Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Are phones the lifeblood of your company?

We are in a new world of business multitasking; taking conference calls whilst emailing suppliers and ordering your groceries online.

However have you ever tried to fit a light switch or replace the washer on a tap whilst answering a call from a potential client? That takes more than multitasking, it takes extra hands.

In a previous life I used to run a plumbing company and we learned quite quickly that you cannot be an effective plumber and answer the phone. 
This is particularly the case when you are half way through a job and the phone rings. Best case scenario you just lose your train of thought.

Obviously, one cheap solution is to let the phone ring out to voicemail and return the call later.  However if it is a new customer they are probably calling a list of 3 plumbers and the first to answer is likely to get the job.
If you can arrange for someone else to answer that call you have a chance to capture the business as well as projecting an image of an organised, established, reliable company. 
What's not to like?

The Virtual Office® was created especially to deal with these issues as we realised that phone calls during an important piece of work are impossible to deal with effectively.  Just getting connected to voicemail is not customer friendly, especially if the caller is unsure how to explain what is wrong or need to talk to someone urgently to sort out a problem or query.

A Virtual Office® service allows people to do their business without interference until they are ready to deal with their phone calls and mail.
And with our ISO 9001 certification you can be confident in our strong focus on total quality management. This means that we have procedures in place to make sure that we do everything we should be doing and do it excellently. 

Since pioneering The Virtual Office® in 1992 we have spent all our time improving and refining our systems and training to ensure we do not make mistakes that might jeopardise your business. 

You can be sure when you're fixing that tap your calls are being answered by a competent receptionist who will manage your callers, take messages and reassure them that they have called the right company for their needs. Your messages are delivered to you by email so you can hear the message and assess it's urgency.

My plumbing company loved knowing that every caller had a trained receptionist handling every call however busy or short staffed we were.

Author: Richard Nissen, Chairman
© The Virtual Office October 2013

Monday, 23 September 2013

Preparations to Jump Ship

Well, of course we are not talking about ships but jobs. 
During the recession many people have been working in jobs that they find unfulfilling or dissatisfying as they should feel 'lucky to have a job'.  Having a steady income and keeping safe during the recession were the priorities.  But now the water has calmed this could be the moment to set a new course by launching a business of your own.
There are many people who are fed up with their unsatisfactory jobs but have always harboured the idea that they could become their own bosses.  This need for independence and the opportunity to control your own destiny is the desire of many.
Unfortunately, with banks making loans unattainable it is difficult to propel yourself into a successful new venture that stands on its own two feet.  You need to continue earn money from your paid employment, whilst you moonlight and generally toil to get your new enterprise up and running.  Equally you may need to prove your concept before handing in your notice.
As Paul Brown of Forbes.com says, entrepreneurs are by nature risk adverse.  They accept risk 'as part of the game and then work extremely hard to reduce it to a minimum'.
We created the Virtual Office® in 1992 for the express purpose of helping budding entrepreneurs start up and succeed in their new enterprises.  We always knew that many start ups fail but our experience over the years has been that by investing in a Virtual Office service most of our clients have gone on to be successful
Why is this?  Because these people looked at what they needed to succeed and paid for the service to make this happen.  The Virtual Office enables people to work in full time paid employment and yet effectively run a parallel operation without distraction during working hours.
Just to be clear a Virtual Office service typically includes the use of our address, all post arrives at our office and is handled as directed.  It is possible to use our rooms for meetings at the same address. This is very discrete and any potential customer will always feel assured that you are a real and trustworthy.
But above all it is our telephone service that makes all the difference.  We have a highly trained group who answer a physical London number in your name (the name of your company).  They also know when you are calling in, and look after you!  Prospective clients feel reassured when a business has more than just a mobile telephone number.  A mobile is a direct link between an individual and another.  The key is that enterprises must show solidity and the reality of a proper organisation in order to grow and succeed.  Of course once contact is made everyone uses their mobiles to talk to each other.  However, the initial experience must be a proper receptionist who knows all about your company when she answers the telephone.

We revel in new start ups.  We want to help new companies succeed and our experience is that we do so.  Over the years we have helped thousands of companies succeed and prosper.  It seems that the key to success is your commitment to building a successful business and being determined to put the right infrastructure behind it from the beginning. Of course we delight when these fledgling enterprises take wing and go off to establish themselves in their own offices.

Author: Richard Nissen, Chairman
© The Virtual Office September 2013

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Achieve optimum productivity by reaching 'flow state'

To produce our best work and achieve optimum productivity we need to get into what psychologists call a 'flow state'.

According to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow state is the mental state of a person fully immersed and focused on performing an activity.  
In a working environment flow is likely to occur when you are faced with a task that has clear goals that require specific responses and are given the space to focus entirely on the task.

It takes the average person 15 minutes to reach flow state. As David Coplin of Microsoft UK says when was the last time you had 15 minutes where you weren't distracted by a phone call, email or someone telling you about a cat video on YouTube?

So far it has taken me 2 hours of broken focus to research and write this article.  Emails pop up, clients drop in, telephones ring, stomachs rumble.  There are distractions everywhere.

As such I have decided that all future articles will be researched and written with my email alerts turned off, my calls on divert to the Virtual Office receptionists and with a fresh cup of tea beside me.

I am looking forward to totally immersing myself in a writing and researching. 
However right now I'm distracted by that fresh cup of tea.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Flexible working 'cuts cost to employers', say business leaders

The Times reported today that a group of 22 of Britain's biggest companies, the "Agile Future Forum", have signed a commitment to flexible working rights after finding that "agility" in staff hours and locations can cut workforce costs by as much as 13%.

Richard Nissen, the founder of The Virtual Office, is also a guest lecturer at Cass Business School.  For the past 10 years he has been championing the value of virtual working including the cost benefit to employers when they are not housing staff everyday in physical office space.

However the emphasis is not the cost savings but the terminology used to define the working style.

The 22 bosses argue that while 96% of companies assessed were already offering some degree of "flexible working" the term has gained a bad reputation for being "a benefit for employees and a cost for employers". They add: "This runs contrary to our experience: if implemented successfully by business leaders, workforce agility can offer sustainable business performance and engaged employees."

The aim of this research was to ascertain whether "a business case could be made" for less structured working patterns. According to Sir Win Bischoff, leader of the Agile Future Forum it can.  "There is evidence of cost savings on one hand and revenue enhancements on the other."

It is hoped that this report will raise awareness of the economic benefits of agile working.
The Agile Future Forum has also devised a specific assessment tool to help companies test and measure the value of new practises and will run seminars and workshops to help small, medium and large companies overhaul working practices.

Further reading is available at

The report's stats:
- benefits equivalent to 3% to 13% of workforce costs, with potential to increase that by a further 3% to 7%
- some instances, sales uplift to 11%
- Accountancy giant KPMG saved £4.7m during the recession by offering flexible working hours to staff rather than making redundancies
- Law firm Eversheds, said 28pc of staff reported increased productivity when they gave staff freedom over their working models.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Tips for networking

I recently was asked by some colleagues for tips when networking.

The prospect of networking can be hugely daunting especially if you are new to the industry, role or just promoting yourself in a new arena.

I know the first couple of times I attended networking events I felt very young, green and female.  The majority of networking events at that time were dominated by men of a certain age in very grey suits.

Today networking is very diverse.  The increase of social media has in turn led to an increase of real life socialising for business.  There are invite only groups, female only groups, free events, informative events sponsored by big brands...the list is exhaustive.

So I have tried to list a few pointers I would have benefitted from in the early days.

Who will be there?
It is always worth researching the companies attending.  You are often issued with a list of attendees prior to the event. It is worth visiting a few websites and having a few companies that you are interested in talking to in mind.  If it's a good networking group the organisers will have pre-empted who you'll be interested in and sat you near each other.

My colleagues were attending a Young Entrepreneur Society networking event where the majority of people were start ups under 30.  Amongst them were some established companies (mentors) as well.

When you get there
Practical tips:

-        have your business cards in your right hand jacket pocket so they are easily accessible if someone asks for one.  You can put their cards in your left hand pocket.
-        try to keep baggage to a minimum. Make the most of any cloakroom and check in any coats, extra bags, trainers.

Getting involved
In essence networking is just formal socialising with people you wouldn't normally mix with.
It's not about pitching your business and making sales.  It is about chatting with people. 
So find out what business they’re in.  Find out about them in general.  Few people enjoying introducing themselves to strangers and starting conversations so they’ll be relieved and happy to chat about themselves.

Explaining what you do
If you've asked your questions and you're asked what you do then you explain your business. 
Pitch your business as if you were explaining it to a friend who has shown interest in using your service or product .  Relaxed and not pushy but with enough detail that if they’re interested they will ask more questions.  Try to tailor your detail to how you think you could help them.

As a rule I try not to discuss prices just the value. 
If they are interested in finding out more then you can take their card or details and email them when you are in the office.

Use the experience to learn about other businesses and how you can better serve them.  If you do get any sales from networking it is most often indirect, through word of mouth so just mingle, enjoy the refreshments and see what you learn.

For the original article visit http://www.voffice.com/hello/whatsnew


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

My take on an old favourite...

How to Work from Home Successfully

Let me start by saying that working from home is not for everyone. 
I love working from home.  I'm productive, relaxed and really don't miss the commute.  However I speak to people regularly who believe that they would hate it.  They feel that working from home they would lack focus and fear the isolation.  I currently have the best of both worlds.  I work from home and I work from the office.  In fact I believe the majority of people who 's main place of business is home actually spend half their time there.  They spend the other half meeting clients, networking, developing their business; and the increase in drop -in hubs and free networking spaces have made it easier and cheaper to connect and build business relationships.
I will revisit networking and shared spaces in a future blog.  Today I am going to focus on making your working day in the comfort of your home a productive one.

These tips work for me:
Don't feel confined by the 9-5

Everyone has times in the day when they are more motivated.  For me it is the afternoon.  So I plan my day around this.  With all administrative jobs completed, emails sent and washing done in the morning I can concentrate on creative or more involved projects in the afternoon.  I can also decide to leave the project go for a walk or have dinner then come back to it with fresh eyes and new ideas.
You may work best in the morning and be finished on your projects by the afternoon.  Even better as you can then plan your next day, cook dinner or find other ways to fulfil your day. You will be more productive when you are at work if you can also make time for other things.

Set boundaries

If you're not working to a fixed schedule and don't have dinner to cook or kids to collect from school then sometimes there is no natural end to your day.  Too many times you start work early and are still working when you realise it's dark and you've missed your evening.  Then it is often good to set a reminder in your calendar or phone to have a cuppa for a time that you'll definitely want to have finished work by.  If you take that step away from your desk you can then decide whether the project you're working on can wait until the next day.  It normally can.
Break away

It is important to take breaks but it is also important to go outside.  A walk round the park or to the shop not only forces you to get dressed it is also good for your health.  It provides light exercise, improves your vitamin D levels and will help you clear your head making you more productive when you return to your desk.  Constantly putting in long hours without break is draining and damages long term productivity.  More importantly it damages your health.  A change of scenery will do you good and make you happier.

And that's it.  Nothing that will make headlines.  Just a gentle reminder to us all that working hard doesn't mean being chained to your desk.  It means working to your strengths. Keeping yourself happy and healthy will help in every area of life. Simple.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The ongoing Flexible working debate

There has always been resistance to flexible working with the majority of businesses preferring to keep employees within their sights.

Earlier this year a ban on remote working at Yahoo reignited the flexible working debate.
The arguments are the same but the strength of opinion is different. With the explosion of social technologies and the ease of remote working many are anxious about losing creative impromptu moments between colleagues. Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, feels that in a fast-moving, entrepreneurial society, we cannot afford to live without the face-to-face interaction that drives business.

However during preparation for London 2012 many companies decided to embrace flexible working as a viable option for their business. Telecommunications company O2 have moved their teams' working week away from traditional offices.
According to employee Darren Farmer people from all areas of the company are now working away from the office at least one day a week. In his article 'Flexible working one year on' he states that the biggest thing that any company looking at flexible working needs to consider is a behavioural change. I have discussed in the past the level of trust required by an employer to commit to home working. It is not just investments in technology to ensure you can still be collaborative and productive. It's about encouraging a feeling of ownership in your employees. As Darren says 'it’s all about output, not where you are. I know what constitutes me doing my job, and it’s up to me to make sure it’s done wherever I am'.

SMEs are more likely to encourage autonomy. They have entrusted their business dream to their staff so have developed more personal relationships. The result is a belief that the work will be produced speedily. Staff in return want to produce the best quality output possible to ensure the trust remains.
Essentially flexible working should be just that. Flexible. It doesn't mean always working at home with no face to face interaction with colleagues or suppliers. It means working in a flexible way to benefit the business.

Increased employee motivation and reduced premises costs are beneficial. However, ultimately, the biggest benefit is the business reaching optimal quality and productivity.