YOU see them in airline lounges and hotel lobbies around the world. Impeccably dressed, with a sense of purpose and an abundance of gadgets to stay in touch — these traits epitomise the road warriors who travel across the country and abroad to seal the deal.

In recent times, the state of the economy has been a driver in the adoption of collaboration technologies that could be a precursor to the death of the road warrior. Recent statistics certainly suggest so, with many organisations looking at online collaboration as the means of offering more options to retain valued staff or increase profit and productivity.

Last year’s film Up in the Air offered an introspective look into the issue, with George Clooney playing a high-flying corporate executive facing a relevancy crisis, butting heads with the young upstart determined to replace the road warriors by putting everyone on video-conferencing.

Paradigm shift

Is the death of the road warrior a good thing for global business? Many would argue the opposite: certainly there’s nothing better than a face-to-face meeting to gauge the reaction of your prospective customer or to take a litmus test of how your regional office is performing and identifying opportunities for growth.

Face-to-face meetings will always have a place and a need in business, regardless of country or culture. But collaborative technology can enhance those relationships with clients and colleagues. 

In the past 18 months, cost and health impacts have played their role in driving a shift away from physical travel, and a rise in online collaboration tools and the adoption of remote working opportunities.

In Frost & Sullivan’s 2009 unified communications user behaviour study, 50 per cent of respondents planned to deploy teleconferencing or video-conferencing solutions in the 2009–2010 timeframe.

In the same study, 68 per cent of the CIOs and IT managers surveyed found that cost savings were a driver to adopt conferencing solutions and 61 per cent saw better employee collaboration and engagement as a driver to adopt.

Meaningful meetings

These findings highlight the value that businesses are seeing from collaboration tools, such as web and audio conferencing. The global financial crisis (GFC) certainly made its effect felt too. Organisations such as SAP, Symantec and IBM had travel bans in place that prevented staff from meeting face-to-face with colleagues or customers in another city.

From PGi’s perspective, the GFC prompted us to answer the question: how could we provide customers with a better meeting environment that would help them to collaborate effectively during tough times — especially with the lack of physical, face-to-face interactions?

The conclusion we came to was that collaborative technologies could not only reduce the overall cost and frequency of physical local and international meetings, they also helped professionals to have more meaningful and productive interactions.

Collaborative technologies with video-, web- and audio-conferencing provide feature-rich capabilities to record and playback sessions and transfer documents in real-time. This means that businesses can engage more regularly with their partners, clients and prospects on an informal basis through virtual face-to-face meetings whenever they need.

These technologies have also enabled businesses to build better relationships with overseas or regional contacts, instead of saving catch-ups for once or twice a year due to the time and cost associated with physical travel.

Direct engagement

While some of the conferencing technologies of yesteryear may not have met business needs, new web and audio conferencing facilities available today can really help give the impression of being in a meeting without physically being there.

Solutions that integrate audio, web and notification technologies are now capable of managing pre-event communications, registrations, post-event reporting and the running of an online event — putting the focus back on core business activity and away from logistics.

During an event, you can also receive instant, live feedback from participants who are attending, as well as conduct polls that let you see everyone’s reactions to different parts of the briefing or presentation.

This creates many new possibilities: from the ability of your human resources director to engage with employees across the region simultaneously to creative teams brainstorming different ideas in response to an advertising brief.

Mobile solutions today also allow you to host and manage conference meetings on the go, directly from your iPhone or Blackberry. These tools give you the ability to launch a meeting with a single touch, instead of spending time searching for phone numbers and logins.

Collaborative technologies have matured to the point where businesses can utilise conferencing solutions as a reliable, secure and cost-effective way to conduct business or even host events, whether it be across the suburb, or across the continent.

The road ahead

The perceived need to be able to communicate at any time is only getting stronger. Widespread adoption of smartphones and devices is also helping to drive the possibility and expectation that communication is not bound to a desk or a computer screen.

With less time spent travelling and more time at home and in the office, the road warriors of today will experience a renaissance of greater work-life balance and higher productivity than ever before.