Culture & Competency

The More We Email, The More We Want to Meet (So Much for Reducing Business Travel)

A recent article on BA Business Life looked at the growth of business travel, and pondered the reasons why.
– Perhaps remote meeting technology isn’t good enough (video conferencing), or sufficiently spread (telepresence).
– Perhaps remote meetings are hype, or applicable to only a few work styles.
– Perhaps communication technology stimulates the need/desire for business travel.

But suppose instead they are complementary goods, like strawberries and cream. If strawberries are everywhere, it’s hardly puzzling that cream flies off the shelves as well. Harvard economist Ed Glaeser reckons that’s a more likely description of the relationship between communications technology and face-to-face meetings. They’re complements, like shoes and socks, not substitutes like gloves and mittens.

Glaeser’s idea has evidence on its side. In 2007, economists Neil Gandal, Charles King and Marshall Van Alstyne studied 125,000 emails and found that the most productive workers used email to communicate with their immediate cubicle neighbours. Email has greater value when it complements face-time, not replaces it.

Read more: Business travel: not dead yet (on BA Business Life)