Regus, a virtual workspace provider, has seen a surge in demand for virtual office services in East Africa over the last six months of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.

At a continental level, Regus is also seeing strong demand, with year-on-year growth in inquiries of 40 percent.

As a result, the Luxembourg-based company is set to open new facilities as well as increase the number of centers in Morocco, Zambia, Madagascar, Kenya and Ghana. In East Africa, the company already has a presence in Uganda and Tanzania as well.

Virtual offices are wireless offices set up using the latest telecommunications tools and new mobile devices that allow companies and individuals to work anywhere, said Eve Glele, a Regus group communications executive.

She explained that virtual office services are designed to provide businesses with prestigious addresses in city center locations and real people to deal with telephone calls and mail at a fraction of the cost of taking on their own physical office and staff.

"Virtual office is a service that allows businesses to project an impressive image to clients and customers, without the expense of leasing professional workspace, or hiring their own administrative staff," Glele said.

"Some use their virtual office as a permanent arrangement; others use it as a staging post, before they expand to a physical presence -- often at the same Regus business address," she said.

Glele noted that the Internet and smart mobile devices like the Blackberry, the iPhone and now tablet computers allow people to work from wherever they want, giving birth to an increasing number of mobile workers.

She said customers such as Google, GlaxoSmithKline and Nokia join hundreds of thousands of growing small and medium businesses that benefit from outsourcing their office and workplace needs to Regus, allowing them to focus on their core activities.

Regus attributes rising demand for virtual offices in East Africa to home-based and small businesses looking for workspace support that is low-cost and low-risk, and can dramatically increase productivity.

"Even though the economy in East Africa is recovering, small businesses are acutely aware of the need to control spending," Joanne Bushell, the vice president for Regus, said in a statement.

Bushell said Regus offers a range of virtual office services, including a business address to use on company stationery, dedicated local phone number, receptionist to answer calls, mail collection and handling, and access to private offices or meeting rooms.

Regus is the world's largest provider of workplace solutions, with products and services ranging from fully equipped offices to professional meeting rooms, business lounges and the world's largest network of video communication studios.

"Regus enables people to work their way, whether it's from home, on the road or from an office," she said.

Regus opened its first center in East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, in July 2007, another in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in July 2010 and the one in Kampala, Uganda, in April 2011.

The total number of users of the service in East Africa stands at 161 while globally, 900,000 people use their service daily.

"The center we recently opened in Uganda is 91 percent occupied and Tanzania is 81 percent occupied. Each of the businesses is doing well, exceeding our original expectations and projections," Glele said.