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Video-conferencing: Stay in touch from the comfort of your desk

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Smart public and private sector organisations are searching out ways to improve productivity and enhance efficiency while also saving money and boosting their corporate social responsibility image.

Introducing flexible working hours and flexible working locations are just two options, but a third is technology based.

Transport Minister Norman Baker believes that to the traditional ‘four dimensions of transport’ – road, rail, air and water – should be added a fifth: communication.

He wants the public and private sectors to cut travel and says: “For those organisations actively involved in reducing the impact of their work-related travel, business efficiency and cost savings are the key drivers.

“More people working flexibly, using telecommunications for business meetings and travelling more sustainably is good for individuals, organisations and wider society.”

Telephone and audio-conferencing are the two best known forms of communicating without the need to travel.

However, the internet has further revolutionised communication with the advent of instant messaging from the
likes of AOL, Google and Yahoo, web-conferencing and Voice-over Internet Protocol, of which Skype is probably the best known.

Conferencing, says its supporters, is suitable for all types of meetings. Providers say that three people can ‘meet’ via a tele-conference for little more than the cost of a phone call.

Alternatively, the transmission cost of video-conferencing, once the hardware has been purchased, can be about £40 an hour.

Hardware costs vary enormously from perhaps £2,000 but can reach £40,000 and significantly more depending on type and scope. However, such equipment allows people to ‘meet’ anywhere in the world.

A BT spokesman said: “Participants can present slides, share information, documents and ideas, enhancing discussions and making it quicker and easier to work together.

“Video-conferencing adds the power of eye contact and body language to build the trust that strengthens working relationships.”

The most significant saving from introducing technology through which to hold ‘meetings’ is in terms of business travel costs.

Not only must the actual cost of travel be factored in – using wholelife costs in the case of company vehicles or mileage claims if staff are using their own cars, rail fares, air travel, taxis, etc – but the cost of staff time.

Business trips involving travel between cities may last over six hours, of which less than two hours is actually spent in the meeting, for example.

In addition, there is clearly an environmental benefit with both employer and employee reducing their carbon footprint, while reducing the need to travel – particularly by car – should also be part of any occupational road risk management strategy.

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