In 2013, the Omni Business Center in Kansas announced that it will expand its virtual office to include open spaces, conference rooms, and the latest communication technology. Omni’s reinvention is common for virtual offices across the country.
The temp office industry has seen increases in usage each year as the U.S. economy, with its manufacturing sector now comprising just 8 percent, continues its transformation into a virtual and service-based marketplace. In the past year, nearly 4 percent of the American workforce became telecommuters.
Buff Farrow, the Omni Center’s general manager, told Biz Journal “I think it’s a good time for us to innovate.” In the 1990s, rental for temp spaces typically included a private office, secretarial support, fax machines and printers, and reliable telephones for sales calls.
How times have changed.
“Virtual employees” enable companies to save money on leasing costs and building expenses. Additionally, there’s a regulatory driver for the growth in temp offices. Obamacare’s full implementation in 2014 is expected to induce millions of small businesses to convert full-time employees into part-time workers and independent contractors. Thus, the Affordable Care Act could create millions of new virtual workers in the next decade.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, more than three million Americans have become telecommuters in the past year. The trend requires changes in how office buildings are set up. While most telecommuters set up tax-deductible home offices, those that travel regularly – such as consultants and salespeople – require virtual spaces for a few hours each month.
Premier Business Centers (PBC), which operates virtual offices in five states, has seen exponential growth in demand and reflects the U.S. economy’s transition into requiring virtual workers. In less than 10 years since its founding, PBC has become the largest privately-owned office space operator in the United States. Growing at an 11 percent rate each year, Inc. Magazine lists the Irvine, Calif.-based company as one of the nation’s fastest growing businesses.
There is a kind of arms race going on between virtual offices to entice business from millions of new telecommuters. A contemporary virtual office typically includes conference rooms for collaboration, workstations with high-speed connectivity, and wireless networks. Professionals who use such offices no longer carry hard disks for data storage. Instead, they exchange and store information in the cloud.
To further help companies save money, business centers are also beginning to lease part-time virtual offices, a program that borrows from the time-share model of exotic vacation accommodations. Employees sign up for a variable number of hours in which they need to use a conference room or workstation.
Knowledge workers in the new economy can also share business documents while traveling. Unsurprisingly, software makers are moving apps from laptops to mobile platforms to reflect users’ evolving preferences.
Last year, Xerox announced that professionals can now collaborate on business documents using their mobile devices through the company’s DocuShare app. “Business activities increasingly take place outside the four walls of a company’s office, and around the clock,” said Brian Lincoln, senior product line manager of Xerox’s DocuShare program. “Our customers have confirmed that the ability to tap into their documents in DocuShare from a mobile device, anywhere and anytime, dramatically improves their efficiency.”