October 6, 2008 Jacksonville Business Journal
The past decade has seen a quantum leap in the ways businesses are able to operate, especially as technology has advanced to a point that allows freedom from traditional brick-and-mortar offices. More companies and individuals are opting to work from a virtual office.
“It’s a natural evolution,” said Cynthia Encinosa, managing member of A Virtual Office Service in Jacksonville, which receives mail and faxes, answers telephones and provides other functions to give people working outside the traditional office the needed services and a more professional appearance.
“All my clients are owner/operators of small- to medium-sized companies,” Encinosa said. “They don’t find it necessary to make their overhead heavy with a physical location.”
Instead, with developments of faster, wireless Web, more capable computers and a changing management mindset, workers are opting to hammer away at home or work wherever.
William Cook, owner of William Cook Appraisal Service in Jacksonville, is one such person. “It reduces cost and I still have the effect of having an office,” Cook said. “When you call the business line, they have a person on the other end instead of voice mail and you reach me anytime, anywhere. I have been pleased with it. ”
A Virtual Office Service’s 149 business clients range from local attorneys and doctors to international companies that do business in the U.S. The company’s annual revenue has more than doubled over the past decade.
“Traffic is [a big factor]; a lot more are working from their homes,” Encinosa said. “Also, they don’t want to invest in infrastructure and they don’t want the overhead.”
From broadband to BlackBerrys, technology and tools now allow people to work and stay in constant contact with clients and colleagues, even when they’re miles apart.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 15 percent of all nonagricultural workers did some work at home as part of their primary job in May 2004, the most recent statistics available. Of those, about one-third were self-employed, and one in four had a formal arrangement with their employer. One-third were in management or professional occupations.
The department did not have earlier statistics, but a recent survey indicates the virtual office is on the rise, especially since high gas prices entered the equation. In 2008, a record number of companies in the U.S. allowed employees to work from home, according to a new survey from WorldatWork, a human resources association based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Forty-two percent of U.S. companies surveyed said they offered teleworking programs to employees this year, compared with only 30 percent last year.
“Rising gas prices, leading-edge technology and the push for work-life flexibility have all come together in the past 12 months to create a pretty dramatic increase in telework across the U.S.” said Anne Ruddy, president of WorldatWork.
It’s easy to point to examples of businesses in Northeast Florida going without the trappings of traditional office space.
“I could write a book on virtual offices,” said Shaleen Shah, president of Seventhman. The Jacksonville-based Web design and software development firm started in a traditional building, but began allowing its staff and developers to work remotely three years ago.
“Things worked well and with the increasing amounts of bandwidth and technology, it’s easy to work in a virtual environment,” Shah said. “My wife and I are traveling around the world and I am able to work from wherever I am. A little while ago, I was in London working just as if I were here.”
Seventhman is 100 percent virtual and 100 percent paperless thanks to technology and tools such as voice over Internet protocol, project management suites, video conferencing and Earth Class Mail, a service that receives and scans snail mail and then delivers it electronically.
In fact, working from a virtual office has been so successful, Shah is now building a new virtual office venture, CityTalent.com, an online marketplace that uses proprietary software such as project and time management and billing to link more than 1,500 developers, graphic designers and programmers from around the world with corporate clients.
Dave Kollasch, founder and CEO of greenerbilling LLC, a software-as-a-service firm that provides a platform for business invoicing, estimating and time tracking, said he’s found no difference working with a virtual firm such as Seventhman versus a company in a fixed office. Seventhman built a Web-based software program for greenerbilling.
“Everything that I need to communicate to Seventhman, regardless of where in the world we are, can be done through an electronic connection,” Kollasch said during a drive to Orlando. He and his wife like to travel, and Kollasch works from the road when they are out of town.
“Being virtual allows not having set hours. There is a freedom of mobility. I can travel and still not miss work or deadlines. Case in point: We’re driving down the highway using our wireless card to access e-mail and respond to your questions. All of this saves both of us time.”
– Dolly Penland
Jacksonville Business Journal