We have already got used to living in both the physical and virtual worlds. Coronavirus crisis made the boundary between them even more subtle. Due to severe social distancing, even hospitality businesses have to transfer their activities online.
Coworking spaces invent new business models and membership plans to retain existing customers and attract new leads. Conventional offers are not sufficient anymore, so virtual membership is frequently added to regular packages.
In this article, we are going to discuss all things related to virtual space, such as, why do you need it, who can benefit from the implementation, what tools can you use, and more.Let's start!
A virtual space is an online portal where people come to work together.
The main difference between a virtual office space and a physical coworking space is that the former exists only online and the latter has a physical location. However, the amenities offered by virtual offices are very close to those of actual spaces. For instance, they provide entrepreneurs with:
Virtual offices are advantageous solutions for businessmen working from a home office, remote employees, people who travel often, digital nomads, etc. Entrepreneurs with a home office can use a professional address to look more credible to the customers. Business people that travel or move all the time can also benefit from a virtual office as there is no need to change business addresses frequently. As to remote workers, they will avoid loneliness by joining the online community and taking part in the activities the community manager offers.
The concept of virtual coworking is not absolutely new. It appeared long before the covid 19 pandemics but started to spread much faster during the outbreak when coworking operators were looking for ways to adjust their workspaces to isolation mode.
When organized properly, a virtual coworking space provides pretty much the same membership benefits as physical space with the only difference that members don't have to be at the same place.
With a virtual coworking subscription, members get a sense of community while working from wherever they are. They virtually sit at a specific desk marked in the virtual floorplan, interact with other residents throughout the day, go to virtual locations such as phone booths and meeting rooms.
In a word, they live a usual coworker's life but without physical contacts and access to coffee or printing. All activities take place in virtual reality/settings.
Now, when we are familiar with the virtual coworking space concept, let's make a brief list of possible perks a virtual coworking membership plan can include.
You can use different price models for your virtual services. Some of them can be offered for free when a member buys regular membership and some (such as VoIP services, live receptionist services, and access to the workspace) can be offered for an additional fee.
Not all coworking spaces are profitable, especially now, in post covid pandemic times. However, if you are a smart businessman you won't miss a single opportunity to make money. For instance, if your coworking center is located in the luxury business area of the city, it is a great source of revenue.
The physical address of the coworking center is almost as important as its community. Your tenants want prestigious locations for their offices, moreover that they can get it at minimal to no extra cost.
If you offer a virtual office, it can represent one more additional stream of profit. On one hand, you will attract high-quality leads to your location. Eventually, they may want to upgrade a virtual plan to full-time membership and start to use more of your coworking services.
On the other hand, entrepreneurs that use virtual offices bring their clients and colleagues to your space, they attend your events adding diversity to your community and bringing traffic to the workspace.
Besides, such customers have different needs and requirements, knowing and catering to which you improve the flexibility of your services and enrich them with new products.
What's more, the users of virtual office space are loyal, they may stay with you for years. So, you get a stable income at relatively low maintenance costs.
I have already mentioned above that virtual coworking benefits are similar to those of physical spaces. Most freelancers come to coworking centers to have people around them and not to be lonely while they work during the day.
When a customer signs up for virtual membership, they get the same feeling working from home or any other place. Other community members are only a click away. A member just needs to click the button to start interacting with others or view the virtual map to see where their peers are at the moment.
For example, they can see a group of people discussing essential stuff in the virtual conference room. Or they can see a person talking over the phone in the virtual phone booth.
Some coworking spaces have customizable rooms, so members can see what exactly a person is working on. This is a cool functionality for teams collaborating on the same project. It helps to ensure that all employees are on the same page.
The main value of virtual coworking is that it brings people together no matter their geographical location and enables them to join efforts with professionals that may reside on the other side of the world.
Speaking about teamwork and virtual coworking, I can't help mentioning Multihouse Entertainment company that used the service to grow its product line.
Using the technology they were able to build a creative team beyond the geography and give talents from all over the globe a unique opportunity to develop products in Hollywood while staying at home. Thanks to that, in a few months, they achieved progress that would take years otherwise.
By using virtual coworking spaces we’ve been able to build our team out considerably faster with branches now in New York, Orlando, soon Atlanta, and by mid-2020 the United Kingdom. Creating one seamless workflow that doesn’t consider geography when hiring talent.
~ Michael Tessler, film and television producer
I have already mentioned above that building community is one of the most challenging points for virtual spaces. If you are not sure where to start, take a look at the event ideas below. They will perfectly fit the online format.
Besides, you can run happy hours, where members communicate while enjoying their favorite drinks, bring coworking communities together to help each other solve problems, discuss recently-read books, encourage members to share what they are working on, reveal their talents, play games, watch movies, TED talk sessions, TV shows, arrange public events open to all people (not only members), and even organize storytime sessions for members' kids.
Now, when you know what is virtual coworking and how your brand and your members will benefit from it, it's time to get some tips on how to set up virtual membership at your coworking space.
Basically, to start a workspace online, you need an online portal where members will work from virtual rooms. In other words, members of a particular space turn on their cameras and can communicate with other people sharing the same room as if they work together for real.
To make your coworking look and feel like a physical location, you can create a virtual floorplan and supply each member with an avatar. This way, everyone will see where others are and know what they are doing or working on. Members can knock at virtual doors before coming in and close them if they do not want to be disturbed.
The goals of virtual workspaces are to enable members to work remotely, interact with others, learn new things together, and share experiences. A virtual coworking must provide a sense of community and encourage the high productivity of members.
Besides, virtual coworking should facilitate members to discover people with similar interests, network, and collaborate with them. The simplest way to do this is to provide residents with coworking space apps, where they will browse peers like their own contacts. You can also run an online forum, weekly virtual events, personal introductions, and any other activities you can think of.
To transfer your coworking space online, you need to have the best technologies at place. Train your managers to work with online communities and use advanced tools and technologies.
Work out an error-free process for handling members' mail. The best solution is to go through the CMRA (Commercial Mail Receiving Agency) notarization process in order to fine-tune a reliable mail handling and forwarding process. You need to figure out how to recognize the names of the users of your virtual offices. The most common problem pointed out by virtual office users is that their mail gets returned to the sender because the staff doesn’t recognize their names.
There are many ways to structure your virtual coworking space membership plan. Let me sketch a couple of basic ideas for consideration.
How much can you charge
You can go flexible and charge at a pay-as-you-go model or a flat fee. You can also use a tiered pricing approach, which means that you charge a standard fee for using your business address and then layer additional services, like mail forwarding or live phone answering, on top.
Anyway, your initial membership fee calculation will ground on your expenses. I mean you need to figure out how much you are going to pay for the tool that makes the entire project work and how many manager's hours are required to maintain the virtual workspace. Then, you will divide that amount by the number of people you are planning to sign up, and you will get a pricing idea.
You can also make research and ask members how much are they ready to pay for a service you are crafting for them or better yet, tell them your desired figure to see the reaction.
In case you are not going to pay for any tools and use only free technology for your virtual workspace, it will be easier for you to break even with the project. Though, monetization will demand some effort and creativity. You need to make people want to join your community by showing them the value of such membership.
For instance, you can create online webinars accessible to people that are not yet part of your coworking community, organize online events and feature them in your coworking space app to inform the current members or use another event management tool to sell tickets outside the workspace.
Your goal is to connect the online and physical community. If virtual members have access to all benefits, if they can book meeting rooms, and attend real-life events, soon they may consider full-time membership.
Please remember that you don't have to sell virtual coworking memberships to new people only, think about adding a virtual office as one more service and sell it to existing members through the app. This allows monetizing your virtual products efficiently, retain members who might have canceled otherwise, and expand your market beyond the physical location. A lot of companies want to have a business address in another city or even country to be closer to their customers. Besides, adding a virtual membership plan can reactivate leads who were interested in your services but pushed away by the price.
Technology enabling online presence is on the rise now, so you will have plenty of tools to choose from. Here are a few of them for you to start from.
At this point, you probably want to see real-life examples of virtual coworking spaces. Here they go:
Virtual coworking spaces are growing in popularity because of their unprecedented flexibility, affordable costs, and multiple benefits recapped above. The future of coworking is likely to incorporate advanced technologies along with virtual elements. If you acknowledge the truth, your workspace has all chances to thrive in the coming years.
More and more companies are already offering virtual coworking spaces and this kind of membership enjoys increasing popularity. Virtual offices may turn the tables on your coworking space and switch it from unprofitable to profitable.
Of course, a virtual workspace will never replace physical. It simply helps you be more member-focused and meet the needs of those who:
Starting a virtual coworking space, don't forget to engage your community from day one. Remember that while virtual membership is easier to join, it’s even easier to disengage from. Build a strong connection between your physical space and virtual members to ensure their retention.