I hate air travel. Not "white knuckle" hate, but "hassle hate." Fortunately I don’t have to do much of it any more. But lots of people in our company do and I feel for them. I also wonder how much of it is really necessary. Usually while playing with iChat and live video streaming.
Latest issue of Business Week has an article titled, The Waning Days of the Road Warrior (Why the current slowdown in business travel may not end when the economy recovers).
"For years, Irv Rothman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard’s Financial Services division, traveled at least once a quarter—top three lieutenants in tow—from his New Jersey base to HP’s Silicon Valley headquarters. After enduring Newark airport hell and six-and-a-half hours of stale, germy air, the team would arrive, strung out, to meet with their boss. For one hour. Then they would turn around and do the whole thing all over again.
The super surge in oil prices and resulting spike in airfares is just one reason companies are ordering their road warriors home. Factor in, too, the misery of modern air travel, which has de-glamorized the business junket. HR types also have a new appreciation for how the frequent-flier lifestyle can wreck executives’ health and family lives. And they have come to realize that jetting off for a one-hour meeting, while instinctual for corporate strivers, is rarely productive.
So, if managers aren’t flying to meetings, what are they doing? Using newfangled technology that is finally delivering the kind of Star Trek-y, space- and time-shifting experiences that tech executives have blabbered on about forever. Videoconferencing, Web-enabled meetings, online collaboration tools—all are giving workers the ability to dart around the globe from their desk chairs."
The article reminded me of driving from Jefferson City, MO, to Dubuque, IA (9 hours?) to call on a station manager who really didn’t want to see me. To get the appointment I said something like, "All I need is a minute of your time."
When I walked into his office and started take a seat, he reminded me that I had said I only needed one minute and that’s all that I had. So I stood there with my little briefcase in hand and told him what our network could do for his station. (I didn’t sign him up) Today I might have just sent him a Quicktime file or made my "pitch" via iChat. No less effective and a lot less costly.
Videoconferencing and related technologies really only work when both parties want to hear what the other has to say. How many meetings take place because it was the only way the "prospect" could get the sales rep to leave her the fuck alone? (Wonder if there’s any data on that)
These days, most of the people I deal with in remote locations want to talk to me and I want to talk to them. And, increasingly, they have the tech skills to do a quick face-to-face.
And if I need to send them a url or an image or any other kind of file for that matter, it’s easy to do.
Old Schoolers will talk about body language and non-verbal communication and "pressing the flesh" and all the other arguments for being in the same room.
We’ll talk again when that airline ticket to the coast is $2,000.