Virtual offices provide tony addresses, staff without the overhead

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By Greg Wilcox

Attorney Harold L. Greene is listed on the lobby directory of the Warner Center office building, and a receptionist answers the phone.

But the workers’ compensation attorney himself is miles away, linked by technology to his “virtual office” – a growing trend among professionals looking to reduce overhead while maintaining appearances.

“I’m sitting in my home office in Malibu, looking at the ocean,” Green said last week, after the receptionist transferred my call. “And last week I was at my Rancho Mirage house looking at my pool.”

The concept is simple. Virtual offices allow small business to supersize their images.

They have been a staple of small businesses for a long time but became increasingly popular during the recession.

A virtual office can offer a professional address – one that sounds better to clients than a P.O. box – and can include reception services and use of an office and conference room.

Prices can start at less than $100 a month for just an address; and like anything else, it pays to shop around. By comparison, shared desk space starts at about $200 a month and office suites can cost more than $4,000 a month.

Century City-based Barrister Executive Suites Inc., which originated the office suite concept, has seven facilities in the San Fernando Valley area, and Dallas-based The Regus Group has two in Warner Center.

Executives at both companies said that virtual office tenants now account for about 50 percent of their clients.

Kerri Linda Morales, Barrister’s suite manager in Woodland Hills, said that the company’s virtual office revenue has increased about 25 percent since 2008.

Greene’s virtual office operates out of Barrister’s Woodland Hills location. He began renting a regular office there in 2003 but went virtual at the beginning of 2009.

It was a matter of economics and logistics. Green says he spends less money on physical facilities and works more efficiently.

“If someone walks in there and says, “Is Mr. Greene available?” the receptionist will say, “Just a moment,” pick up a phone and push a button, and my cell phone will ring no matter where I am on the planet,” he said.

“To everybody in the world, I have a physical office.”

Cutting expenses but still projecting a big image attracted Camarillo resident Robert Nishida to a virtual office.

He owns a small computer company, HDDS Design, that specializes in making interactive touch screen devices used in retail establishments.

Six years ago, he began renting office space for about $2,000 a month at Regus’ facility on the 15th floor of the 21st Century office tower on Owensmouth Avenue. But Nishida went virtual about 18 months ago after his revenue plunged 35 percent because of the recession.

His office expenses are now just more than $200 a month.

“I’m a small company and it makes me look like I have a very professional staff and a very prestigious business address,” he said. “People can Google map it and see this really nice 21st Century tower that I’m in.”

His virtual office consists of the Warner Center address, phone and other typical office services, mail and use of an office two times a month.

To his clients, nothing has changed from the time he was renting space on a full-time basis.

But the virtual office concept is not for everyone.

Thousand Oaks resident John Iezza, owner of Executive Search Services, has been a Barrister client for six years.

Last year he went virtual but it only lasted four months.

“I always worked with an office mentality and I thought it would be a great idea,” he said.

Iezza has a wife and two kids, and adding a business into the mix was too much to handle.

“I couldn’t work out of the house. There were too many distractions,” he said. “I just needed to go to a physical office.