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Expand on the cheap with ‘virtual’ office space

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in Career Management,Employment Background Check,Human Resources,Workplace Communication

Say you want to open another office or relocate to a more modern space, but you can’t afford to lease or buy a new location. One possible solution: Contract for a “virtual” office.

Virtual-office services are growing fast as more businesses seek ways to expand and enhance their image while controlling costs. In virtual offices, several companies share physical space by appointment and have the amenities they need to host meetings and do business.

The trend is catching on so fast that the Securities and Exchange Commission is publishing guidelines for virtual-office owners. Operators don’t routinely check the backgrounds of virtual-office users, and federal regulators worry that some of the occupants run fake businesses or launder money. (That’s why it’s smart to ask virtual-office providers if they do background checks on occupants.)

Advantage: Most virtual offices are located in upscale areas, allowing occupants to impress customers and clients with a professional image.

Disadvantage: Business owners are allotted a certain number of hours per month to use their offices, and must make reservations. Also, customers and clients might feel misled if they learn that a business shares virtual-office space.

Virtual offices exist in large and small cities and more are popping up each month. Four leading examples:

1. eEmerge (www.eemerge.com) offers virtual office space at eight New York City locations. Service includes a phone number, a mail/messenger drop address, the use of a conference room and a receptionist who answers calls for each business, using its name. Cost: $100 to $375 a month, depending on the package.

2. DaVinci International (www.davincisuites.com) provides virtual offices in Idaho, Nevada and Utah. Services include personalized phone answering, voice mail and call forwarding, appointment scheduling, Internet connections and a conference room.

3. Virtual Office Centers (www.virtualofficecenters.com) offers facilities in Texas, Washington state and California. Cost: Starts at $95 a month.

4. EBC Office Centers (www.ebcnet.com) operate in Charlotte, Atlanta, Jacksonville and near Orlando. Cost: about $250 a month for a mailing address, answering service and office space.

Online resource: For more information and a national directory of virtual offices, go to www.yourvirtualoffice.info

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