Travel anywhere in the UK and you’re a constant hostage to the rush hour, which seems to be pretty much all day now. The roads are a miserable lottery of traffic chaos, and on the railways, passengers are subjected to overpriced, overcrowded, uncomfortable old trains. And we’re certainly not going to see the profuse apology a Japanese train operator gave to its customers for a train leaving 20 seconds early.
Yet we continue to blindly accept the need to travel to every meeting, and this in a country where the average daily commute has risen from 48 to 60 minutes over the past 20 years, and where the accumulation of stress and fatigue from commuting is adding to worrying levels of mental health problems.
Generally, daily commuters fund their own travel, and it’s a trade-off between a better salary and the financial cost of traveling, whether that’s fuel costs or the price of a season ticket. And in addition to daily commuters, it’s always apparent that many people are traveling to specific face to face meetings, creating a ‘long rush hour’.
It’s staggering how many ad hoc meetings are constantly scheduled in the physical world, many because car mileage claims are lucrative (particularly in the public sector), or because senior managers don’t want to give up the perks and prestige associated with business class travel.
Organisations become accustomed to a level of travel and expense costs, which only come under scrutiny in a downturn, at which point travel bans are imposed across the board which actually damage productivity and morale.
The use of collaboration applications like WebEx, Skype for Business and others is growing. Video and application sharing capabilities are increasingly popular, and research shows that many people prefer online collaboration to face to face meetings; 94% say enterprise video increases efficiency and productivity, and 73% feel that remote meetings end faster and with better results with video.
It’s all the more astonishing because most organisations have already invested in collaboration apps – they simply forgot to show the workforce how to use them properly. Millions are invested in the technology – yet adoption, enablement, and support are an afterthought rather than an integral part of the investment.
Cost saving from successful collaboration is massive. We recently wrote a business case to save £9m per year in travel, for a £4m investment that was approved by the CFO. We’re not saying don’t ever travel, or that every meeting should be online, but the impact on profitability, staff morale, and productivity is always high when face to face meetings are dramatically reduced.
We don’t expect the office to go away any time soon. Many organisations are trying to make them more enjoyable and productive places, with design and development emphasis very much on accommodating and supporting flexible working arrangements. But please give people a chance to learn and adjust to using new online tools, rather than randomly thrusting them upon people, without any thought of the impact on their working lives or how they’ll be adopted.