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Easing the squeeze with web commuting

Easing the squeeze with web commutingWith petrol prices rising and transport costs sky rocking, businesses are looking for new ways to save money on commuting. Web commuting can improve business productivity and decrease travel costs. So, should your business be looking to web commute also?

A recent survey of more than 1,000 Australian businesses found that the rising cost of petrol and increasing cost of transport is putting significant pressure on businesses, outweighing traditional concerns such as interest rate rises, staffing issues, taxes and wage inflation. And with small businesses making up more than 95 per cent of all businesses in Australia, they are suffering most.

In order to overcome the petrol price crunch, the next generation of small businesses must look at innovative ways to improve business productivity whilst decreasing travel costs. Technology is a key enabler for this, and the right technology is no longer out of reach.

Progressive small business owners and employees are already staying off the roads and skyways by ‘web commuting’ to the office. A web commuter describes the modern day telecommuter who uses web-based tools to work remotely without physically travelling to the office or business meetings. By implementing web commuting initiatives, small businesses can beat the petrol price crunch and do more with less.

Web Commute to the Office
Improving broadband infrastructure has made it easer for Australians to commute to work via the web. Complementing this trend is an increase in the availability of affordable web commuting technologies that enable us to stay in touch with colleagues, partners and customers while working remotely. Such technologies include Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), remote access software and most popularly, online meetings.

An online meeting, also known as a web conference, is when two or more people meet online via a common broadband connection. Online meetings make it possible to view the contents of the presenter’s computer screen while simultaneously participating via a conference call. The technology allows for slide presentations, screen sharing, chat, as well as polls and surveys so that presenters can truly engage with meeting participants. By combining the power of visual with voice, online meetings provide an innovative way for SMEs to have richer conversations. When an in-person meeting isn’t possible, and a phone call isn’t enough, online meetings provide SMEs with a powerful meeting alternative.

Such services are available as either a hosted service (Software as a Service or SaaS) or traditional on-premise deployment. According to Frost & Sullivan Research, hosted services are the dominant model for ease of use, rapid deployment, limited up front investment and lower management costs. Currently, Australia is the largest consumer of web conferencing services in the Asia Pacific region, followed by Japan and Greater China.

Recent enhancements in online meeting services are tipped to make them even more popular in Australia. Citrix Online recently introduced GoToMeeting 4.0, an online meeting service that integrates audio at no additional cost, enabling SMEs to enhance the web commuting experience in a way that doesn’t stretch the budget.

The Benefits of Web Commuting

Using tools like online meetings makes web commuting to the office easy. Web commuting tools can not only help commuters overcome the petrol price crunch; it can also help small business owners to:

Decrease Travel Costs: The largest benefit small businesses are set to gain from web commuting is a reduction in business travel costs. Take into consideration hard travel costs like fuel costs, airfare tickets and accommodation, combined with soft costs like time spent travelling to and from the office, and web commuting offers SMEs an attractive alternative to everyday business travel. Web commuting also provides the added benefit of reducing carbon emissions created by cars and planes.

Decrease Audio Costs: Many Australian businesses invest heavily in audio conferencing services to support their internal and external communications but by web commuting with online meeting solutions businesses can decrease audio costs. Online meeting solutions with integrated audio capabilities such as GoToMeeting 4.0 can enable businesses to transition away from pay-per-minute based conference calls to a free service. Often, this saving alone can pay for their entire online meeting subscription.

Enhance Productivity: By taking the ‘meet’ out of meetings, web commuting allows employees to be more productive because they do not have to spend time travelling to and from business meetings (or the office!). Travel time can be re-allocated to other activities that enhance business productivity.

Retain and Attract Staff: Web commuting also offers a number of other benefits. Not only does it save costs and increase productivity, but it minimises the impact work can have on an employee’s personal life. Flexible working is becoming a factor most employees look for in an employer, with the option to work from home becoming a necessity, especially for Generation Y. Offering web commuting options whereby employees can choose to work outside of the office and outside typical working hours can lead to greater attraction and retention of staff. Web commuting initiatives also allow SMEs to tap into the global talent pool, bringing together people from across the globe by using technology.

Train Online: A number of small businesses are beginning to take a closer look at online training using the web. While the cost of travel is an influence in moving training online, trainers indicate that the single greatest driver is to “reach people we would not otherwise reach”. With tools like online meetings, online training is becoming more and more of a reality as businesses transition in-person training online. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Citrix Online and 1080 Group found that training using live, in‐person delivery is expected to increase by 283 percent one year from now.

When and When Not To Guide for Online Meetings
Many businesses are discovering the value of online meetings as a powerful communication tool to increase productivity and decrease the cost of everyday business travel. Online meetings are especially useful for sales presentations, marketing events and training sessions. However, the experience can fall short of a conventional meeting if workers are not savvy about when and when not to use online meetings.

Online meetings work best as a follow-up meeting after you have already established rapport with a colleague or built a relationship with a customer. Initial sales meetings with new customers are best to be conducted in-person to utilise non-verbal communication such as body language.

This guide is designed to help you discern when to use the power of online meetings to improve your business communications and eliminate travel.

When To
–    When you can’t meet in-person and a phone call isn’t enough
–    When you want to have richer conversations
–    When collaboration is necessary
–    When you need to bring together a dispersed group
–    When time is of the essence
–    When security is a concern

When Not To
–    When meeting someone for the first time
–    When your meeting is particularly emotional or sensitive
–    When visual communications is not necessary (you may only need to utilise the audio capabilities of the technology)
–    When communicating with people in the same office, face-to-face communications are often more productive

Web commuting offers small business a viable alternative to everyday business travel, but it is important to note that managers and employees must adopt certain characteristics for a successful experience.

For example, communication is extremely critical when managing web commuters. Managers should leverage a combination of online meetings, face-to-face meetings and chat sessions to stay connected. They must also establish clear and measurable goals for their employees.

Web commuters need to be technology-aware and familiar with company policies that regulate flexible working practices. They must use technology to communicate frequently and openly with their managers to ensure transparency and visibility into their activities. Web commuting technologies foster a level of openess that enables both remote managers and employees to flexibly work in a trusted environment.

Is your business feeling the petrol price crunch? Perhaps it’s time to rethink your next business trip and consider whether web commuting is right for you.

-H.R. Shiever is managing director, Citrix Online Asia Pacific (www.citrix.com.au)

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Hr Shiever

Hr Shiever

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