Posted by: Michelle Conlin on July 08
About a year ago, I wrote a story about the death of the business trip entitled “The Waning Days of the Road Warrior.”
The story told the tale of a corporate bruiser by the name of Irv Rothman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard’s Financial Services division, who traveled at least once a quarter—top three lieutenants in tow—from his New Jersey base to HP’s Silicon Valley headquarters. After enduring Newark airport hell and six-and-a-half hours of stale, germy air, the team would arrive, strung out, to meet with their boss. For one hour. Then they would turn around and do the whole thing all over again.
But for more than a year now, the quartet has not made one pilgrimage to Northern California. Instead they use HP’s hyper-realistic, space-and-time shifting videoconferencing technology. They don’t care if they ever see Silicon Valley again.
For more than a decade, the workplace punditry has been chattering on about how technology would one day render everything but non-essential business travel obsolete. What has been a bloodbath for the airline industry has turned into a boon for that class of corporate striver who spent more time in airline lounges than their living rooms.
That's not to say all business travel is going extinct. But it's that de-facto, head to the airport for a one-hour meeting travel--the dumb kind--that is dying off.
There's the green halo that comes from slashing carbon-spewing business travel. There's also the fact that HR types have a new appreciation for how the frequent-flier lifestyle can wreck executives' health and family lives. And they have come to realize that jetting off for a one-hour meeting, while instinctual for corporate strivers, is rarely productive.
Typically, when the economy snaps back, so do the business trips.
Not this time. There's no going back. For more than a year now, companies as varied as Advanced Micro Devices, Xerox, Cisco Systems, AstraZeneca and Adecco have slashed internal business travel (grinding from corporate office to office) by more than half. They have seen how videoconferencing can be not only equal--but better; that it is not only less stressful--but more productive. It's a triple bottom line enhancer. Better for employees, corporate sustainability, and cost savings.
I caught up with Polycom ceo Robert Hagerty recently. We talked around Noon New York City time. It was 9 a.m. in Hagerty's suite at Los Angeles's luxe Sunset Marquis. He had already taken three meetings that day on his laptop's videoconferencing system, bouncing around the globe--from his ergonomic hotel room chair.
Using Polycom's Star Trek-y videoconferencing gear, Hagerty has cut his business travel by more than half.
He's got the art of the videoconference call down. He hangs a do not disturb sign on his hotel room door. He adjusts himself so that light is just so--optimal so whoever he's talking to can see him. It's a little weird when he goes to China because employees act like he's a TV star. They feel like they know him since they seen him on screens all the time. He also packs into one morning what used to take at least one week.
We had a nice long chat. Then Hagerty was off to catch a plane back to his home in San Francisco. He'd be home in time for dinner. Otherwise known, in the reset economy, as the new badge of honor.
BusinessWeek’s Joe Weber, Patricia O'Connell, Michelle Conlin, Frederik Balfour, Peter Coy, Greg Spielberg and Roger Crockett examine The Case for Optimism by looking past the financial turmoil and economic unrest gripping the globe to focus on the promising future that lies on the other side of this storm. We’ll chronicle the forward thinkers investing in R&D, launching promising new products, entering new markets, or implementing management and leadership.
See why BusinessWeek Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler is optimistic about the economy amid the sharpest downturn since the Great Depression.