The Covid–19 induced lull is seen everywhere today, travelers are grounded and the businesses are battling hard to survive. Whereas Zoom and GoToMeeting are among the very few companies to have expanded since the pandemic began. The video conferencing solutions like these have never had so much attention. Meanwhile, questions are being raised on replacing business travel with virtual meetings. The unparalleled advancement in messaging and video conferencing might have empowered employees to work remotely from literally anywhere they wanted. But despite all these advancements, researches show that there is simply no substitute for business travel or meeting face to face.
Business travel, most simply put is a means of achieving business objectives. The oxford economics study says that every $1 spent on travel earns businesses $12.50 in revenue. The impeccable value that travel brings into business is never going to be on par with video conferencing in near future; furthermore, this is a fact check on why business travel is irreplaceable.
Organizations prefer in-person or face-to-face meetings because they bestow more depth to the business relationship. “In-person meetings provide a sense of intimacy, connection, and empathy that is difficult to replicate via video,” says Paul Axtell, corporate trainer and author of the book Meetings Matter. Human connections are better for meeting with prospects, clients, and partners. Most leaders still prefer ‘being there’. A handshake, Body language, and micro-expressions might seem too little, but those little tweaks can change the entire game. In fact, a personal connection developed through face to face meeting does wonder in all the facets of business which cannot be replicated.
A good network is imperative to avoid all the technical glitches despite all the technological advancements. As a study conducted by Radius Global Market Research and WiredScore point out, “80% of the businesses experience regular internet connectivity problems”. Poor network kills the flow of video calls and all the efforts put forth to move the ideas across end up futile.
In this fast-paced world, our minds are frequently inundated with distractions, and businesses’ demand to stay focused is paramount. During a virtual meeting, one cannot gauge the concentration level of the other person just by looking into the screen. Consequently, it will be an uphill battle to retain even enough attention that satisfies both parties’ business intentions. Strong business relationships are built under strong business involvement and unless video conferencing can bring in cognitive detail, it is certain to be a far cry from the business travel for meeting person to person.
Time zone difference
One thing that technology cannot change is TIME and is obvious that virtual meetings have their kinks especially when spanning intercontinental distance. For instance, if you’re in New York and have a customer call, team meeting, or project review with people in Singapore, someone’s waking up at 2 am to get on the video conference call. Hence it will be difficult to retain calm and composure with fatigue and bloodshot eyes.
Travel influences employee satisfaction and engagement. The employees indeed want to get out of the office and they often see the business travel as a perk for their job. The research conducted by booking.com for business shows that a staggering 30% of employees are willing to accept a lower salary for more travel opportunities. The millennial generation makes up the largest workforce and their preferences for business travel are astounding. The Hilton Hotels & Resorts survey on millennial travelers tells 39% would not accept a job that does not have any business travel. Therefore business travel plays a major role in attracting and retaining top talent whereas video conferencing stays impotent.
Research and Fieldwork
Certain jobs in medical research, archaeological research, Oil and gas, etc demand meticulous inspection and intensive care. For example, an American Multinational Pharmaceutical company wants to team up scientists working in their labs located in a different part of the world to develop a vaccine to stop a pandemic like Covid-19. Will it be effective if the scientists delegate the work by giving instructions over video calls? No, they have to mark their physical presence to undertake the rigorous researches. It’s pretty clear that the idea of taking these in-person meetings over video conferencing might not serve the need of the hour.
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The debate over business travel and virtual meetings grabbed attention due to the current health crisis. Overall, video meeting capabilities are impressive and they work for some use-cases. These meetings work well in pre-established relationships and where communication styles are known beforehand. But they cannot replace empathy, clarity in communication, trust-building, or other human aspects that have helped build business relationships since the beginning of time.
Hit hard by the government-imposed travel bans and lock-downs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses toil to keep their people safe and save on expenses to survive. This is a once-in-a-generation test for Businesses, and make no mistake, business travel will bounce back. Those smile and eye contacts. Those impressions we form as we walk in to a new room. Those coffees with colleagues and lunches with prospects… Everything will happen again, sooner than we think.