Empty office space litters skylines, freeways and office parks. Once-busy
hives of cubicles have become empty steel and concrete caverns. Their
previous occupants met with a variety of fates: Some were victims of a deep
recession; others were washed away by tsunamis of cheap labor in foreign
lands; still others were unleashed by virtual technologies. Only the last
group of former office dwellers have freed themselves willingly. They did so
by exchanging their physical presence for a virtual existence.

“My partner and I have run the business from a lakeside dock in Canada and a
hotel in Barcelona, for around US$200 per month for all the necessary
tools,” Stephanie Pakrul, cofounder of TopNotchThemes, told the E-Commerce Times.

Virtual Gets Real

“Our virtual assistant wakes up on the East Coast, checks the mail, checks
for voicemail, answers support emails, and I get a report of anything
pressing by the time I’m awake in Pacific time,” explained Pakrul.

The TopNotchThemes team uses the following tools to make their virtual
existence concrete:

* Earth Class Mail for digital mail
* RingCentral for phone/virtual PBX
* Quickbooks Online for
portable bookkeeping
* Bank of America’s (NYSE: BAC) online
banking and bill pay to send direct deposit, wire, or checks to anyone
* RescueTime for tracking tasks and
project work
* Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Docs for online
document creation and storage

“There are some huge benefits to Earth Class Mail in particular, in that you
can get an actual street address, not just a P.O. box,” said Pakrul. “Plus,
with your mail scanned quickly online, you don’t need to re-ship everything,
and often can just have the paper copies shredded and keep the scans, which
keeps down the cost and paper.”

A Place to Be or Not to Be

If, however, your business is the type that needs the occasional meeting
room and all snail mail as original hard copies, then opt to be a virtual
tenant in any number of actual offices.

“We have a virtual tenant who is actually in China,” Jeremy Wolf, owner of
Wolf Commercial
told the E-Commerce Times. “We box his mail and ship it to him once a week.”

Many of Wolf’s virtual tenants, however, are attracted to the common areas
— namely, boardrooms and fancy lobbies with highly skilled receptionists.
Still others like the faux caller ID.

“You can either plug one of our phones into your computer or install some
simple softphone software. Either way, the receptionist can transfer calls
to you anywhere without the caller knowing you’re outside the premises,” he

“You can also call anyone and the caller ID will show your ‘office’ number,
not the number where you actually are,” he said.

The result: A small business can appear much larger, and workers never have
to set foot in an actual office again. On the downside, it’s much easier to
set up a scam operation these days!

The costs for a virtual tenant is “roughly 25 percent or less than a regular
tenant,” said Wolf. The lowest rent Wolf offers regular tenants is $1,000 a
month. By comparison, virtual tenants pay $250 a month, on average.

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