Executive Careers Blog

The End of Business Travel as We Know It?


"Here’s the short version: EndoStim was inspired by Cuban and Indian immigrants to America and funded by St. Louis venture capitalists. Its prototype is being manufactured in Uruguay, with the help of Israeli engineers and constant feedback from doctors in India and Chile. Oh, and the C.E.O. is a South African, who was educated at the Sorbonne, but lives in Missouri and California, and his head office is basically a BlackBerry." –Thomas L. Friedman, writing in the New York Times recently about the new model for start-ups in a flat, post-recession world.

It might not be business as your parents or grandparents would have known it, but there's little doubt that we're witnessing a paradigm shift in business culture around the world right now—with particular focus on doing business remotely.

That's an issue that's been gaining traction with the growing concern over sustainable business practices, and one that has been brought into sharp focus of late first by the recession, and most acutely by the paralysis we're witnessing in Europe because of the emissions from a lone volcano in Iceland.

A recent USA Today article examined the issue of business travel and found that reductions brought about thanks to cost-cutting during the recession may have had a permanent effect on business culture. "There's a shift, a new way of doing things that I don't think will go away," was how Megan Costello, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, put it in the piece. In other words: in finding ways to cut costs, companies may have irreversibly changed their ways. How does that old saw about necessity and invention go again?

In this case, the "invention" isn't really that new: necessity has simply meant that more companies are willing to adopt an already existing technology: videoconferencing. The evidence: "The Association of Corporate Travel Executives says the percentage of its members who were 'seriously looking' into using videoconferencing rose from 21% in 2007 to 81% in 2009." Perhaps, then, that old saw should read "necessity is the mother of finally waking up to the possibilities around you."

As the excerpt at the start of this piece demonstrates, we're living in a world in which information flows faster than humans can physically keep up with it. Geographic location is no longer a barrier to productivity or expertise, a fact underlined by the chaos caused by Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland—there is hardly a country in the world that has been unaffected by the flight ban necessitated by the volcano.

As that particular crisis wears on in Europe, plenty of businesses are feeling the effects—most notably those connected to the airline industry. There are signs, however, that companies are not standing still while they wait for the clouds—both literal and metaphorical—to pass, and it's videoconferencing that's leading the charge.

A Cisco executive, for example, offers the following "anecdotal" evidence of an upturn in demand in services prompted by the ash cloud: "you will not get a demo room in any of the Cisco facilities […] [w]e have seen a huge spike in usage."

Of course, executives at companies that provide videoconferencing services have a pretty large stake in promoting the service, but it's difficult to argue with the perception that companies who are forced by crisis to find new ways to do business will continue to utilize those methods even after the crisis passes.

And, as the world grows ever flatter and more interconnected, those methods represent opportunity—and even if company isn't taking advantage of them, your competitors will be.

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Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.

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