Communication challenges like mails, faxes, answering calls, space for meetings etc for a small start-up, where the partners and contractors are in different time zones as well as plan to keep their regular 9-5.

I know there are virtual/ intelligent office solution providers out there who give you all you need – mails and call forwarding, faxes, answer your calls, let you use their facilities for important meetings etc for one flat monthly rate. My question is – Do you have any experience (good or bad) with these virtual/ intelligent office solution providers? Any recommendations…

Devesh Dwivedi

Experienced Management Consultant

I don’t really know of any good “one size fits all” that extends over multiple timezones (and possibly countries?). Regus has been mentioned, and they are quite good. But, I’ve only ever used them for one-off day meetings, though and not as a complete VO. The day rates were comparable to meeting rooms in a conference center or hotel.

The telecom portion is fairly easy. I used to work for Avaya and they have a number of solutions that would address the forwarding, voicemail, faxes, call accounting, time-based routing, etc. Of particular interest would probably be a product called IP Softphone which would give you the transparent virtualization. There are a lot of cheaper VO products and providers, but for sheer scalability and flexibility, I would reach out to an Avaya reseller and talk to them about your needs. I know of a number of HO/VO based businesses that have just bought a used Merlin PBX to start out and then used it as the foundation for a bricks-and-mortar later.

AT&T also has a number of services that may fit your needs. Walking 800 numbers, voicemail, virtual PBXs, etc. The AT&T Webmeeting services (based on WebEx) provide virtual workspaces, Webmeeting services, integrated voice dial-in services, call management, etc. and they’ve always worked very well for me (for calls from a handful to thousands of participants. The latter moves up to a service called AT&T Executive Teleconferencing, but the technology works essentially in the same way)

As for office & meeting space, I would use someone like Regus or your local hotels/conference centers as needed. There’s also nothing wrong with the old standby of having meetings over a meal in a nice restaurant. Pick a nice quiet venue or one with private rooms/meeting areas. No sales meeting in McDonalds or Denny’s (yes, I have actually had vendors “wine and dine” me at a McDonalds!!!!! Scary, but true.). Unless you have a lot of face-to-face meetings, I’d be careful about committing to an office contract. You can generally accomplish the same effect for less money by having a list of “pre-screened” meeting venues to use as needed.