By Shelley Fletcher-Bryant, Director of Sales & Client Management
First of all, it’s important to acknowledge we are currently living in a time where, thanks to COVID-19, virtual collaboration has become a necessity, rather than a considered choice. This will undoubtedly have an impact on how we think about business travel, meetings and technology in the future.
Looking back just five years and certainly, 10 years ago, the use of virtual meeting tools was the exception, rather than the rule. Whether it was a meeting of 5 or 50 people, standard business practice was to travel to meet face to face. Today, even without the COVID-19 pandemic altering our normal way of working, we see ourselves in a different space. More businesses and individuals are recognizing the benefits of using virtual tools.
We are all becoming familiar with working in environments where we are more physically disconnected but increasingly connected through technology. This new way of working has an impact on how people interact with technology and how open they are using virtual meeting solutions. As we look to the future there are almost unending possibilities, some can feel a bit sci-fi for now, like hologram projections of speakers. But more change is coming, technology will evolve, and we will soon find ourselves in fully immersive virtual environments which feels more like we are connecting in person.
Virtual Tools have changed
The adoption of virtual tools, aside from the necessity caused by the current situation, has been building over recent years; however, people and businesses have been nervous about trusting the technology. Is it reliable? Will it work for everyone joining? What it something goes wrong, who can fix it?
Unsurprisingly, as demand has increased more tools have become available and their functionality, security and reliability have improved dramatically.
Travel has been the default setting for most when it comes to getting business done. If we have to meet, we’ve felt the need to get face to face. It’s all about the human connection, the interaction, the subtle nuances and triggers we can only identify when we are in a room together. And yes, sometimes that is the best option and will continue to be the best option. Sometimes the relationship, conversation, and situation warrant a face to face meeting. Virtual collaboration tools will not completely remove the need for travel and physical meetings. But, if COVID-19 has taught us one thing about business, it is that we can remain connected to coworkers and clients without meeting face to face, and that future-fit businesses need to have a technology infrastructure and communication strategy to drive adoption put in place to ensure business continuity in times of travel disruption.
As we all find ourselves in uncharted waters, with millions of people being forced to work from home, virtual collaboration has never been more important, both in our professional and personal lives.
Many more people now are using FaceTime, WhatsApp video calls, House Party, Zoom and other tools, to stay connected with friends and family. Suddenly these virtual tools are playing an important role in our personal lives as well as professional lives and this is a key factor that will drive broader adoption as the tools become familiar, tried and tested. As we adopt new ways of connecting personally, our attitude towards using virtual collaboration tools for business changes.
New ways of working have emerged
We are becoming more open to new ways of working. We recognize and appreciate the added benefits of meeting virtually, like less time away from home; more time to be productive; cost savings; and a positive impact on the environment. And suddenly, technology is being recognized as the enabler it always has been, but our ingrained habits and business culture have limited the adoption of such tools until now.
Now is the time to change and to rethink virtual collaboration within your business. It’s the ideal time to evaluate if the current tools are the right fit for your organization. Some businesses had very limited options in place until recently and have been forced to quickly implement a solution to ensure coworkers can stay connected and meetings can continue. This quick fix solution may be perfect for your needs, or it may be a temporary solution.
Implementing a robust tool, that can act as a simple messaging communication tool internally, (which helps reduce email) and can also act as your meeting platform is essential in changing the business culture. Without the right tools, employees will revert to type and travel will once again be the default option.
The four (biggest) benefits of virtual collaboration
You need to consider what type of virtual solution you need, based on how your employees work, the facilities available today and how this can be adapted to provide the right solutions for your needs. You also need to consider the different benefits of implementing a virtual collaboration strategy and how they can feed into overall larger travel program and organizational goals.
- Cost-saving: very simply, reducing travel costs by reducing travel – particularly internal travel.
- Sustainability: With reduced travel you are of course reducing your CO2 emissions and impact on the environment
- Traveler Satisfaction: With less travel your employees have more time to spend at home; their wellbeing is improved; stress levels and tiredness should reduce, and overall health can be improved
- Productivity: Removing the time spent traveling to and from airports and meeting locations, your employees can focus more on doing the job than getting to the meeting, making them more productive.
There are many other benefits of integrating virtual tools into your travel strategy. Business continuity, traveler health and safety and duty of care could also be significant drivers of this culture shift. Whatever your program goals may be, its crucial to have these defined before beginning to build your strategy.
In our next blog post, we will explore the five steps to implement a virtual collaboration culture shift within your own organization.