1996 - The virtual office
If you let your fingers take
a walk through any business directory, you will
find dozens of companies that have exploited the
language of the new in their titles.
The combinations prefixed by
techno and compu are as popular today as those
which in earlier days may have used auto and aero.
One word which seems to be making this breakthrough
into business nomenclature is 'virtual'. It feels
as modern as . . . well as 'modern' did in the
So if you prefix whatever you
do with the word 'virtual', it gives it the feel
of a bang up-to-date enterprise.
But what does this new application
mean? It emerged with computer simulation giving
the impression of moving within a three-dimensional
landscape, hence virtual reality to denote the
illusion of reality. Now it is being linked with
almost anything. Had this type of usage been around
during the consumer revolution of the 1950s and
1960s, we might have had virtual coffee and virtual
Instead we have something called
the virtual office. The concept has been around
in companies for a while, covering everything
from hot desking - multiple user desks - to technical
systems which can maintain communications with
workers who are constantly on the move, whose
office can be their hotel room or company car.
Now it can be bought 'off the shelf' to provide
the illusion of big company back-up to the self
Richard Nissen has bundled the
ideas together into a business he has called,
not surprisingly, The Virtual Office. Nissen has
an inventive mind which he inherited from his
grandfather, who brought us the Nissen hut, or
what today might be called the virtual living
Nissen has progressed from the
hut to a smart address in Piccadilly which he
uses to rent out temporary office space to anyone
who needs it. A progression from this was to establish
a switchboard and telephone system which can take
in and transfer calls, messages or mail anywhere
in the world. There is also an area he calls a
'touch-down space', not much bigger than a broom
cupboard, which can be rented by the mobile worker
to make telephone calls, send or receive faxes,
or plug a lap-top computer into an electricity
This arrangement, therefore,
allows an individual to create the illusion of
being in more than one place at the same time.
Nissen has some 266 clients using his virtual
office. One of them, Jane Deuser, of Deuser Clarkson
Business Development, is travelling regularly
between London and New York with business in both
countries. Deuser runs a consultancy advising
people how to get a business off the ground, including
devising business plans and finding venture capital.
While she can work from her home
in New York or her office in Tooting in south
London, she often needs to come into the centre
for meetings with clients. The virtual office
gives her a temporary base. Calls to either her
office in New York or the UK are routed through
the Tooting office to wherever she happens to
She says: 'When I'm in London,
I can come in here and take a couple of phone
calls. I can meet people here as if it was my
business address. I can even hire out a meeting
room upstairs by the hour if I need one. I have
a full secretarial back-up and I'm on Compuserve
so I can take and send E-mail messages.
'It's important for me to have
the image that I'm everywhere at the same time.
If people in the UK think I'm in New York, they
won't call me. But with this system there is no
need for me to say that I am out of the country.'
Deuser reckons the service works
out at about £125 a month. It costs her
£75 a month to maintain, with the cost of
telephone calls on top of this. It is also flexible.
'I had a huge project in the
states which lasted six months so I did not take
the service during that time,' she says.
Nissen has now invented his own
recruitment system which he calls Job Sort. He
used it successfully to recruit a book keeper.
The system works like this: the
job is advertised in a newspaper, asking the prospective
candidate to phone a particular telephone number.
When they call, they hear a recorded message asking
them to outline a few details, such as name and
address, and to give a three- minute presentation
explaining why they would be right for the job.
The uncommitted ones hang up and do not return.
The clever ones who want the job hang up and work
at their presentation before calling back.
Nissen can then play back all
the recorded presentations to draw up a shortlist.
He hopes to develop the idea in partnership with
someone with human resource experience who could
make the system marketable as a recruitment tool.
© 1996 The Financial Times.
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