Guest column: Chris Crowley on virtual collaboration

Only a few short years ago, audio- and video-conferencing technologies were so universally unreliable or ineffective they became the subject of some very humorous Youtube parodies.

One of my favourites, called A Conference Call in Real Life, has already been viewed more than 13 million times. It highlights the typical problems we’ve all encountered with complicated PIN codes, login errors, freezing screens, dropped callers, echoes, barking dogs and unintentionally muted lines. If you watch them today, you can’t miss the fact that they’re now sponsored by companies offering the very types of services lambasted in the videos. This tells us that collaborative technologies have vastly improved – and people’s attitudes towards them have changed, too.


In fact, virtual collaboration technologies are now widely accepted as a viable option for working with people remotely. The workplace itself is rapidly changing, and employee attitudes and expectations are also changing. When we can, we business people want to use our favourite consumer applications to better perform our jobs. We check Trip Advisor to decide where to stay on a business trip. We use Lyft or Uber to secure a ride to our meeting. We want to check in with colleagues using Skype or Facetime, like we do with friends and family.

Professionals expect to have great collaboration choices, too. Sure, they know they can travel and collaborate in person – but they also know from Facetime, Google Hangouts or Skype that video collaboration has improved. So they’re looking to use those same types of options at work, whether it’s Skype for Business or Webex, a modern conference-room system or even telepresence. And when possible, to use them instead of travelling.

The attraction to virtual technology by travellers is easy to understand, but now companies are also beginning to realise the benefits of ‘total collaboration management’:

• Reduced travel spend

• Increased productivity

• Reduced carbon footprint

• Stronger global working relationships

• Increased employee retention

Savvy business leaders never pay suppliers more than necessary, but there’s a huge difference between wanting to negotiate the best price and wanting to reduce overall travel spend. Growing businesses are reluctant to curtail revenue-driving investment – they just want to ensure the biggest possible return on investment.

That’s why tomorrow’s travel programmes are certain to include total collaboration management. It represents a massive opportunity to shift – or increase – travel spend to higher-value trips.

Instead of managing face-to-face collaboration and virtual collaboration in silos, companies will manage and integrate all options.

Given the huge potential of total collaboration management to provide business with a competitive advantage, travel managers needn’t think they have to go it alone. An organisation’s travel management company should be expected to provide total collaboration management as part of its scope of services.

That’s why BCD Travel and our travel consultancy, Advito, recently teamed up with Cisco to increase our clients’ use of the technology. We’re working to help companies enable employees to identify and use the collaboration option that best fits the purpose and to create travel-avoidance strategies that make it easier to ‘stay home’.

For virtual collaboration to effectively replace certain types of travel, inevitable questions arise: do employees understand what options are available and how to use them? Which trips drive revenue, and what business can be effectively handled online? How do individuals decide when to travel and when to stay home? What does a strategic approach to total collaboration management look like?

Today, operationally-focused technology departments make investment decisions on virtual collaboration tools at most organisations. That’s likely to change. Just as strategic sourcing in travel has shifted to procurement, decisions over when to travel – or which collaboration type is most productive for a given situation – will become more strategic. With their depth of experience in helping employees make the right booking choices, travel managers just might be in the best position to manage the costs and benefits of all types of professional collaboration.

Chris Crowley is senior vice-president, global client management EMEA at BCD Travel. A 25-year travel industry veteran, he has previously served as president of ACTE and chair of the ACTE Foundation, and recently joined the ITM board as supplier director

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