Despite the inventions of Skype, Oblong and Google Hangouts, many companies insist on retaining business travel as a regular practice for their employees. What gives? Even IT professionals find themselves schlepping from airport to airport for client meetings that could easily be held over videoconference. When is it okay to eliminate this expensive travel and transition into a more technological approach?
Unfortunately it’s not always that simple. If you have a long-time repartee with a far away client it’s easier to switch to video conferencing as your main source of communication. But when you’re initially acquiring a client, perhaps to use your PHP skills to build them a flawless WordPress site, you could often miss a lot of subtle signals such as body language and more subtle forms of vocal inflection, which might help you understand their preference for simplistic website navigation over other design elements.
On the other hand if your company claims to be technologically inventive and advanced it might seem counterintuitive to your clients that you would insist on doing business conferences the old fashioned way. If you’re working in the IT department of a straight-laced, traditional business then travel won’t seem as out-of-date. However if you’re at a marketing agency, which claims to be resourceful and advanced, your clients might wonder why you can’t apply that philosophy to your own employee’s travel. Dr. Heidi Maston says she, “teaches, develops, coaches and speaks globally—all virtually…it can be done and the benefits are tremendous.” However teleconferencing has been embraced for teachers since 2003. It’s less common for client meetings and may impact your business.
Reliability is also an issue. If you’re at an innovative technology company your office’s technology should be able to handle frequent video conferencing, although paid for sites are often more reliable, Skype and Google hangouts will suffice. However if you’re frequently videoconferencing with clients or other companies you can’t be sure that they have the available bandwidth to sustain a clear conversation. Lagging and getting cut off are additional hassles that you don’t have to deal with when you are physically present in a meeting. Conversely business travel has its own form of lagging—flight delays—which is arguably more frustrating.
Ultimately it depends what kind of business you’re in and what kind of office you like to run. Most employees won’t miss the stresses of delayed flights and the stench of stale airplanes. However some clients, particularly new ones, who are used to a more interpersonal approach in their own business, may prefer shaking someone’s hand to waving at their computer screens. If you frequently interface with a variety of businesses, integrating occasional video conferencing may be all you can manage. However if most of your company’s travel is to conference with other branches, why not try out video conferencing more regularly? After all, your IT employees will understand the technology more than most and will probably be eager to implement it.