(Editor’s note: Praful Shah is the Vice President of Strategy for RingCentral, a cloud computing based business phone system provider. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

The traditional physical office may soon become a relic of the past.emptyoffice

At RingCentral, we recently surveyed nearly 350 businesses about their office structure and found there is a continuing – and growing – shift away from the traditional on-site centralized work force. A more widely distributed ‘virtual’ office is quickly becoming the preferred model. And as smart phones continue their rapid advances, we may soon wax nostalgic about morning commutes and a shared workplace.

Just 15 percent of the small- and medium sized businesses we spoke with utilize a traditional office model, where employees work from one central physical location. And 45 percent of survey respondents – including those traditionalists – spend more than three-quarters of their time conducting business out of the office.

The on-the-go trend appears to have gained ground as entrepreneurs left the corporate trenches to start their own companies. While they may have had a decidedly un-corporate model in mind to begin with, the economic crisis has accelerated the trend, as decentralizing a workforce lowers expenses.

Beyond cutting office-related rental overhead, opening up a telecommuting option also allows companies to expand their talent pool beyond a limited geographical area. Even those who are still fence sitting on the virtual office can reduce their operating expenditures and energy consumption by moving to a hybrid model – with a combination of traditional and remote workers.

While companies are growing more accepting of the virtual office, they’re still not ready to let their customers know the staff works remote. 80 percent of the businesses we spoke with want to give the impression to their customers that employees are in a centralized location when receiving or making business phone calls.

Emerging cloud-computing technology is making it easier to pull this off. Critical business applications and services – ranging from project management and staffing to infrastructure, collaboration and communications – are now easily accessed from any device via the Internet. As a result, operations are standardized, even though employees are working remotely.

Momentum’s on the rise for the remote office, too. 67 percent of the business owners we spoke with plan on expanding their business in the next year.

Of those, more than half are planning to adopt a virtual distributed office model.

Want to read the full survey? Right click to download a copy here.

Photo by Phil Gyford via Flickr