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UK virtual office boom

The internet is spawning a ‘virtual office’ boom in the UK as new companies turn to cyberspace rather than expensive high-rent bricks and mortar offices in city and town centres across the UK.

Companies are also increasingly offering workers the chance to work ‘virtually’ for them in a bid to retain and attract the best staff, a survey has revealed.

The findings come in the latest annual Total Office Costs Survey in the UK, carried out by Actium Consult.

‘Virtual offices are now a major trend in the modern day work environment,’ says  Andrew Proctor,  managing director of Actium Consult, and himself a former accountant at KPMG.

‘I remember that when I got my office at KPMG it was the day that I arrived but now the day that you have arrived is when you can work from home,’ he recalls. ‘About the only companies that have not woken up to the trend are investment banks,’ adds  Proctor, who says that the birth of the virtual office has come at an uncertain time for the office property market.He says that office rents in the UK have stayed static over the past three years with property companies all offering free rent periods ranging between 18 and 24 months –  depending on the part of the country – as part of a 10 year lease.The need to discount on real office space  is now also  being driven  by the growth in virtual offices – the practice of either working at home via the internet, or using a mix of computer software and internet technology to form a company made up of people working from home.These virtual offices  can in fact be  ‘based’ anywhere in the world. Many of the new internet telephony companies offer phone numbers in any city that you want while property companies can provide addresses and telephone reception services that also give the impression that a company is based in a bricks and mortar office.‘The days of the long-term contract are now over,’ said John Spencer of the UK-wide office letting company MWB Business Exchange.‘Over five percent of our new sales are now coming from virtual office clients and we are now seeing a another trend developing where people start off at home, trade up to a virtual office, move to a shared office and then get their own office.’

According to Bill Duncan, MD of SecureVirtualOffice, a Wiltshire based company that provides  businesses with the right software to operate from anywhere safely,  the chief attraction of virtual offices is cost.

‘People come to us because they don’t want to have any IT worries at all. They don’t have to bother about upgrades to their systems, computer maintenance or security and we give them a one-off, flat rate cost that they can always budget for.’

He adds: ‘That’s why virtual offices are so much more attractive than real ones. If you want add a desk then you just buy another user licence.’

The difference in cost can be striking. Letting companies can offer  an address in a prime location in London – with access to meeting rooms, hot desks and telephone answering – for just  £120 a month. This contrasts with the  £1,138 a month it costs to have a computer on a desk in a conventional  West End office.

‘One of the big problems is that there is a shortage of high quality office space,’ says Proctor. ‘The trend now will be smaller, but highly prestigious company headquarters, where you can hot desk and virtual working.’

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Article first published in Sunday Times (Scotland)

Article requested by London Evening Standard, Newcastle Chronicle, Liverpool Post,  Reading Chronicle

Sent to Yorkshire Post, Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Post, Bristol Evening News, Western Daily Press