There’s often no substitute for the face-to-face meetings that help share information, impart value, and close deals. But with the technological improvements made to virtual collaboration tools in recent years, travel programs that lack control over such technology may be missing out on opportunities to win a greater return on their investments and drive results for their organization.

The market for virtual collaboration tools and services is set to double by the year 2020. And it’s up to travel managers and other decision makers to strike the right balance of the latest technology that enables virtual collaboration and the still-necessary in-person meetings that bring progress.

According to an ACTE research study sponsored by Radius Travel found that 51% of travel managers surveyed believe the ability to manage alternatives to business travel, like video-conferencing, will grow in importance as a job qualification for travel managers. And 37% of those surveyed also identified managing alternatives to travel as one of the top areas in which they need to improve their skill set. These numbers show a growing awareness of the advances in virtual collaboration tools and an acknowledgment of the potential of these tools to improve program efficiency. But what exactly is the business case for virtual collaboration?

Cutting costs

For one, the expansion of the virtual collaboration market has seen pricing for such tools drop in many cases. This means that businesses are less likely to be put off by prohibitive costs of implementing digital solutions. What’s more, many basic tools that enable easier collaboration are now free to use. Video conferencing solutions make it easier than ever to connect groups of collaborators, and cloud-based office tools like Google Drive™ and Office Online™ can cut out multiple versions of projects and allow employees to work together in real-time. Travel managers who survey their program and employees’ habits can identify places in which travel and meetings can be replaced by virtual collaboration to generate huge savings without sacrificing results.

Always-on production

Ultimately it’s about more than just cost, of course. As the Harvard Business Review notes, digitized virtual collaboration is particularly good at solving certain problems that might plague a dispersed and diverse workforce: “time problems, distance problems, and communication problems.” In doing so, collaboration done right creates an environment ripe for 24/7 production that can increase agility and drive results.
Saving time: When collaborating virtually, workers can complete tasks on their own time and send them on to colleagues in other locations or time zones before quickly receiving an answer even after they’ve gone home for the day. Furthermore, meetings and calls during the day can be swapped out for a quick answer delivered via instant messaging, or that answer can be found in an internal knowledge base. Solving these time problems sounds simple, but it ultimately adds up to a much more productive workday for all involved.

Closing down distance: Simply put, interacting virtually connects teams that were once a flight—or even a scheduled phone call—away, increasing the number of people within your organization that can work together to solve problem and the speed with which they can do so.

More ways to communication: Within any diverse organization, there is bound to a diverse set of strengths among its employees. By opening up the door to different types of communication, your company can also open the door to hearing from employees in a way that suits their preferred communication style. Some workers shine in face-to-face meetings, but others prefer to work in writing or with visualizations. Using a mix of collaboration tools means that you might find creative solutions that wouldn’t have otherwise with a homogeneous system of meetings.

The new tools of the trade

Innovative virtual collaboration tools are being introduced at a rapid pace in the rapidly expanding marketplace. Here are some available now to help your business work together as a more cohesive unit:
Instant communication: Long thought of as a social tool for the consumer market, many businesses are now utilizing instant messaging platforms to have more efficient conversations during the workday. Platforms like Skype for Business from Microsoft, Google Hangouts, and Slack are popular virtual collaboration tools that don’t just allow communication, but also archive the conversations so that can be revisited and referenced at any point in time.

Centralized project management: With a dispersed workforce, it can sometimes be difficult to keep everyone on the same page. Platforms like Basecamp™ and Wrike™ offer a wide range of project management tools to make sure that milestones are met, schedules are stuck to, and ongoing and completed work is accessible.

Real-time teamwork: It’s no longer necessary to be in the same room to work on the same project thanks to today’s virtual collaboration tools. The introduction of cloud-based solutions like Google Drive for Work and Office Online mean that employees separated by thousands of miles can open the same files at the same time and work together to complete important projects and build winning presentations. On top of this, tools like Join.me  and WebEx enable employees to share screens to increase the speed of troubleshooting and knowledge sharing.

Have a brainstorming session: Even the whiteboards used in in-person brainstorming sessions can be considered outdated thanks to today’s tools. Visualization tools like Lucidchart, MindMeister, and ConceptBoard allow teams to work together on mind mapping graphics, flowcharts, and more.

There is no shortage of ways to connect employees and reduce unnecessary travel with virtual collaboration. Bringing virtual collaboration management under the auspices of travel and meetings program can help drive greater efficiency and bring a greater return for your business.