Saturday, February 05, 2005

Creating The Virtual Office

It's the common blueprint for entrepreneurial success. A few friends come up with a new idea that is going to take the world by storm or at least make them millionaires while they are young enough to enjoy it. They sketch out their plans on napkins at a local watering hole. Then they invite a few more key players to join their venture. Before you know it, a building is rented and the new company logo is being affixed to the entrance.

This is the dream that helped make possible the tech boom of the 90's. Today, venture capital is a bit harder to come by and the people you need to launch your dream may live nowhere nearby. But today you have more options. You can build a business without an edifice. You can build a team with everyone right where they are. It's done with the virtual office.

The virtual office that I'm referring to is based on a hosted PBX system. Instead of regular phone service from local providers at each location, business team members each have broadband connections that they use for both Internet access and telephone services. Phone services are provided using VoIP technology, but not just any VoIP service. The key is having a unified system that makes everyone feel like they are part of the same organization. In a bricks and mortar situation, it's often the PBX system that ties all of the desks and offices together. In a virtual office, a hosted PBX system does the same thing.

What's a hosted PBX? It is a service that provides PBX type features without you having to own and maintain a physical PBX or IP PBX. Think of the host like a web site host. The beauty of the Internet is that it's just as easy to communicate with someone half-way around the world as it is to communicate with someone on the next floor of your building. The PBX host can be located anywhere. Workers in the virtual office can be located anywhere.

Anywhere really can mean just about anywhere. Your business partners can be working out of storefronts, loft spaces or home offices in various cities and states. Some can be located overseas. The one common denominator you all require is broadband access.

So how does the hosted PBX simulate an office environment? You dial each other with 3 digit extensions, just like in the office. You can set up an auto attendant with a main number for the company so your suppliers and customers can dial you by extension or name. You can easily park, forward, transfer or set up a three-way conference for any phone conversation. You can even designate one person to be the operator or receptionist using switchboard software that runs on a PC. That operator, by the way, can be... you guessed it... ANYWHERE!

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