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PHIL HARDWICK: Finding flexible office space with virtual ease

PHIL HARDWICK

PHIL HARDWICK

For the past 25-plus years whether in corporate, academic or government positions I have had some type of office space furnished to me. When I retired last year from a regular job to concentrate more on my own ventures I found myself in need of office space. What I ultimately discovered suited me – and thousands like me – to a T.

There are some 75 million Baby Boomers on the verge of retirement. It is estimated that for the next 20 years an average of 10,000 people each day will reach age 65. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people age 65 to 84 in the U.S. grew by 3.3 million. Currently, 13 percent of Americans are currently age 65 or older. That percentage will increase to 18 percent by 2030. Many of those so-called retirees will, like me, open their own consulting businesses.

Those who do so will find that the home office is not exactly suited to their needs. I discovered that fact in short order. I have had a home office for many years to work on my various projects. It is equipped with all of the necessities of a one-person operation. It serves nicely when used at nights and on the weekends. However, as an office space during regular business hours there are drawbacks. While talking on the telephone with a client it does not help the professional image when the dog begins barking or someone appears at the front door and rings the doorbell. Distractions are abundant. If I see a delivery person walking up the driveway I have to get up and see what was delivered or who it might be. Then there is the situation of two spouses being together all day long instead of one or both of them going off to work somewhere. It’s not that they get on each others’ nerves, it just that they have been around each other so much and some adjustment is needed.

In my case, all I was seeking was a small office that was cheap. As in $100 – $150 per month or so. All I really needed was a desk and a chair, and air-conditioning and heating, of course. I meet most of my clients in their places of business or in restaurants or coffee shops. My three associates are independent and have their own offices. I figured that I could find such a space in the Midtown section of Jackson in an old industrial district by the tracks that was going through some revitalization. I scoured the area and had no luck. Then I hit the Internet to see what I could find in the way of such space. I knew of the concept of executive offices that were designed so that a person had an office and shared a receptionist, copying machine and other office necessities. Unfortunately, those type spaces were a little more than I wanted to pay, however they were much cheaper than renting space and furnishing it oneself. I also did not want to sign a one-year lease.

Finally I discovered what is known as virtual offices, a growing type of office space that is perfect for entrepreneurs, consultants and people who do not really need a full-time office. These offices can be rented by the month, week, day or even by the hour. Some of the basics of a virtual office are services like an on-demand receptionist to handle calls and messages, Internet access as part of a package, conference rooms, videoconferencing and a worldwide network of flexible, premium business address options. There are a variety of packages available. For example, one virtual office business center in Jackson has a starter package that includes only mail service and a professional business address. Other available packages include office usage, receptionist, mail forwarding, etc.

In my case, I settled on Regus. I chose a package that allows me 10 days per month of office usage, Internet access, receptionist, lounge and more. Now my schedule is to work two days per week from my Regus office. I can choose from two locations. Next week I plan on spending one day in the Flowood office and one day in the Ridgeland office, where I will be using the conference room (extra fee) to host a board of directors meeting of a nonprofit organization to which I am a member. If I’m on the road in the U.S. or in Europe I have over 3,000 such offices available. If I’m in Paris and need to meet with someone there is an executive office available to me. I’ve been using this service for three months now and am very satisfied with it. One of the best features is the staff that are available at the centers. Recently, I needed to fax a time-sensitive document to a prospective client. I simply emailed the document as an attachment to the receptionist who copied it and faxed it immediately.

I would like to close by telling you what a ridiculously low rate I pay for these services, but you can find out by calling one of the business centers in your city. All I can say is that the rate is lower than I expected and that I signed a multi-month contract. Also, shop around and compare centers and services. For those who need flexible space, these centers are well worth the price-based on my experience.

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.

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