Our 3-part Webinar Series on “Preparing your Flex Office Space for a New Normal” was a huge success! Please fill out your information below to download the presentation slides. After submitting the form, you will receive a confirmation email containing links to view the video recordings for Webinars #1 and #2. Recording for sensitive session #3 with Mark Golan (Google) and Mark Zuckerberg’s video is unavailable at this time.
Webinar Series Q&A
As promised, below is a list of the questions we received during all the sessions with answers to those questions for your reference.
Virtual Office/Virtual Mail Questions
1) I don’t fully understand Virtual Offices. Is VO working from home?
Virtual Offices (VOs) are a combination of services that allow people the flexibility to work remotely while giving them access to services like a professional business address, digital mail, access to meeting rooms, or phone answering services. Many Virtual Office users work from home, but others may have a main office out of town and use a Virtual Office to establish a business identity at your coworking location. They may also access your meeting rooms and day offices from time-to-time, but their primary place of work is elsewhere. Check How to build a Virtual Office Business and also Don’t Leave your clients out in the cold which explains the value of a virtual office from the user perspective.
2) Why does Pacific Workplaces not charge a refundable security deposit for their Virtual Office Plans?
We waive the service deposit for VOs for users who pay monthly via credit card. This lowers the barrier to entry and we prefer auto-pay via credit card as it’s a more streamlined way of receiving payments, and it’s more environmentally friendly than processing paper checks.
3) How do you deal with collecting the CMRA 1583 form if people sign up via your website?
CloudVO does this for you and Pacific Workplaces follows the same process for its own locally generated VO plans. As soon as someone signs up on the website, they are sent the PS 1583 (CMRA) form to complete and send back to us. We also use NotaryCam’s online notary services to validate the ID documents they submitted. Members are free to use their local notary if that’s what they prefer. Check Virtual Offices and US Postal Service Rules (CMRA) and How to Vet VO Clients.
4) What are the legal requirements for accepting mail for others, and what you have to do with the Post Office (if anything)? Also, are there specific things you’d want in your VO membership agreements to cover opening others’ mail?
CMRA stands for Commercial Mail Receiving Agent. You, the coworking location owner or manager, will complete a PS 1583-A form and take it to the post office, with applicable ID, and present it to the station manager or supervisor. We use Spheremail in which our clients click a box asking us to scan their mail. We believe that the act of requesting this service gives us the authority to open the mail as we cannot scan the contents without opening. Check Virtual Offices and US Postal Service Rules (CMRA) and How to Vet VO Clients.
5) In relation to the CMRA 1583 Forms, do you send a quarterly report of recipients to the local postmaster? Is that even enforced?
The quarterly report requirement is rarely enforced, but some stations do expect that you comply with that requirement. We would recommend keeping the documents in order to be in compliance on the chance that you are asked. Check Virtual Offices and US Postal Service Rules (CMRA) and How to Vet VO Clients.
6) Is there a cost for registering as a CMRA?
There is no cost beyond your time spent at the post office … which some might consider under the heading “time that you can never get back!” Also, feel free to explore this post which gives additional information regarding CMRA regulations.
7) Do you offer physical mailboxes for everyone? Does every VO member get a physical mailbox with a key?
Pacific Workplaces has several locations that provide locked mailboxes, but some locations deliver mail directly to people’s offices or hold the mail in a locked file-cabinet for members to pick-up. During this period of COVID-19, locked mailboxes where members can access mail themselves were greatly appreciated.
The flip side to mailboxes is that they take up space and once you reach capacity, not everyone can have a mailbox. In these cases, you can charge a premium for a mailbox. Also, tracking and issuing mailbox keys to members can be a cumbersome process. People lose the keys and then ask for a replacement.
Many VO members will ask for their mail to be forwarded or scanned, then shredded (if you offer digital mail services which we highly recommend) which reduces the need for a mailbox. Lastly, keep in mind that many VO members will never receive mail – they just use your business address. So you will have to decide if investing in mailboxes makes sense for your space. We recommend waiting until you start to have a significant volume of VO Plans before considering mailboxes.
8) What is the percentage of your users who purchase the phone answering option?
At Pacific Workplaces, 38% of the number of VO plans and 53% of full-time memberships include a phone answering service.
9) During the pandemic, what is an effective marketing strategy?
Focus on virtual offices whose demand has increased during the pandemic. Develop and publish a strong Health & Safety protocol. Be ready for corporate users upon re-entry. Use your channels to their full potential by listing your complete workplace offering with aggregators and marketplaces like CloudVO and Liquidspace.
10) What’s an effective way to market Virtual Office Plans?
Use Channels like CloudVO to access VO clients you would be unlikely to get otherwise. 72% of CloudVO VO clients live more than 10 miles away from their VO location and 31% live more than 100 miles away.
Make sure your VO offering is visible on your website and can be purchased online. Keith Warner, Pacific Workplaces VO guru, likes to systematically present his locations’ virtual office options to all prospects, including those who are looking for a full-time office. This is because people often don’t know about VO and you can sell a quasi-infinite number of VO plans whereas you have a finite number of private offices to sell. It is also a great solution for someone who cannot afford a private office.
11) Do you see the coworking community shifting away from the word coworking?
Temporarily. Terms like flexible office space, virtual office, and private office will be more popular. It’s a bit soon to tell, but for now, we are emphasizing Virtual Offices and Private Offices. As for coworking, publishing and emphasizing your Health and Safety Policy is key to help people feel safe within the community and space.
12) Do you recommend removing the words “coworking” and “shared” from websites?
We haven’t removed those keywords altogether. We adjusted our H2 tags and updated alt text for images. But our page titles, URLs, and other metadata still include those keywords. We made virtual office and flexible office more prominent; however, as we navigate through re-entry, tags and alt text will be updated as needed. That will likely be reversed in a few months when terms like “coworking” and “shared” become not just more acceptable again, but also desirable as they were pre-COVID 19.
13) Should I invest in turning my event space into private offices so that I can market private space?
Possibly. We have found private offices to be profitable over the long haul. Without knowing specifics, try to focus on a strong virtual office offering in unison with adding private office space and coworking which emphasizes social distancing and health and safety protocols. Event space will be harder to monetize. If you convert your event space into a private office, consider other spaces in your location that could hold events when they become popular again. For example, the business lounge/coworking space: could you move tables and hold an event there? Not as nice as a dedicated event space, but the combination of that and new inventory of private offices may generate much higher revenue.
14) How do you get started with digital ads?
Digital ads can be costly, so start small with a single ad group, test bid strategies, and find a channel where you can reach the largest audience.
15) Is the CloudVO platform only for members or do operators have access as well?
The platform has two components. There is a partner portal for operators to add and update their listings, and the member portal allows members to view their dashboard, meeting room bookings, etc. Partners can also view bookings, monthly statements, and monthly subscriptions in their dashboard.
16) Why are you charging lower commissions than DaVinci and more than e-brokers like Instant Offices? How do you differ from web brokers like Instant Offices or SOS?
We are building a powerful technology platform that will make the relationship between CloudVO, Partner, and Client seamless. Not all the pieces are there yet, but we are close to achieving our objective. This enables us to run a very efficient business with lower margins on the VO and meeting room sides.
E-brokers typically charge a 10% commission for full-time offices. We also do retain 10% of the recurring revenue, but we are very different from a web broker in that we have a billing relationship with our clients, which may span across multiple locations, and we pay you when they use your services (Virtual Mail, Meeting Rooms, etc.) based on actual usage.
We invest heavily in advertising, in a corporate account infrastructure, and in operational and support capabilities. Our discount structure is needed to cover these costs and make a profit. We retain 25% on VO components and on meeting room bookings, and 50% on day offices and coworking day passes only. Like full-time offices, we retain 10% on monthly coworking memberships. Listing your space is free and you can complete the process in ten minutes.
17) What are some recommendations of must-have platforms?
It’s important that users have the ability to buy Virtual Offices and Coworking Memberships online. You should also have an online meeting room booking platform as well. Here are some providers to consider that know our industry well: Nexudus, Office RND, Proximity, Yardi, Essensys, DeskWorks.
18) How are you handling meeting rooms during this pandemic?
Adjusting your meeting rooms to the new physical distancing rules of the pandemic is essential. For instance, our 12 person meeting rooms will only be set-up for 6 to 8 seats to help with distancing. Staff will clean and sanitize the meeting rooms and equipment between reservations. It’s important to communicate these modifications to your members, in your marketing messaging, and to your partners like CloudVO to help people understand that you’re doing all you can to keep your meeting rooms a safe working environment.
19) Post-lockdown, are you expecting to require larger blocks of time for reservations of day offices (in other words, not doing it by the hour)?
At the moment, we are not requiring larger blocks of time to be booked. Members can book by the hour, although this may change depending on how things go when we are in full swing and re-open completely.
20) How are places dealing with part-time office bookings?
The ability for users to book a guest office or meeting online and in real-time is important. If your local area is still sheltering in place, you should have an online meeting room platform that allows your members who fall into the “essential business” category, a way to book meeting rooms. Once government agencies give the green light to re-open, we recommend making your guest offices and meeting rooms available for booking online. Keep in mind that your offices and meeting rooms should be de-densified and set-up to meet social distancing best practices. Make sure that you don’t place unnecessary barriers, such as a minimum of half a day or a full day for a day office. Make them available by the hour. A minimum of 1 hour for a meeting room or a day office booking is reasonable.
Day offices work like a meeting room. They should be bookable online by the hour. The only difference is that you can use any vacant office as a day office if your dedicated day office is already booked. That helps with capacity management and users typically don’t care. Check out our Meeting Room White Paper for best practices on how to level-up your meeting room business.
21) Can you tell us if you recommend issuing new contracts to include new COVID-19 protocol clauses for members or would an addendum that your members sign suffice?
Pacific Workplaces and CloudVO standard agreements make reference to the member obligation to follow the house rules. This includes the Health & Safety Protocol of Pacific Workplaces or the protocol of CloudVO Partners. Partners should upload their Health & Safety protocol under their (or their building) house rules for the time being. Soon we will have a separate section of the CloudVO website to upload the Health & Safety Protocol and give it even more visibility on the website.
22) What questions are members asking in regard to safety & what should we be prepared for, outside of the obvious preparations?
Members want to know the changes being made to the space and precautions being taken which is why publishing a Health & Safety protocol and following through on them is so important. You should be prepared for addressing visitors who may not want to comply with your policies (i.e. someone comes into your space who does not want to wear a mask or refuses a temperature screening, etc.) You should also have a plan for mitigating arguments among visitors.
23) Are the employees doing the cleaning or do people have cleaning companies doing it in between meetings?
At Pacific Workplaces, our team members are keeping up with the cleaning of high-touch areas after meeting and use of communal spaces. Having a cleaning or janitorial service in addition to that will vary from building to building. During this COVID-19 crisis, some members have asked for the janitors not to enter their office as they prefer to sanitize it themselves, which is fine. Here is our health and safety policy: https://pacificworkplaces.com/coronavirus-health-and-safety-protocol/
24) How do we handle feedback from members saying they are ‘burned out’ on engagement via Zoom meetings and need more in-person interaction?
This is where your published Health & Safety protocols become so important as this is where you can communicate your plan on how you intend to set-up your meeting rooms for teams to collaborate in effectively and safely.
25) What are ways we can engage the community when we can’t have small gatherings and everyone is Zoomed out?
This is a tough one because what works in terms of engagement in one workspace community may not work in another. We think the answer comes down to just continuing to engage the community. Emails, texts, chat groups, and social media platforms provide a great opportunity for community leaders and members to connect individually. Keep inviting members to connect with each other. To that end, some non-Zoom ideas to consider:
- Start a shared Google doc where you write a poem together
- Invite people to share on a communal chat/open virtual space something that they’ve celebrated recently.
- Start a social media thread of funny/cute videos and ask members to participate.
- For gamers (they’re of all ages and walks of life!), play a co-op game together. Our favorites are WoW, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing.
26) Do you recommend shutting down coffee and water machines?
Our sister company, Pacific Workplaces, has not shut them down completely but has made it so that only staff is allowed to make coffee to reduce the risk of exposure. We are also using nanoseptic tape on surfaces to reduce contamination. Most importantly, we have signage and a published health and safety policy that emphasizes the importance of handwashing, using sanitizer, and practicing diligent hygiene.
27) How do I deal with concerns about our HVAC system?
Ask your property manager what kind of filters they’ve added to the system. Some do a better job at filtering germs and viruses than others. Ask if they have increased the airflow that also helps reduce the risk. Do your own research about contamination via HVAC so that you can be informed on what’s needed to keep your space as safe as possible.
28) What should I expect from my landlord and how do I go about negotiating?
Communicate regularly with your landlord. Be transparent about your situation and manage their expectations. Confirm any kind of verbal conversation via email to avoid misunderstandings. Set low expectations and communicate regularly. It is always easier to manage good news than bad news. Keep in mind that landlords need you as much as you need them, and they don’t want you to leave.
They will not have many alternatives in the COVID environment, and even post-COVID if the large corporation plans to embrace remote work materialize. Regarding negotiating, express what you need in terms of rent relief or any extensions in rent terms, and, depending on your collections, pay what you can. Dive to a realistic agreement on repayment of deferred rent. For example, if you had a total of 2 months’ rent deferred, it would not be realistic to agree on repayment over the following 12 months. Nobody knows how much pricing power you (or your landlord) will have upon re-entry. You can feel confident that the demand for flexible office space will thrive in the next couple of years, and that you might be able to go back to full occupancy fairly quickly, but the price points the market can bear will be more difficult to anticipate as we come out of a serious recession. Think of this as an opportunity to educate your landlord on the nature of your business and its long term potential and build a relationship that will work well for both sides. The important takeaway is to get in front of it and deal with it. Don’t avoid the conversation with your landlord.
29) With many corporations allowing people to work remotely, how can coworking spaces attract the work from home (WFH) workforce?
It will depend upon the size of the company. The smaller the company, the more likely they will look for flex space to support WFH. They might find your website, particularly if you have a landing page that specifically explains how you support remote work, presumably via a virtual office that includes a fixed number of hours of access to a day office or meeting rooms as we discussed in the first webinar. See related slide or the “How to add meeting room hours to your virtual office” article in the Resource Center. They might also find you through an aggregator like CloudVO. Larger corporations are less likely to search for individual locations on their own. They may occasionally let their employees do so, but if they have a more ambitious strategy around WFH, they are more likely to go to a trusted source like CloudVO that can handle their requirement in multiple locations across numerous geographical regions , identify suitable locations for their needs, and manage part of the process as an extension of their corporate staff. See how CloudVO supports work-from home and distributed workforces in this article for end-users.
30) I have one single location in a remote midsize town. Do I have any chance to be considered?
Yes, and today more than ever. Think about what Facebook is likely going to do–they will be aggressive on allowing remote work but within a couple of hours driving from one of their hubs in the Bay Area, Denver, Atlanta, and Dallas. There is a lot of territory covered by a 2-hour radius around these cities. For example, centers in Greely, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs (all medium-sized cities outside of Denver) might get their share of the demand. It is all going to be a function of where the employees empowered to WFH live. Some may want to live in Greeley because that’s where they are from and they still have family there. Others in Frisco to be closer to the mountains. That example applies everywhere, especially in the suburban areas and medium-size cities.
31) As more companies come to the realization that working from home yields satisfactory results and companies reach the conclusion that they may not need as large a footprint, will that result in an office space glut? If so, what will the net impact be on the coworking/flex office space industry?
This is likely in the short-term, but in a period of crisis, it is not unusual for people to overreact. Mark Golan was very cautious about any prediction that would entirely break the mold. His experience with past crises told him that it is very possible that some companies will revert back to where they are today at some level, as corporations tend to have short memories. The social and cultural functions of the corporate office may be back in fashion in the post-COVID world. The CEO of Twitter’s statement that all employees can work from home forever is extreme and likely not representative of the majority of companies. Mark’s personal opinion is that yes, there will likely be a softening of the downtown office market in expensive cities, but it’s too early to know how long that will last.
32) Is there a possibility that a company could provide a set budget for workspace, and let its employees choose their own space?
It’s probably less likely to happen with high-tech companies for whom security considerations are essential. The idea of a voucher that employees can use as they see fit has been talked about for awhile, but has not taken off in any significant way. There is a need for organization and filtering of spaces that meet the corporate criteria. It is unlikely that large companies will let that happen without some control and coordination. Network Managers like CloudVO can provide effective support to large corporations with that process.
33) For spaces who are open and have policies for masks at all times, are people actually keeping their masks on all day? Are members ok with this?
Many of our CloudVO Partners are requiring masks in all common areas. The vast majority have members who are in compliance with this policy and follow the rules. Most of our partners have masks on-hand to offer members and guests who enter the space without one. For the few who do not want to wear masks, you can train your staff on how to handle these situations by letting people know that masks are a requirement not just for the coworking space, but due to an ordinance issued by local government agencies. If they’re not comfortable with a mask on while working in the communal area, offer to book them a private meeting room or guest office where they can close the door and not wear a mask.
34) What’s the best way for individual operators to get connected with large enterprises?
It’s a challenge for small operators to get connected to large enterprise customers on their own. It would be too tedious for a large company to manage dozens or hundreds of individual providers. The way it will work is if they join an aggregator, like CloudVO, that provides a single point of contact and management of their network, but also establishes trust and credibility in their ability to filter locations that are acceptable to the enterprise client’s specific criteria.
35) How much of these work-related decisions will be driven by what employees want versus corporate goals?
Both. If employees drive a decision that makes them happy, but is not effective for the rest of their team, that is not going to work. By the same token, corporate goals around attraction and retention force them to take a more holistic view that incorporates the wishes and wants of their employees. It is a balancing act that will differ from company to company. It is fair to say that the trend over the last decade or so has been moving towards being more attentive to the desires of their workforce, but Mark Zuckerberg was also very clear that it works both ways. The trend towards some form of consumerization of the workplace is probably more applicable to smaller companies than to large corporations.
36) How should we expect Enterprise users to vet flexible office providers? More generally, what do you (Mark Golan) expect from us as an industry moving forward?
Vetting can be done through a trusted aggregator like CloudVO. Health and safety protocols, in the short term, have to be consistent with the health protocols of the Enterprise at their hub locations. This goes back to the importance of publishing health and safety protocols as a communication tool to members and prospects that also sets you up to host any large enterprise user. For high-tech companies, bandwidth and ability to segregate the hosted drop-in user or satellite space from other occupants in the space will be crucial.
37) Explain CloudTouchdown. If a corporate client uses my meeting rooms or day offices how do I get paid? How do credits work? How are credits established in my meeting rooms?
We pay you on the basis of actual usage of meeting rooms or day office hours used in your location at the discounted rate indicated in the Partner Portal (25% less than your published rate for meeting rooms, 50% for day offices). Credits can be redeemed for hours of day offices and meeting rooms. Typically one credit = one hour of day office. More credits are usually needed for larger meeting rooms. The credits are assigned by CloudVO for all rooms in the network, according to expected user behavior using statistical analysis and Artificial IntelligenceI. Whether your room is assigned 2 credits or 4 credits does not make any difference to you. If an end-user books 2 hours of that room, you will be paid 2 hours at the discounted rate. You don’t have to worry about credits. See how Cloud VO supports work-from home and distributed workforces in this article for end-users.
38) Mark Golan comment on whether the CloudTouchdown Pass was helpful for Enterprise users:
To the extent that CloudVO reduces the risk associated with the use of flex space by individual users, vets locations for suitability to the corporation requirements, provides a fixed budget per user per month and removes financial uncertainty, the CloudTouchdown program is very helpful. Also large corporations are not going to want to manage relationships with dozens of independent providers and knowing the single point of procurement and who to negotiate a contract with is important.
We’re here to help coworking space operators ease into the “New Normal.” Partner with us today. Listing is free. Go to www.CloudVO.com to join.