The Virtual Office: The Pros and Cons for Your Clients.
Let’s face it: starting a practice or even committing to an office-share means that you will be on the hook for cash each month, which may be a daunting prospect. Perhaps you’re considering saving that rent money and building a home-based, virtual business. The idea may seem a bit bizarre at first, but with the concept of working from home becoming more and more popular in all business sectors, it’s an idea worth considering.
What exactly is a virtual office? Well, it generally means that you can work from anywhere that offers a quality Internet connection, most commonly your home. There are, however, pros and cons to your clients in doing so.
First, the most obvious is pro is productivity. According to Global Workplace Analytics, big companies that allowed teleworking saw an increase in productivity of between 15% and 45%. When you create a home-based virtual office, you can sit down in front of your computer and crank out pleadings or briefs with limited distractions, especially if your home is otherwise empty during business hours. Sure, your phone may ring, but you won’t be tempted to stop to chat with your co-worker about the game or your weekend plans. And when you consider the amount of time that you’ll save when you no longer need to get suited up and travel to your office, you may have two or more hours that you can devote to your clients’ cases. You’ll also have the flexibility to work when it’s convenient for you, whether that be early in the morning or late at night. The end result is a more efficient practice where clients’ needs are promptly addressed and you’re free to move on to a new matter.
Another pro is the reduced cost of working from a virtual office. If you’re able to reduce your overhead costs, you may be able to pass those savings on to your clients. Obviously, you do not want to undervalue your services, but providing quality, affordable legal representation could garner you referrals and repeat business.
There are, however, some drawbacks, namely the lack of a dedicated meeting space. This is particularly important if your practice area requires face-to-face time with your clients. Rentable conference rooms have become easy to find online for the small business professional. These rooms vary in size and can typically accommodate anywhere from two to 12 occupants. The downside is that you are at someone else’s mercy with space availability. Further, it may be more difficult to schedule these last-minute meetings. You’ll also want to consider whether the price, anywhere from $25 an hour to $300 a day, is in your budget.
If there are no local rentable meeting spaces nearby, you may find yourself sitting across from your client at your kitchen table or the nearest coffee shop. Personally, I feel uncomfortable conducting business meetings in my home. A local restaurant or coffee shop may sound like a good idea in theory, but you will want to consider the practical ramifications. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to ensure confidentiality in a public space, even one that’s sparsely occupied. Will you need to bring your laptop, or have a load of forms already printed and ready to go? Although it’s not an impossible situation, you will need to assess your tolerance for either meeting clients at home or in a public location.
Further, while the solitude of working from home may increase productivity, it is also quite isolating. Working from home may quite literally involve not leaving your home during business hours. This impacts your clients because, unless you are making a conscious effort to routinely network or collaborate with other attorneys, you may not have the benefit of bouncing your latest legal theory off another attorney. While this isn’t necessary, especially if you’re well versed in your practice area, a little collegial brainstorming can help to fine-tune the arguments you make on behalf of your clients.
There are a number considerations in whether a virtual office is a feasible option for you, but pausing for thought on the impact that doing so would have on your clients is a worthy exercise.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h