Many companies are still mainly focused on survival. Short-term measures that may have been introduced during the downturn – such as freezing business travel or cancelling expense accounts – may continue.
Consultancy McKinsey & Co has called this "the new normal" – not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order. So it makes sense to assume that some business practices, under this new economic landscape, will no longer serve.
I believe business travel has been a major casualty of the recession, with perhaps three quarters of private sector employees being forced to slash their travel expenses, and maybe half in the public and voluntary sectors.
As a result, employees will have less face-to-face time with colleagues, partners or customers, especially as companies try to become more environmentally friendly.
This doesn’t mean just using the internet and email, or just videoconferencing – which first appeared more than 25 years ago. Sticking solely to these options could damage relationships, especially if customer rivals are taking a more efficient or innovative approach.
High-definition video collaboration or telepresence can re-create the nuances of a face-to-face meeting. However, the cost of a dedicated system may be prohibitive for smaller businesses.
For productive, effective meetings where the customer has set goals to achieve, web conferences or online meetings might suit. Attendees can work together on documents or other computer-based resources in real time.
Webcams can turn an online meeting into a videoconference.
Instant messaging (IM) provides instant contact and short, real-time conversation, making it ideal for one-off queries that need a fast response, but it is not so suitable for more involved work.
IM can give presence information on the people you need to work with. The network can be told when people are busy, away from their desks or on another call.
Social networking tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook status updates can be used to announce company news, and users can see who is connected with their contacts – improving knowledge of existing clients, and perhaps identifying new ones.
Twitter is best suited to short, one-off requests.
And blogs and podcasts might not be obvious choices for workplace communication, but can disseminate information across a company.
The world has changed, and it won’t always be possible to return to previous ways of working. If travel budgets remain low and resources stretched, you need to communicate in new ways.
James Campanini is EMEA managing director at Cisco WebEx
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