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James Campanini

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We have the technology: tools for HR


Although now in recovery, the hangover from the recession continues to be felt by businesses worldwide. With travel budgets still slim and less time to meet face-to-face, James Campanini, Director of Cisco WebEx, EMEA, explains how online technology can build bridges between remote colleagues, partners and customers.

As the global economy continues its recovery from the longest and deepest recession in recent history, the business community, both here and abroad, faces a somewhat different landscape to what we knew before.

Despite recent upturns in growth, many companies are still mainly focused on survival – with the future still, for now, uncertain. Common short-term measures that were introduced during the downturn – steps such as freezing business travel or cancelling expense accounts – may continue for the foreseeable future, as companies continue to try to protect themselves and their employees from any of the recession’s lingering effects.

McKinsey has called this state of uncertainty ‘the new normal’. It describes the downturn as “not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order,” one which no one can say for sure how long will last. With the pressure set to remain, and in some cases even increase, companies can’t afford to keep faith with business practices that, under this new economic landscape, are outdated.

Business travel, as alluded to above, has been a major casualty of the recession. A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) earlier in the year found that three-quarters of private sector employees (74%) have reduced their travel expenses, compared with 50% in both the public and voluntary sectors. As a result, employees have less face-to-face time with colleagues, partners or customers, and combined with a renewed effort to become more environmentally friendly, more and more business interactions are taking place in the ‘virtual’ environment. But to make the best of this shift, companies need to adapt. Even if your business can afford to once again increase its travel spend, the chances are that some of your partners or customers can’t.

The digital revolution
So what tools can we use to communicate in the digital world, and in which situations? One thing’s for certain: virtual business doesn’t mean just using the internet and email, or just video conferencing – which first came into fashion over 25 years ago. Sticking solely to these options when needing to work closely with remote colleagues or partners could risk relationships, especially if your rivals are taking a more efficient or innovative approach.

The options companies and individuals have to collaborate from afar are numerous; so much so that the choice can be overwhelming. Phone, emails, video conferences, Telepresence, online meetings, instant messaging, Twitter and social networks all have their place, and all offer something different.

High-definition video collaboration, now commonly known as Telepresence, is the modern face of video conferencing. Its uncanny ability to recreate the nuances of a face-to-face meeting through life-size, high definition video streams make it the perfect tool for high-level, strategic discussion. However, the cost of a dedicated system is likely to be prohibitive for smaller businesses.

For productive, effective meetings where you have set goals to achieve, web conferences, or online meetings, can provide an answer. Online meetings differ from video conferencing or Telepresence because they allow attendees to collectively work on documents or other computer-based resources in real-time. You can give Powerpoint presentations, share your computer desktop or applications and edit documents in real-time, making efficient, productive work between several parties a reality. Although in an online meeting the focus is likely to be on a shared document or presentation, there is also support for webcams so that attendees can see who they are working with and transmit some degree of body language. Other common features include an indicator to let you know who is speaking, which helps to avoid the confusion which can detract from telephone conference calls.

Instant Messaging, as the name suggests, provides instant contact with colleagues. The short, real-time conversation it permits makes it ideal for one-off queries which need a fast response, but it isn’t so suitable for more in-depth work. One important attribute of IM is its ability to give presence information on the people you need to work with. The network knows when people are busy, away from their desks or on another call, meaning that you can communicate only with people you know are in a position to respond.

Finally, social media and social networks. Unlike online meetings, these technologies were popularised in the consumer world before being applied to business. At first glance, blogs and podcasts might not be obvious tools for workplace communication, but in fact they can provide a vehicle for disseminating information across an entire company, or for sharing knowledge. For instance, blogs can allow employees to share and discuss information they have gathered which can be of wider benefit. They can then act as a knowledge base that others can refer to at anytime. Twitter, a more recent development, is more similar to IM in that it is best suited to short, one-off requests. But its ability to send a request or message to a network of followers simultaneously can give employees access to a powerful bank of pooled knowledge.

Social networking is the final piece in the puzzle. While sites such as Facebook and MySpace remain primarily in the consumer market, you shouldn’t underestimate the potential of business-oriented networks such as LinkedIn, which can have many benefits. For example, a simple status update could be used to announce company news, and valuable insight can be gained by looking at who is connected with your contacts – you can improve your knowledge of existing clients, and perhaps even identify new ones. By joining or creating groups on a site like LinkedIn, you can identify distinct groups of contacts, whether internal or external, with which to communicate on particular issues. This can be particularly useful in smaller companies where there are less people to discuss ideas, as it can provide an almost limitless network of peers with which to debate new strategies or initiatives. We’re currently working with LinkedIn on its first European Business Awards, the first time that the success of individuals and businesses using the network has been celebrated.

The important thing to remember when considering the above is not what technology you use, but how it benefits your business. Thanks to the recession and the ‘new normal’, the world has changed, and it won’t always be possible to return to previous ways of working. If business travel budgets remain low and resources stretched, then you need to be prepared to communicate in new ways, while retaining the same level of freedom and professionalism. Use the full potential of the online world to help achieve this, and you can position yourself ahead of your rivals as the economy continues to slowly recover.

James Campanini is on the judging panel of the inaugural LinkedIn European Business Awards. For more information, or to enter, please visit

One Response

  1. Achieving adoption

    Video conferencing has for some while been a frequent presence in the boardroom.  The senior executives can see the benefits, value their time and have the authority to purchase.  At the SME end of the market the owner / manager can also decide and as tools such as Skype have become more popular and webcams standard on notebooks so awareness and adoption have increased.

    I think there is a real issue with that huge swathe of middle management in large enterprises.  A combination of locked down IT and unfamiliarity with technological possibilities has meant that very few in this group (outside of technology companies) are open to and aware of remote meeting options.  This is a huge shame as this group spends much of its time in meetings.

    The picture is different in the US where distance has made inter-state meetings that much more expensive and for quite a few years I have found managers in large enterprises familiar with and open to having remote meetings.

    It would be a positive side-effect of the recession if enterprises became more open to the technology.  Not only would it save costs, it would also be good for the environment.  And I for one, have seen more than enough of the M1!


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