The business landscape has changed in the last 10 years. It now includes a large number of solopreneurs, remote workers, independent professionals and startups-and that trend is expected to continue. According to the Freelancing in America 2017 report, 57.3 million Americans-36 percent of the U.S. workforce-are freelancers.

This flexible workstyle means many professionals are no longer tied to one location. They do, however, still need space to work, business amenities, meeting rooms, a professional network and a business address. Coworking and virtual offices both offer these, but there are differences between the two. Here’s an overview of the difference between a virtual office and coworking, and insights into how to get the best of both worlds at Pacific Workplaces.

The Roots of the Virtual Office

As Keith Warner, South Bay Managing Partner at Pacific Workplaces, explains, the term “virtual office” has evolved in the workspace industry. In the mid-1980s, Warner’s dad started American Executive Center, an executive suite brand in the South Bay that later merged with Pacific Workplaces. The American Executive Center team realized that not every professional needed a full-time office. In the company’s early days, they had a large number of requests for part-time office plans that included office hours, mail service and phone answering, so they created a “corporate identity plan.” They later changed the name to the “business identity plan.”

The idea was to give business an identity by having mail services such as a professional business address and a place to meet people for a certain number of hours per month.

“We were one of the pioneers in doing that sort of thing in the executive suite world,” Warner explains.

Virtual Offices

Virtual Office Hits the Workspace Industry

When the term “virtual office” was introduced to the shared workspace industry, it spread quickly and became the industry standard-though the word “virtual” is a bit misleading.

“It’s not a term I’ve ever really liked,” says Warner. “It’s not virtual. I can walk you down the hall and show you the office. But that’s kind of what stuck.”

Warner justifies using the term with the fact that virtual offices allow people to work virtually anywhere.

“It’s for that worker that gets up in the morning and works from home for a while, then goes down to the coffee shop and does some more work, maybe makes a call from their car. They can be a road warrior but they need a central office and place to receive their mail.”

With a Pacific Workplaces membership, professionals have access to their home space where they receive their mail, as well as a bundle of office credits so when they have to meet someone in private, or need a more professional setting than a coffee shop, they can book an office or meeting room.

Virtual Office Versus Coworking

In 2005, coworking as we know it emerged on the workspace scene. Since then, it has grown from a grassroots movement into one of the core offerings of shared workspaces. Because coworking and shared office facilities have now merged into the same industry, there can be confusion around which one is right for a business.

Coworking spaces are full of freelancers, remote workers, solopreneurs, independent professionals and small teams. These spaces may have dedicated desks, shared offices and private offices. Shared workspaces with virtual offices may have dedicated desks, shared offices, private offices and open coworking areas.

Downtown Berkeley Coworking Space | NextSpace Coworking Berkeley


So what’s the difference?  Warner explains what it means at Pacific Workplaces like this:

“The time that you’re here working, do you need that to be private, behind a closed door, meeting with other people? Or is it ok to have an open air, heads-down working area without privacy? With a virtual office membership, you have limited time but privacy, and with a coworking membership, you have unlimited access, but it’s not private.”

Virtual Offices in San Francisco, Coworking Spaces in Oakland and Shared Workspaces Across California

At Pacific Workplaces, you can choose between shared workspaces in 19 locations across California and into Nevada, including virtual offices in the San Francisco area, coworking in the East Bay in cities like Berkeley, and offices in Reno and more. The locations offer a range of workspace options and professional services including:

  • Mail service
  • Fast internet
  • Meeting rooms
  • Day offices
  • Personalized call answering
  • Call forwarding
  • Open coworking
  • 24/7 access
  • Color copying, printing and scanning
  • Mail alerts
  • Package notification
  • A portable phone number
  • and more

Virtual office and coworking members of Pacific Workplaces can create custom plans by including add-ons to base plans. For example, with an open coworking membership, you can add mail forwarding, a bundle of additional meeting room credits, or personalized call answering. With a virtual office membership, you can add on day passes to work in the open coworking space. This way, there’s a membership plan that works for everyone.

Who is a Virtual Office For?

A virtual office membership is good for professionals or companies that need private space to work. Pacific Workplaces virtual office plans serve companies of all sizes, from solopreneurs to mid-size companies and large companies, such as IBM and 3M, that have remote teams or need satellite offices.

Virtual office memberships are also good for teams that need a room for regular meetings or team workdays, and remote employees who avoid the daily commute by occasionally working from home or a remote workspace.

Who is Coworking For?

Coworking is perfect for freelancers, independent professionals and remote workers who want a collaborative atmosphere and don’t need private office space. Coworking professionals at Pacific Workplaces have access to meeting rooms for occasional meetings, and areas to make private calls.

Coworking Inspires Collaboration

Coworking spaces generally have a collaborative atmosphere. The in-house professional networks this inspires can be a big perk for solopreneurs and growing teams. As Warner explains, “If you haven’t fully formed your team, or you need to find an attorney, programmer or designer, being in the coworking area may help you make those connections more easily.”

Clarify Your Business Needs to Decide on a Virtual Office or Coworking Membership

The choice between a virtual office or a coworking membership depends on how you work. Do you need to work in private behind a closed door? If so, a virtual office plan is a great choice. At Pacific Workplaces, the V-Office plan comes with three day passes to work in the open coworking area, so you get the best of both worlds if you need limited coworking time.

If you prefer to work in an open, collaborative space, a coworking membership is likely the best choice for you. The Pacific Workplaces Open Coworking monthly plan comes with credits that can be used for meeting room space and includes meeting room discounts if you go over your allotted credits.

The beauty of both virtual offices and coworking membership at Pacific Workplaces is that you can add on additional services and grow into different plans, as you need them. Membership is on a month-to-month basis (though there are discounts for a year commitment) and can be customized to meet your workspace needs and preferences.

Getting Started at Pacific Workplaces with a Virtual Office or Coworking Membership

If you’re new to virtual offices and coworking, and still aren’t sure which one is right for you, Warner recommends the the V-Office plan. It includes three coworking day passes per month as well as credits for private meeting room space, mail service, and phone services.

“It’s the whole package,” he says. “You have the space, the professional address and the phone answering. You immediately look like you’ve been in business for years even if you’re a startup.”

To decide whether a virtual office or coworking membership is right for your business, determine how many hours you’ll need in the workspace, whether you want private or open space, what level of interaction you want, and how many hours you may need for private meetings or calls. Whatever you decide, Pacific Workplaces can help.

A virtual office or coworking membership can help take your business to the next level. Pacific Workplaces is a leader in the shared workspace industry, offering shared offices in 17 locations, including San Francisco. Find a Pacific Workplaces location near you.

Written by Cat Johnson, a content strategist and coworking member at NextSpace Santa Cruz.