Many people ask what the difference is between a virtual office and a virtual assistant, because some websites and articles use them interchangeably or in similar context. This makes it difficult for an entrepreneur or a small business owner to determine what it is that they really need to help them with their business. In order to help you better understand the differences and similarities, we will first tell you what each is, and then explain how you can get the best of both services from one provider.
The term virtual assistant, sometimes called a virtual office assistant (or VA for short), refers to a person who is generally self-employed and provides professional administrative, technical or creative assistance to clients remotely from their home office. Typically, virtual assistants are independent contractors rather than employees, but some work with multi-VA firms that provide the services that the client needs. Virtual Assistants usually work for other small businesses, but can also provide support to busy executives of larger firms who do not need an on-site assistant. Clients of VA’s use the services of a VA so they can also avoid the logistical problem of providing extra office space, equipment or supplies to an assistant.
The most common modes of communication and data delivery between Virtual Assistants and clients include the Internet, e-mail and phone-call conferences, as well as other online work spaces and fax machines. Technology has given Virtual Assistants more tools such as Skype, Google Voice and video conferencing over Google Hangouts. With the advent of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocal) services, it is possible to have a Virtual Assistant who can answer the clients phone remotely without the end user’s knowledge. This allows many businesses to add a personal touch in the form of a receptionist without the additional cost of hiring someone.
Virtual offices provide communication and a professional business address services for a fee, without providing dedicated office space. They are typically housed within “office business centres” or an “executive suites” centre, that provide physical office space and/or meeting rooms. This is because the virtual office concept is an evolution of the office business centre and executive suite industry. Small businesses wanted the appearance of being located at an office business centre, without the cost of renting physical office space. This was made possible in part from a combination of technological innovation and the “Information Age” that allowed for remote working. Technology allows a virtual office provider to remotely answer its clients’ telephone calls and transfer them to an off-site location where the client is actually working without the end user’s knowledge that they are not physically located in the business centre.
Providing live telephone answering and a professional business address is not all that a virtual office provider can offer. Because the ideal virtual office provider is an office business centre, they can offer other services to clients (at a preferred client rate), such as secretarial services and access to boardrooms and meeting rooms. Some office business centres that offer virtual office services can also offer clients concierge services such as booking hotel rooms for out-of-town guests, restaurant reservations and even acquiring tickets for local sports events.
Virtual office providers offer their primary services of a professional business address and live telephone answering services at a fixed monthly fee, but also provide many other services on an a-la-carte basis without a long-term contract or commitment. This is the big difference between a virtual office provider and a virtual assistant that requires a defined term contract from their clients.
Another difference between a virtual assistant and an virtual office provider is that a virtual assistant can remotely answer the clients calls, but cannot provide a prestigious and professional business address that a business’s customers are looking to see. More and more customers are researching who they deal with and are looking at a company’s website for a physical business address that is not a post office box or a residential address. There is a more implied trust when they see an address that they know is a real business address.
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you should decide if you need a virtual assistant that works remotely for you, or a virtual office that can provide you with the same services while offering you much more – including a prestigious and accessible physical address.