Business Travel & Team Collaboration

Business TravelFor all of the talk of technology reducing the need for business travel, planes seem pretty full these days.

It is a true cliche to say that business is more global than ever and we’re seeing it on our dotJWT team with people working on the development that are spread from Buenos Aires to London to Dubai and Singapore.  The question I’d like to see research on is how often do you need to be physically across from each other and how much video, voice, IM and skype can work.

There is no question Kick-offs are critical.  People often don’t know each other and there is so much more communicated face to face in getting to know people.  In fact, sort of like the inane 18 hour university road trips that create life friendships, I’d say it has to be about more then dinner.  Teams that will work together have to be forced to sit in windowless office conference rooms for at least 6 hours before they can go to a fantastic trendy bar and celebrate together … for another 4 hours.

This punches through any posturing, gives time for differing agendas to make it out and allows peples real characters to come through.  And those are the characters that make or break a project.

That’s the easy part, but then comes the big question:  teams will drift apart pretty quickly if they aren’t pulled together and reminded of the common reason we’re all spending time on whatever it is we’re doing.  The Roman Army had a great way to keep people working to a common goal:  if a group broke ranks or lacked discipline, they drew lots and one tenth were then bludgened to death by their peers.  This could work for excessive use of powerpoint slides today but I don’t think it fits with modern motivation theory.

So instead we use Check Points to get teams in front of senior executives and remind everyone of progress.  Team Incentives can include business travel to nice places dolled up as “train the trainer” programs.  But at the end of the day, it is the routine communication that has to keep the team together.

So the question is:  Can technology do it?  Do extranets like Base Camp make a bid difference?  They definitely keep people informed.  Do video conferencing like our JWT Talking Heads tool do better then phone conferences?  You can’t put Skype on mute when you’re peering into the camera like LonelyGirl15 waiting for the conversation to come round.  As much as you may say “but I know what they look like” there is more bandwidth in a video call then voice alone.

And last is video conferencing rooms.  The great technology that was supposed to save us from the aluminium baloons that haul us — too slowly — across the planet.

I suppose the answer is all of the above.  Looking forward to reading more of the science and checking it against the ever so particular environment that is JWT, and then publishing what really works.

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