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Providing offices in space

By Isaac Khisa

Brian Tabaruka is the general manager of the Regus, a virtual office service provider in Uganda.  He spoke to Isaac Khisa about their operations and other issues in the virtual office industry.

What is your personal philosophy of leadership as a manager?

Personally, appreciate that I am working with a team of human beings, who have mindsets, cultures, thoughts and ideas. So, an interactive model of operation in the day-to-day activities is the way to go. As a manager, I try to harness ideas from my team to drive our objectives in the best way possible.

What should we understand by the term ‘virtual office’?

Virtual office is a flexible office solution that provides support to clients; principally supporting offshore companies that probably do not have presence in the country or for start-up businesses. Virtual office offers business entities address, answers to telephone services, and provides business lounges for clients across the globe.

This enables flexibility because the client does not need to be in office all the time. When in need of an office, a client can only come in the centres, access internet connections, get a comfortable place to sit, and be able to work.

And whenever a client is out of office, we professionally answer telephone calls; manage any documentation and parcels addressed to them, and notify them immediately. We thus offer them the business presence that they need.

How is the concept of ‘virtual office’ being embraced by Ugandans?

It is being picked up quite well. A lot of our clients in Uganda are majorly start-up business because virtual office is at a much better price than a conventional office. Virtual office is now popular because start-up businesses are conscious about the overhead costs on rentals and daily expenses. This is why virtual office is becoming popular in start-up businesses.

What do you mean by saying clients are better priced in virtual office compared with the conventional offices?

It is definitely better in terms of pricing because you do not have a 24-hour access to the office like a typical office user.  So, you can only access office during business hours, and the pricing for that is literally 10-15 % off of the typical office in Kampala.

It’s now four years since you entered the Ugandan market with this product.  What key lessons have you learnt so far?

It has been interesting. We have offered convenient, immediate solutions, and quality in terms of service provision. People are currently interested in quality services, and that is exactly what we are striving to do to meet clients satisfaction.

Going forward, what do you see as the main drivers of demand for virtual office space in the country?

Flexibility. The trend now is that people are moving away from conventional office space. Currently, the typical situation is that a client takes-up a floor or half a floor, and has to fit it out, and the immediate expense that they incur setting up an office is overwhelming. The trend now is to get more flexibility and more mobility with staff members, enabling them to work more conveniently.

As a client, you can have wide range of locations within town to move in, sit down, and work, meaning that you will stay connected even while on the move, hence the flexibility without having to incur initial expense of setting up an office.

In general terms, in what ways does the virtual office segment benefit the national economy?

Virtual office segment can enable a fraction of Uganda’s staff force to put in 30-40% of their input more than they are doing now because there are no distractions like running around to maintain and repair office facilities, sourcing quotations, and payment of bills.  That, then, enables staff to focus on core business, and this enables them do more than they would have done in a typical office.

What major challenges does the concept of virtual office face currently?

There’s very little knowledge about virtual office services in the general public. And, this is something we continue to market and sell to the general public because it is known to a very small percentage of the population. Those that tend to know our products, pick-up very quickly.

What strategies are you adopting to popularize the concept of the virtual office?

We keep an ear to the ground, ensuring that we keep up with trends of the business community; seeing their needs and tastes, and how lifestyles, too, are changing in relation to work.  The trend is that people are a lot more on the move, meaning that they will have dormant office space if they had a typical office like it is the norm today.

Where do you see Regus in the next few years?

We are right now going into a tremendous growth curve. I see us increasing the number of business centres in the East African region. We already have three in Kampala, and God willing, we will see that grow over the coming years. This will give our clients a wider variety of choice in a greater network within the region.

Where else do you have operations in the region?

We are in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda for now. We are yet to launch operations in the neighboring countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi, and that is something our headquarters based in Belgium are looking at in the near future.

Where would you like to see virtual office industry in the next five years?

I would love to see this segment as a major propellant for start-up businesses in Uganda because it is creating an enabling environment for their growth. I believe this is something that can propel entrepreneur’s to launch small start-up businesses, and enable business to growth. I believe that the growth in the segment creates business for us because as demand grows, the greater the clients to provide services to.

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