Spurred on by my recent 2am meeting with colleagues in South Korea, which I was able to attend via video conference call from our office in Northamptonshire, I have recently been considering the opportunity that modern technology affords business to improve efficiency and cut costs.
In the not-so-distant past, corporations underwent a paradigm shift; where they once posted a piece of correspondence and were left waiting upwards of a week to receive a response, they can now send an e-mail and have their answer within days, hours, or even minutes. The country’s digital infrastructure has broadened to provide wireless connectivity in most areas, enabling us to keep in touch via e-mail whilst making those long journeys to meetings, and train carriages have fallen quiet as people take to tapping their messages into laptops, tablets and mobiles rather than shouting into a mobile to the irritation of their fellow passengers.
Just as the availability of the internet has grown, so has technology’s sophistication. We now have at our fingertips programmes such as Skype and WebEx, which can be used for free on a one-to-one basis, and without the need for complicated physical installation of equipment. With the ubiquity of video equipment on smart phones and tablets, it’s possible to connect all over the world at the touch of a button without any hassle. So seamless are the results that I wonder whether it is time to re-evaluate the accepted norms for business; if we can communicate this easily and cheaply without leaving the office, should we not be focusing on utilising the opportunity rather than continuing to waste hours travelling?
There is an entrenched belief that face-to-face meetings are a prerequisite for successful business, but I would argue that this needs to be reframed within a 21st century context where the true cost of travel is taken into account, including not just time wasted and hours lost but also resources used. Energy is one of the biggest challenges the modern world faces, and we need to start paying serious attention to the amount of travel really required to facilitate effective results. If technology allows us to virtually participate in meetings that take place anywhere in the world, is it so important that we are there to shake hands in person? As the cost of power creeps ever higher, I would imagine that priorities will shift out of necessity towards conducting more business through digital channels.
Of course, there remains a place for face-to-face communication. The basic premise, however, that in many cases you cannot conduct business just as effectively without leaving your office is quickly becoming anachronistic.