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david brent - the office

Read Article on Future Intellegence

3rd November 2006

Virtually the end of Offices.

Published Scotland on Sunday - By Michael Streeter and Peter Warren

They have talked about it for many years. But soon it really could be the end of office life as we know it. No more paper clips, office gossip, meetings at the water cooler or characters such as David Brent, the anti-hero of hit comedy The Office. Instead most of us could be working from our house, the golf course, a holiday home – or even an aircraft .

The cause of this seismic change in the way the Britons do business is the development of the so-called ‘virtual office'. According to researchers working for BT Workstyle this phenomenon has become the workplace of choice for those starting up in business as well as for forward-thinking footloose high tech companies. Soon more and more companies are likely to follow suit – and not just save a fortune in costs but boost productivity too.

‘In BT alone we are finding that 15% of our staff are now working from home,' says Chris Webber, Business Director, of BT Workstyle.‘There is now a huge shift away from managed corporate space and there is now less of a need to have a real address.'

The latest company to recognise the trend is the executive jet company Bombardier – which sells executive jets to the very rich and immensely famous.

This summer Bombardier launched its Challenger 605 plane, which will provide a virtual office in the sky by offering instant broadband internet, video and email services to its passengers via wireless connections.

‘For many of our customers the lines between business and leisure are blurred. Few of them work regular office hours so they appreciate the ability to keep in touch with business contacts whilst in one of our aircraft,' said Judith Moreton, managing director of Skyjet International.

The Challenger may be the ultimate, high-end expression of the virtual office, but for most other people a lack of high-quality office space, costs, modern technology, changes in family life and a need to cut costs for start up businesses are driving the trend.

‘If you ignore central London, it's just not economic to build first-class office space in a lot of parts of the country, like Plymouth for example,' says Andrew Proctor, boss of the property advisers Actium Consult who are authors of the annual Total Office Cost Survey.

As a result virtual offices are taking the country by storm, with a huge growth for them in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds and Edinburgh. The biggest demand is from high tech companies; 25% of companies offering business services are now virtual and 14% of technology companies prefer cyberspace.Meanwhile individuals are now setting up from a home office using a PC and working together using new low cost communication services such as VoIP – internet telephony - to create the allusion of a real office.

When they do need a foot in the real world they simply buy a ‘virtual office presence' in a nearby city, renting the use of hotdesks, meeting rooms, city business addresses, mail forwarding, and telephone answering in the company's name. This creates a prestige city image for a fraction of the cost of real offices. Some cost conscious start-ups have gone one step further and are now completely virtual; they even rent all of their software to avoid problems involving computer upgrades, maintenance and security worries.

‘The cost of keeping a computerised desk in London is now over £12,000 a year and people are only there for 55% of the time,' says Bill Duncan, boss of SecureVirtualOffice, and an expert on virtual office software.

‘Because of that we are seeing clients who want to be able to access everything to do with their company remotely but who don't want to be worried about or distracted by the security implications.'He adds:

‘We also have the benefit of being able to throw in the peace of mind of providing continuous backups and upgrading software without interfering with a company's computers a within a fixed monthly budget.'

In London, where the cost of keeping a computer on a desk veers from £1,138 a month in the West End to £750 in the City, virtual office presence packages now account for 10% of the market and are selling at the rate of one a day, according to John Spencer, chief executive of MWBusiness Exchange. It charges between £210 and £180 a month for a ‘London office' and £120 in regional cities.

‘With a virtual office you can rent as much or as little space as you want on a monthly basis, all you need is a computer.'

Indeed with Tory leader David Cameron now talking about the need for a better work life balance, going virtual is increasingly being seen as the new age status symbol.

‘We are seeing companies now stressing their flexibility when recruiting top executives,' said Proctor. ‘The concept is now on the HR agenda.'

The days of David Brent, it seems, are virtually over.

A virtual office guide

There are several levels of virtual office space starting with the most basic unit –

The Home Office. This usually involves a study, spare bedroom or a kitchen and the essential components are a computer and a broadband connection. This variant is favoured by large companies and consultants.

The next variant is the website-enabled virtual office. Normally a business based on a website and composed of a number of top employees who buy in the services they need for their company. This is a particular favourite of high tech start-up companies like the new VoIP companies which sell their services through a website, buy their bandwidth from a company like BT, use a call centre to service their clients and program the network using high-tech workers from abroad.Its chief advantage is that the company's data can be kept secure and safely accessed from anywhere using anything from a PC to a PDA.More and more web-enabled virtual offices are using phone numbers that convey the impression they are based in a major city like London.An increasingly popular tool of the virtual office is the renting of software on a pay as you need basis; this frees a company from investing in costly software they may only need infrequently.

The final version is the Rolls Royce of virtual offices – the virtual office with real world presence – a package that provides the virtual company with managed office space for client meetings and a prestigious postal address and real world receptionist service in a major city.

 
 

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