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Study Finds SMBs Hurt by Daily Commutes

image for AndreyPopov / Getty Images
AndreyPopov / Getty Images
  • Thanks to things like in-person meetings and commuting to work, 58% of employees polled in a recent survey think their company loses $10,000 to $25,000 per year in productivity.
  • Nearly 30% of respondents said meetings require them to come to the office every day, even though web conferencing tools exist.
  • Online meetings don't always work out as well as in-person ones, though, as 38% of respondents said connection or technology issues crop up in remote meetings.

In today's highly connected world, a growing percentage of the workforce is pushing for the chance to work remotely. Advances in broadband internet, along with the proliferation of free telecommuting software and webcams built into nearly every device we own, have made it commonplace to conduct meetings without everyone being in the same room. This is a good thing, since a newly released survey suggests that forcing people to commute to work can cost small businesses thousands of dollars annually.

In a study commissioned by 8x8 and conducted by Dynata, researchers polled 500 American "knowledge workers" at small businesses with a maximum of 100 employees. The study, dubbed the Video Collaboration Impact Study, sought to understand how today's employees feel about the use of video conferencing technology in the workplace. What researchers found was that, along with its convenience, it reduces one of the worst aspects of work – daily commutes.

"Meetings are a vital part of the workplace fabric, yet businesses need to be able to support employees who cannot afford to sit through extended commutes due to personal responsibilities or remote physical locations," said Dejan Deklich, chief product officer at 8x8. "As most small businesses typically operate on thin profit margins, being able to salvage even 1% of revenue by giving employees time back in their day without sacrificing productivity or human connection is critical."

With video conferencing and remote collaboration now more feasible for companies of all sizes, researchers also sought to find out how employees perceive the tech and what they believe their companies lose when they force people to come in. [Read related article: 10 Tips to Host a Productive Video Conference]

Ask anyone who works remotely how it feels, and they'll eventually describe how it meshes their personal and professional lives, since their workspace is usually at home. While that may require adjustments for some, the work-life balance benefits usually outweigh the negatives.

According to the study, nearly 30% of respondents said they regularly had meetings at work that required them to commute to the office every day or "at least multiple times a week," despite the fact that remotely joining the meeting would be more cost-effective.

When employees are required to come in for a meeting, resulting in some form of commute, productivity suffers. Researchers asked employees how much money they thought their companies lost when they had to spend time behind the wheel for a meeting, and approximately 58% estimated that the practice cost their employers between $10,000 and $25,000 per year. Another 23% estimated that their companies lost more than $75,000. [Read related article: Working From Home Increases Productivity]

While researchers sought people's opinions on their commutes and the notion that meeting in person could be largely unnecessary, they also wanted to learn what people liked about remote conferences.

"As meeting technology has evolved from mass dial-ins and clunky screen-sharing functionality, effortless business-ready HD video collaboration has created a powerful link between teams, without requiring them to be tethered to a single office location," Deklich said.

According to the survey, 60% of respondents said they used video or screen sharing when hosting a virtual meeting. The ability to quickly and easily reference documents for the entire team without committing them to paper is a great benefit in most meeting situations.

Along with the ability to quickly convey information to a large group of colleagues, respondents said they love the flexibility of web conferencing tech. Specifically, 48% said they like how web conferences afford them the ability to "work from anywhere," while another 20% said it "improves their connection with colleagues." Some respondents also praised the tech for its ability to "hold participants more accountable during meetings," since you can see a person's face and know they're engaged in the meeting – unlike during audio-only conference calls.

Though the general consensus is that these digital meetings are a huge boon for small businesses, some issues made respondents leery at times. The main one the report cited is that "businesses are falling short in delivering a seamless, intuitive meeting experience." The largest roadblock to more widespread adoption of web conferencing at work, according to 38% of respondents, is the connectivity or other technical issues that can arise. [Read related article: Choosing a Video Conferencing Service]

Andrew Martins

I am a former newspaper editor who has transitioned to strictly cover the business world for business.com and Business News Daily. I am a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner and prior to joining my current team, I was the editor of six weekly newspapers that covered multiple counties in the state.