Meetings Study Highlights Three New Trends

By Heather Baldwin

With the New Year comes a new era for meetings, according to a national study conducted annually by MCI. According to the study, “Meetings in America V: Meeting of the Minds,” business professionals are embracing three distinct communication trends that are changing the way they meet: an increased acceptance of business travel alternatives, the arrival of Web conferencing as a mainstay business communications tool, and the emergence of senior managers as e-leaders.

“This year’s Meetings in America study shows that many have changed the way they conduct business and have embraced collaborative technologies, especially Web conferencing, as a part of their daily routines,” says Phil Knell, vice president of conferencing for MCI.

Many former road warriors, forced to try online conferencing in the wake of travel budget cuts and security concerns, won’t be going back to their pre-September 11, 2001 travel routines. According to the study only one in three business people, or 35%, project an upcoming increase in business travel. That compares with 13% who envision a decline and 44% who are interested in travel alternatives. Almost 70% of study participants cited Web conferencing as the travel alternative of choice because it saves time and is more efficient.

It’s no wonder Web conferencing has achieved the widespread acceptance of email, cell phones and audio conferencing, say the study’s authors. It is now among the fastest growing business communications tools, with usage up 31% from last year. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents, or 74%, had attended a Web conference, with more than half, or 39% overall, having attended their first Web conference in the past 12 months.

Interestingly, senior management is the group most likely to use of Web conferencing and other meeting technologies. In the past year, senior managers were the most frequent users of audio conferencing (89%), Web conferencing (64%) and videoconferencing (57%), with their numbers surpassing even those of IT departments. And not only do these senior managers use the technology, they also think highly of others who use it. A significant number said they believe that a vendor who invites them to a Web conference is technologically savvy (72%), respectful of their time and budget (67%), and smart and efficient (52%).

“For the first time since virtual teams appeared, people who are not on site to present to the leader have an advantage when they link through Web conference technology,” says Knell. “Face-to-face time is still important, but today’s senior managers are more accustomed to leveraging technology and meetings virtually.”

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