For the last month, I have firmly been in the camp that believes current world events will force enterprises to permanently rethink things like business travel, team collaboration, employee engagement, external communication and event management. Video’s emergence as a more than serviceable substitute for in-person contact—combined with its potential to provide massive savings in both corporate travel expenses and employee productivity—has provided us with plenty of compelling evidence that a global shift in corporate communication could be upon us. But exactly how many enterprises will be willing to accept this shift once the world returns to normal is the billion-dollar question, and every analyst and investor in the collaboration technology space is scrambling to come up with an answer.
As mentioned earlier, I truly believe we are approaching a tipping point with the use of video communication in the enterprise. But how soon it will accelerate, and how extensively it will be adopted, is the subject of much debate. It’s difficult to forget that literally hours before COVID-19 took over the planet, there were still CEOs at very recognizable companies denying work at home requests and demanding employees continue to visit the office. Of course they are now all working at home conducting Zoom meetings like the rest of us, but at least some of these executives will instinctively guide their companies back to business as usual. Let’s also remember that the video technology required to virtualize nearly all forms of corporate communication has existed for the better part of 20 years, and many companies still haven’t bothered to adopt much if any of it. It is for these reasons I believe a large group of innovative companies will learn from and adapt to the power of video communication, while a slightly smaller group will ignore it at their own peril in favor of what they’ve always done.
If we’re being honest with ourselves as a business community, internal corporate travel policies will likely be the first thing overhauled once traditional offices reopen, based solely on the amount of money that can be saved—and is currently being saved—through the use of video. We’ve all worked for companies that won’t hesitate to spend upwards of $2,000 on a last minute trip, to fly one employee here or there because their presence is “mandatory.” But the reality is, thousands of those same meetings have happened over the last month via video, and guess what? Business is still getting done, and no one is complaining about not being able to stockpile airline miles and hotel points. At least the people responsible for profitability aren’t.
In addition to corporate travel for internal reasons, there are plenty of changes that will no doubt take place in the external travel arena as well. Since commercial air transportation was invented, companies have allowed staff to rent cars, book train passes or jump on planes whenever they sensed a customer was unhappy, or a prospect was speaking with a competitor. But is a physical presence always mandatory to re-engage with a customer or close a deal? My current company just conducted an all-video Quarterly Business Review (QBR) with one of the largest companies in the world, involving seven presenters on our side and 15 participants on theirs. And guess what? Not only did it go well, but we were able to provide the customer with live access to two C-level executives, two VPs, and three Directors—in a situation that would have normally been attended in person by an Account Manager and maybe two other people. With video, everyone wins.
And as a career marketer, I can safely predict that sending a dozen people to work a week-long trade show, educational conference or user group will be a thing of the past. The “Are trade events worth the investment?” debate has been raging for close to two decades now, and for good reason: whether you’re hosting or attending, these events are costly. They involve months of planning and preparation, they take employees away from their roles for extended periods of time, and they are nearly impossible to measure when it comes to ROI. Which is why innovative associations and businesses were virtualizing events—or finding ways for companies to participate via video—long before anyone knew what Coronavirus was. My prediction is that going forward, enterprises faced with the decision to pay for space rental, booth setup, union fees, hotel rooms, multiple happy hours and three-story LED displays designed to beam their company logos into deep space will actively consider virtual events instead, and allow their marketing teams to find better uses for the budget dollars.
In terms of work-at-home specifically, a few days ago I was sharing some of my thoughts on the future of video in the enterprise with a colleague, and she brought up a great point about fairness. Her opinion was that based on the nature of some positions, there will be office workers who simply cannot have the option of working from home—which will make the adoption of remote video collaboration for some people an unfair benefit over others. I have to admit, my first instinct was to brush this off as an over-simplification. But the more I think about it, the more I believe she is 100% right. There are absolutely companies who will resist offering work-at-home to employees, because they don’t want to deal with the question “Why can’t I do this too?” from people they want in the office five days per week. It’s a difficult and uncomfortable question to address, but to me minimizing most (or even some) unnecessary travel and commuting is better for enterprises in the long run than eliminating none of it.
Much like everyone else, over the last few weeks I’ve experienced a lot of personal firsts. I attended a Zoom wedding, I hosted a virtual happy hour, and I just went an entire month on a single tank of gas. But there have also been a number of work-related firsts—I’m saving $40 per week in downtown parking fees, I’ve traded a jammed schedule of in-person meetings with much shorter ad hoc Slack and Zoom video chats, and I have reclaimed over 90 minutes per day previously spent in traffic . . . half of which I’ve given back to my employer, and half of which I’ve been able to spend with my family. And truth be told, my team and I have never been less distracted or more productive. I definitely miss seeing my team and my co-workers, but I can also see the value in working remotely at least a little more often than I currently do. I imagine anyone with an office job is having these same thoughts right now.
Current world circumstances are forcing enterprises to deal with some significant and unprecedented challenges. Between mandatory work at home policies, global travel restrictions and complete cancellation of major events, guiding a business to breakeven—much less profitability—hasn’t been this difficult in a very long time. But technologies exist that can help enterprises of any size and any configuration seamlessly replace in-person communication with video, securely and at a virtually limitless scale. The real question is, are enterprises ready to make a permanent push toward a video-first culture? When this is over will video become sticky, or will it be tossed to the wayside as organizations forget all of the efficiencies and cost savings they’ve experienced over the last 30 days? Only time will tell. But if you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below—and take care.
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