'We are once again becoming more mobile, but this time in a purely virtual sense.'
To make this publication 'MOVE', our team clocked up a fair number of kilometres. About 50-60 interviews and meetings in all, most of which were done face-to-face. In the process we experienced first-hand the mobility challenges discussed herein: the ludicrous amounts of time needed for a single meeting, the copious inhalation of NOx, VOCs and other nasty particles, the kamikaze experience of doing the E313 in driving rain... Less evident but no less present were the greenhouse gas emissions we caused, the danger we posed to other drivers and the delays we caused behind us. In frustration your correspondent took recourse to public transport but following an unpleasant delay in a stiflingly hot carriage, the car was grudgingly welcomed back. Fortunately, a quiet revolution is happening in the world of communications technology, which could change the way we work considerably. In fact, to some extent it already has.
Videoconferencing is the obvious alternative to physical travel and indeed it is beginning to make a significant impact, especially for companies who work with geographically dispersed project teams. But it is more than that. The key trend in the world of communication technology today is the gradual integration (or convergence) of various communication channels (fixed phone, mobile phone, video, email, instant messaging), that is enabling more seamless communication independent of channel and device. Thus, whereas previously you needed a pc for email, your work desktop for company applications, a mobile phone for mobile voice, a chat client for instant messaging, and a dedicated videoconferencing facility for video, you now need a single communication platform—with a single ID—that is accessible from your home pc, work laptop and Smartphone. In other words, work and communicate anywhere, anytime. We are once again becoming more mobile, but this time in a purely virtual sense.
While this may certainly be a boon for productivity and customer service it is unclear whether virtual mobility is beginning to replace physical mobility. There are areas where this is the case, typically engineering or consulting companies who have replaced physical travel with videoconferencing. Also noteworthy is the increasing use of teleworking or homeworking. Related here is the trend toward flexdesking, whereby companies scrap individual workspaces—and in the process manage to reduce their total office space. But the potential exists for a much greater transition to virtual mobility, barring a number of technical and cultural issues. Technically, the new converged communication platforms—typically referred to as Unified Communication systems—are mostly still reasonably closed systems. Thus, you can’t yet connect a Skype environment with a Microsoft environment. Videoconferencing is becoming more popular within organisations, but across organisations it remains rare. But it could change, once the various systems are able to plug into each other more effectively. Perhaps most decisively, however, will be the evolution of the videoconferencing market. Since Cisco launched its highly immersive telepresence technology (proving that videoconferencing can be a viable substitute to live meetings) the key question today is not if but when that sort of technology will be affordable and accessible (given the high bandwidth requirements) to small businesses and even consumers.
There are those who argue, however, that the new communication technologies will in fact increase the demand for physical mobility—in the sense that we’ll be travelling to more meetings all over the place, as opposed to chatting at the coffee machine, or doing more errands (such as fetching the kids) since we can work on the road anyway. Possibly, but at least the traffic will be spread out more over time. And some, like our team at The Fifth Conference, will very definitely travel less
About The Fifth Conference
You're exploring 'Move', The Fifth Conference on transport and mobility in Belgium
About The Fifth Conference
The Fifth Conference is an innovation platform for people who like to think. We publish a journal, host events and make this website.