I worked several years in a position that required me to travel quite frequently. I enjoyed the opportunity to visit many places that I would have never visited on vacation, but I also had to accept disadvantages not always easy to overlooked. Those who travel often for business purposes are aware of these disadvantages: broken plans, frustrations of the family, life or health risks, fatigue, missed important moments, etc..
In the last weeks I worked on a project about the benefits of videoconferencing solutions for business. Besides the direct benefits to companies such as cost savings, flexible and homogeneous teams or shorter time to market, there is an particular added benefit for the employees: improved quality of life. How is this happening? There are two main directions: support for teleworking and avoiding a significant part of business travel.
At least in theory, teleworking opens an unexpected opportunity for employers to recruit from anywhere, being able to choose the best resources on the market. We are not there yet, at least not widely, but the opportunity to regularly work from home is used frequently as a benefit offered to employees. One thing worth mentioning is the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the employee, which, at least in terms of work ethic, must deliver a similar quality of work as the activity conducted in the office. In this context, videoconferencing is a great tool that can help maintain team cohesion while its members are located in different points. I even know departments leaders who chose the videoconference as a permanent replacement of the weekly status meetings with the team leaders.
Most often we think of videoconferencing as a replacement for travels to countries at the end of the world. The advantages are obvious in this case, but why looking so far when the examples are right under our eyes? I do not know how many of the people working in big cities see love to go from one to another company’s headquarters, located at the opposite end of the city. Many times I lost 2-3 hours in traffic for a discussion of 10-15 minutes. It is frustrating, costly and it’s not environmentally friendly. From personal experience I know that face to face discussions are necessary in some cases, as phone conversations often distort the message. However, even if not considering telepresence, full-size video conferencing that creates almost a natural experience but is very expensive, I think that in 9 of 10 cases requiring eye contact, meetings could be successfully replaced by a videoconference.
To be clear, when I say videoconferencing, I’m not referring to Skype. Skype is a nice tool for personal use, but it’s not applicable to business. Experience provided by this kind of tool would not raise to the required level. Videoconferencing for businesses must meet strict requirements regarding the quality and high availability of the service.
I am not for the total replacement of human contact with technology tools. They lack the social component and distort to some extent the message, but when the situation allows it, I recommend using tools that make life easier and better balanced. Instead of 2 hours lost through traffic, I prefer to have one hour in the park:)