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Virtual vs. Brick-and-Mortar Offices

October 07 2011

Welcome to the future, where "the office" can sometimes be your bed, a bar, or a beach chair in the Bahamas. For the uninitiated, it may be difficult to believe, but doing business doesn't always require a traditional, brick-and-mortar office. The virtual office is growing in popularity . . . and in effectiveness.

To understand what this means for real estate professionals, we talked to Mehrdad Alaei, CEO of GoPaperless Solutions. GoPaperless is one company that has made it their business to serve the changing needs of a technologically advancing industry. They offer one example of how REALTORS® may become more efficient by streamlining their business with electronic transactions.

Benefits of a Virtual Office
There are 4 primary benefits to a virtual office:

1. Financial savings. One of the most obvious benefits of a virtual office is the money saved on overhead. Eliminate expenses like rent, utilities, printers and copiers, toner, paper supplies, ancillary staff members, a cleaning crew, and much more.

2. Kind to the environment. In general, a virtual office is more "green" than a brick-and-mortar office. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule; many companies with physical offices make green practices a priority, and many folks working remotely get printer-happy. However, most people with virtual offices use technology to digitally share and manage documents, which can be a real tree-saver.

3. Flexibility. Most real estate agents don't see their job as a 9-to-5 gig. Why should they be tied to an office during business hours? Professionals with a virtual office have more flexibility to do their work. This flexibility is also beneficial for their work/life balance, particularly for agents with young children.

4. Time effectiveness. Okay, show of hands: who loves their commute? Anyone? The time spent driving to-and-from the office can be quite significant for many professionals. Eliminating that commute can free-up time for more sales, continuing education, and other (more productive) tasks.

For a highly successful broker’s perspective, you can read Jay Thompson’s eloquent article here.


Do you work in a virtual office environment? What benefits have you discovered?

Virtual Tools
So what are the tech tools required to take your office virtual? Here are just a few:


  • Communication tools like a Smartphone, computer and tablet with Internet access
  • Electronic fax
  • Electronic document management
  • Data sharing and access
  • Data synchronization and offsite backup
  • A website in place of a storefront
  • Social media for staying connected to your colleagues and your clients
  • Chat/instant messaging to communicate between teammates
  • The MLS system for researching property


“Our Real Estate DashboardReal Estate Dashboard is an example of a solution that many virtual offices implement,” explains Mr. Alaei. “We’ve incorporated many of the tools professionals working remotely need. What we have done is to take the core features such as document management, document backup and sync, electronic signatures, electronic fax, and data sharing and built it all into one user interface. So, rather than signing up for different software and signing onto different services, you have one platform, the Real Estate Dashboard, that delivers all the features a virtual agent needs into one software.


He continues, “The most unique feature of the Real Estate Dashboard is the in-person signing of forms and contracts with a tablet PC (iPad app will be released November 2011). Clients simply sign on the screen with a digital pen (stylus) or finger just like they do with pen and paper. The signatures are secured and encrypted and documents can then be distributed via email, fax, or shared online. Our IT department also specializes in website design, Sharepoint/Intranet setup, and other virtual tools for paperless offices.”


Maintain a Personal Experience
BUT . . . remember you’re a person – not a computer. You and your customers – unlike your office – are not virtual. These are real people who demand a personal experience. This is particularly true for real estate agents, arguably one of the most people-oriented businesses out there.


“You absolutely can – and should – maintain a personal relationship with each and every customer,” says Mr. Alaei. “Think of your virtual office as instead freeing you up to have more time and resources to invest in your customer relationships.”


In addition to building relationships with customers, don’t lose sight of import relationships with colleagues. “Find time to meet face-to-face for some networking and mentorship with your peers. Having a sense of a ‘team’ can be invaluable for real estate agents. If you’re working in a virtual environment, you’re going to need to make a special effort to maintain these connections.”


Reality Check
The truth is, physical office spaces probably aren’t going to disappear altogether. However, a-desk-for-every-agent, 9-to-5 structures probably won’t last. Offices may be emptier and fewer in number, although unlikely extinct.


For a good discussion of changing brokerage structure, we recommend Game Plan by Ian Morris and Steve Murray. You can read our book review or buy the book onlinebuy the book online. You may also want to read the WAV Group whitepaper regarding The Shift in Real Estate Technology.


Companies that support virtual offices: