Culture & Competency

Large Companies in the UK are Permitting Less Travel – Collaboration Technology Steps into the Breach

The World Wide Fund in the UK surveyed 158 large companies in the UK about what’s happening with business travel. The research found that:

… 47 percent had cut business flights and 63 percent have in place or plan to enact a policy for reducing business flights. Though effects of the economic recession clearly have been a significant contributing factor, the survey also found that most respondents either are cutting (68 percent) or intend to cut (18 percent) their business travel’s carbon footprint.

… of those companies that have reduced flights, 85 percent “do not intend to return to ‘business as usual’ levels of flying.” Ninety-two percent from that same group agreed that “it is possible to fly less as an organization and remain both profitable and competitive.”

Key points in the article:
– Companies are taking a new approach to business travel and meeting practices.
– The survey was conducted by Critical Research, a market research firm.
– Remote conferencing technologies are increasingly being used, rather than business travel.
– Companies are shifting some travel from planes to trains, and want a better rail network in the UK and Europe.
– It cites examples of BT, Vodafone UK, GlaxoSmithKline, and FirstGroup, and how they have reduced travel.
– The use of more rigorous sign-off methods for approving flights are one way of decreasing travel.
– Giving employees easy access to alternative meeting technologies is another – eg., video conferencing, or telepresence.

The article conclued with:

Moving forward, the majority of those surveyed by WWF said they expect to further reduce business travel during the next two years. The most cited means for achieving such cuts were remote conferencing technologies, fewer domestic and short-haul flights, and more train travel. “While ‘home working’ and ‘less long-haul air travel’ were less likely to be mentioned, over half of all companies still referred to them,” according to WWF.

Researchers also asked participants to identify the obstacles hindering sustainable business travel practices and found that “by far the most frequently mentioned was client insistence on travel and face-to-face meetings.” Other hurdles cited by respondents included “lack of familiarity with/lack of availability/poor quality of videoconferencing” and “the cost/inconvenience of rail travel.”

My Comments
1. Back in 1994, my Masters thesis was on re-thinking the provision of consulting services via alternative meeting (conferencing) and interaction (voice mail) technologies. There was a lot of resistance back then. Looks like we have come a long way!

2. If firms have good technology available (in the right places0, people know how to use them effectively (via training, support, and repeated use), there is no reason why this can’t become a sustainable trend for internal meetings and interactions. Some travel will still be required – see Face Time from yesterday re the startup phases of important projects and initiatives – but travel “because it’s the only alternative for working together” can be significantly reduced.

3. If you’re trying to win business from a client that is going to sign off on millions of dollars / pounds / Euros of work, and you want to meet via telepresence and your lead competitor is going to turn up and take the client to dinner after their presentation – who is most likely to win the work? Today, be there or miss out. In the future … only time will tell.

Categories: Culture & Competency