Will Video Conferencing Replace Travel?

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Will video conferencing replace travel?

A handshake is costing you thousands.

If you’re a frequent flier who jets around the country to attend in-person business meetings, you and your company are paying a premium for that brief greeting. The availability of video conferencing means that every time you start a business trip you are deciding to spend extra money on “the personal touch.”

The added cost raises the question: will video conferencing replace travel? There’s no functional aspect of an in-person meeting that can’t be replicated online over a video connection. You can speak face-to-face to one person or a dozen; you can exchange documents, share a whiteboard, and make a multimedia presentation; you can speak privately before and after formal meetings.

The only thing you can’t do over a video call is reach out and make physical contact. In order to achieve that, you need to pay for travel and accommodation, meals and allowances, and employee downtime between engagements. Of course, we’ll reluctantly admit that meeting in person is about more than just shaking hands, but given the cost difference compared to video, it’s time we asked, is it worth it?

Video Is Already a Travel Option

Video conferencing may not have replaced travel in practice yet, but it has certainly made in-person business trips optional. And video is by far the cheaper option.

Setting aside the in-person dynamics for a second, the pure financial comparison between regularly traveling to an on-site meeting and holding those same discussions over the internet is grossly unbalanced.

Even setting up an entire video conferencing system from scratch is a comparable expense to undertaking just a couple of business trips, depending on the system you choose–and, of course, your video system can be reused hundreds of times with very minimal ongoing costs.

The rise of the software-as-a-service model has driven the cost of monthly video subscriptions to well under $20 a month for leading brands.

For example, you can purchase Logitech’s high-end 4K Rally video conferencing system for around $2,000. That system includes the camera, speakers, microphones, and controls needed to conduct a group video call. It doesn’t include a digital display, and you might want to spend an additional $500 for extra speakers and mics to cater for large crowds, but you should still be able to bring the total investment in under $4,000.

Of course, to complete the video conferencing experience, you need a video platform subscription to host the call and provide your cloud services and meeting functionality. The rise of the software-as-a-service model has driven the cost of monthly video subscriptions to well under $20 a month for leading brands such as Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, Zoom, Amazon Chime, and Cisco Spark.

Compare that expense to the cost of a typical business trip.

The High Price of Business Travel

Traveling to a meeting by video conference comes at the same cost no matter the destination. That’s obviously not true of the in-person voyage.

According to research, the average domestic business trip within the U.S. costs around $990. That figure includes travel, car rental, hotels, meals, and a living allowance. The cost varies depending on where you meet, with per day non-travel expenditure in New York amounting to around $600, while each day in Omaha comes in at around $300.

In raw dollar terms, your new Rally video conference room could pay for itself in just four or five virtual meetings.

There is, however, a non-financial reward to holding a meeting in person–the personal touch.

Will Video Conferencing Replace Travel? Seeking the Personal Touch

The personal touch is a little more than being able to physically shake hands with your meeting colleagues. Video is great at reproducing all that occurs within a meeting–yes, you can make small talk online–but it struggles to replicate events surrounding that meeting.

The online retail, banking, and even healthcare industries have made great strides in shifting routine customer interactions to the internet.

If you are making first contact with a new client, for instance, it’s hard to end a virtual meeting with a tour of their facilities. You could follow along via their smartphone, but that presents a limited view of the world and makes it hard to carry on a conversation. The same applies to any social event that is included in an in-person visit, and the broader professional networking opportunities available. We are getting better at making professional connections online, but video currently has trouble replicating spontaneous and lateral introductions.

It may be, then, that video becomes the way we maintain and service day-to-day external connections while in-person visits are deployed only for particular, carefully chosen occasions. The online retail, banking, and even healthcare industries have made great strides in shifting routine customer interactions to the internet, and that may become the model adopted for all customer services interactions that were previously handled in person.

It is already possible to do so with minimal investment. What remains is a cultural shift toward affordable digital communication. It’s no longer a question of whether video conferencing will replace travel, but rather, now that video conferencing makes it possible to replace travel, what’s the best way to use it?

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