplest definition, its communication, effective communication. 

Learn each individual’s preferences, challenges, and needs. Find opportunities to build trust, cooperation, and improve communication between your team.

This could include regular meetings, collaboration on projects, encouraging 

Remember the creativity hubs I mentioned earlier? Well, they don’t have to be a designated building or office owned by your business. A creative hub could be a cafe you rent out or a coworking space. 

A creative hub can be anywhere, as long as the location meets a few needs. Those needs may include:

  1. Privacy
  2. Relatively quiet
  3. Bright and clean
  4. Appropriate furniture and space to host meetings
  5. Stable internet 
  6. Office supplies 
  7. Snacks and coffee (I think we can all agree this is the most important factor!☕)

Closing

Building your virtual office and using the hybrid work model will allow you to create a healthy work environment that improves your efficiency. Whether you are a business owner, manager, or freelancer, implementing some or all of these tips will provide greater freedom and productivity. 

Each hybrid solution and virtual office will be different. Each team and individual has their own unique needs. Play around with the suggestions and curate what works for you. 

Best wishes and have fun😉 

References:

  1. The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Offices
  2. Virtual Office Services Guide + 10 Providers With a Proven Record
  3. How to Do Hybrid Right
  4. Hybrid Work Models: How Do We Make Them Work Effectively? | Built In
  5. The Great Resignation Has Caused A Perfect Storm For The Gig Economy
  6. The ‘Great Resignation’ Will Transform the Gig Economy. Are You Ready to Take Advantage?
  7. Where Are All the Gig Workers and What Are They Doing?
  8. Is the Great Resignation Over? Not Even Close – HRPA
  9. SMALL BUSINESS PROFILE 2021
  10. “The Great Resignation,” And The Future Of The Workplace
  11. Virtual office – Wikipedia
  12. Digital Mail Room
  13. 7 Virtual Office Trends for 2021
  14. Fully Remote Work Will Make You Less Happy – The Atlantic
  15. Top Tips on Building a Hybrid Work Strategy for Your Business in 2022 | Spiceworks Tech
  16. Tech giants move to reopen offices, but differ on hybrid-work plans | Computerworld
Kevin Penstock
Kevin is the founder of The Profile, a Coworking Business Club. His role is leadership, visionary, seeker of cool spaces and he loves technology. Kevin is watching how the office share industry (Coworking) is rapidly expanding around the world and is committed to being a part of social innovation and the change of how people will work in the future.

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