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What affect does the move to virtual meetings have on the future of corporate travel?

There is much talk about the future of corporate travel and the expansion and impact of virtual conferencing. The virtual world is very important as a means to connect with people. We are living in challenging times and companies like Zoom and GoToMeeting are some of the businesses that have actually expanded during this time and are looking for ways to enhance the use of virtual meetings.

In December, 2019 Zoom had around 10 million users and that figure jumped to 300 million in April of this year.  GoTo also saw huge increases as compared to earlier months, in their video conferencing and other webinar products.

More and more companies and individuals are turning to online facilities to manage their lives, be it to make a conference call or to stream video games or to play and try to win an Intertops casino bonus.

So, what is the future of these virtual meetings?  Are they really sustainable, and are they a real alternative to corporate travel?

According to Phil Perry, Zoom’s head of UK and Ireland “We saw a 30- times increase, and we couldn’t have imagined that magnitude of growth”. Zoom has been around for some time, we’re a nine- year old company with our focus being enterprise, selling to businesses…What’s made us successful in the first instance is the architecture. It’s in the cloud, and we have 17 data centers globally. We’ve been adding servers very regularly and instantaneously to support growth.” 

However, even with 2,800 employees this does not include a travel manager or even a corporate travel department.  But they do have an active travel policy with TripActions. According to Perry “We keep travel to a minimum, because of the nature of what we sell…but there’s still value in face-to-face meetings…..You can conduct a lot of business by video, but there’s still a connection element meeting people face to face that you cannot entirely replace in this way.” He goes on to say that “Speaking from a sales leader perspective, meeting a customer face to face sometimes is irreplaceable. So, some of that travel is associated with getting in a room with people. It’s still an important part, even if you can replace the vast majority.”

LogMeln is the parent company of GoTo and has a staff of around 4000. It manages and books travel via its internal events team and also by using travel agencies. It considers travel as important for its inhouse meetings.  According to Mark Strassman the senior vice president at LogMein, “Technology these days can actually replace most reasons for business travel, with the exception of the personal interactions like team dinners that also happen when a group is in town for an event.” 

He goes on to say that “Depending on the customer and their level of comfort with technology, or if they are using physical hardware that needs to be deployed and set up, it may still be important to meet face to face.  It is important to prioritize travel for these types of customers over other interactions that may get to the same outcome if done virtually.”

Increasing efficiency 

Corporate travel is not the only thing that the increased use of these platforms is impacting. The platforms themselves are needing to alter the way in which they operate.

Phil Kerry says that these video meetings make people focus and get to the point quicker.  He argues that the long drawn out board meeting may be on the way out. “You become more efficient in these (video) meetings. A boardroom meeting that may have historically lasted a long time, now by having a very clear agenda in a video meeting, where people have a start time…you remove some of those casual elements.

Zoom is creating efficiency. You engage people, you’re looking them directly in the eye.” He also said that it’s possible to have as many as ten to fifteen Zoom meetings daily. “Generally, back to back…I need to be better at scheduling gaps.” message

Zoom has also been using the environmental flag when negotiating with potential clients which is something that was important prior to the pandemic

The issue of making businesses more sustainable and protecting the environment was an important issue before the pandemic and is just as important now. This is also an issue that many governments are looking at especially as some are becoming more actively involved in their national airlines. For example, Air France and Germany’s Lufthansa.

This is reflected in Zoom’s message, Phil Perry says, “In the travel industry, there’s obviously an environmental element to this. For some firms we provide guidance around the reduction in CO2, and reduction of expense in travel.”

Unity and Camaraderie 

Something a little more difficult to create is “digital camaraderie”.   This is still something even zoom is working towards creating. Perry says “We look to happy hours and fun things, like cooking together as a team meeting, or even just having daily drop-in.”

As a consequence, Perry leaves his Zoom meeting open for an hour each morning so that colleagues are able to “pop their head around the door”. Perry says, “The room is very secured, but my team can just pop in. It’s like your room, or office. My team are invited to this, it’s a regular invite, but it’s open.  I sit there, I work, it’s open, on mute, and someone might pop in for 10 minutes to have a chat about something. It’s a casual thing, so we create that casual connection.”

Those in charge of GoToMeeting also say they are offering more than just a video chat. Strassman says “We’ve always had tools purpose built for any type of interaction”. He goes onto say “Our customers can use GoToMeeting to replace business travel, and tools like GoToWebinar and GoToTraining can assist with rolling out our new tools or systems within an organization.”

Strassman says that “As part of LogMeln, we are uniquely positioned to offer a complete portfolio of flexible work solutions, not just video meetings, including cloud telephony, remote access and remote IT support products and more to support customers through every aspect of remote or flexible working.”

It has also included integrations into Microsoft Teams.

As businesses become used to working remotely, the competition in the market will increase. There are other competitors like Blue Jeans and Teams.  However, Perry is focusing more on the present situation and doesn’t say much about what Zoom’s future growth plans are. He says “I’d rather talk about what Zoom is. It’s more than a video communications platform, it’s a new way of working…allowing people to reimagine the way they work.”

Virtual technologies may have real consequences for the travel industry.  The pandemic and subsequent lockdown we all found ourselves in caused new ways of working to be adopted.  Now businesses may need to find new ways of working.

“There are very few positives to come our of this situation, but one is a catalyst for change for how people work. That can be applied to work/life balance, efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.” says Perry. “But I still believe that there is a need for that social connection you can never entirely replace.”

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