January - December 2010
A report by the Centre for International Economics concludes that road transport is costing Sydney $1.4 billion a year in greenhouse gas and other air pollution, with the city's heavy congestion exacerbating ill health and climate change.
Over the next 15 years the annual cost of greenhouse gas emissions would rise by almost a third, to $187 million. The damage to health and the environment caused by rising emissions would be shared by all Australians.
It has been found that pollution from cars might be prematurely killing as many as 2000 Australians each year. Children are particularly vulnerable because they inhale more air for their body weight than adults, but the elderly and the sick are also at risk.
Yet business travel by car is actually increasing and various schemes are being discussed to reverse the trend. Road charging, higher fuel taxes, tougher restrictions on the use of company cars... it's not pleasant reading for anyone who uses their car to maintain contact with clients and colleagues. Yet some business are actively cutting their business travel without suffering, simply by using ways we can all copy to keep talking and save money ...and the planet! Businesses are waking up to the fact that new technology has made tele-conferencing cheap and easy.
The director of the Total Environment Centre, Jeff Angel, said the report dispelled the myth that car use was cheaper than public transport. "The comparisons between road and rail are unbalanced because the costs of road - environment, health and associated economic costs - are not put into the equation," he said.
Mr Angel said that even if emissions from cars were cleaned up, road congestion would remain a big problem. "We can't just keep filling up the city with cars. At some point we must upgrade public transport."
"Congestion in Sydney was estimated to generate an additional 4 million tonnes of CO 2 emissions every year," the report said.
Rather more constructively, "Teleworking is being made possible by the use of information and communication technologies. "The cost of video and/or audio conferencing has decreased rapidly over the last few years and so can provide a cost-effective alternative to staff driving to meetings. The success of such initiatives depends on how open staff are to innovative ways of working and the level of support by senior management."
Responding to Government policy, large SME's agree that Travel is an essential part of their business, but tele-conferencing is being promoted as an alternative to business travel.
Who currently uses voice conferencing?
At any one time there are 50,000 users of voice conferencing from within the SME community. As well as businesses, users range from charities to the Court Service. A Housing Association is one of many enthusiastic users. "Residents can discuss housing and community issues with other people around the country from the comfort of their own home. It is friendly and informal and people who take part often feel more at ease voicing their opinion rather than face-to-face at a meeting or event." That said, there can be real cost pitfalls for the unwary. It's not widely known, for example, that some firms charge you per participant per minute send a bill to the conference instigator based upon the number of callers involved! So a 2 hour voice conference involving, say, six people could cost the organiser a whopping $64.80! Put some of the participants in Europe or even further afield and watch those numbers get scary... But now, innovative providers like Powwownow are offering simple dial up voice conferences where you pay per conference. You pay a one off fee for your call, and you can have people calling in from anywhere in the world.
What of the future?
Nothing is likely to rival the convenient ‘on the go' speed and sheer flexibility of voice conferencing, allowing office based staff in several countries around the world communicate with each other, and with staff in their homes and in their cars or out on site. But what about those times when, for example, there's a need to make a presentation to a widely spread audience, or perhaps it's simply not possible within the time available to meet all prospects for face-to-face proposals? There's an undoubted need in many circumstances to give ‘quick-qualifier' presentations and then move on. I predict Web Conferencing as the ‘next big thing': Phone calls involving facts and figures can be a little challenging, so the ability to show PowerPoint and excel spreadsheets to participants' screens via the web is a great step forward. Now businesses can successfully communicate complex ideas and data while you're on the phone - much as you would do when meeting face-to-face. We've one client on our own trial panel who tells me that his sales are up by $20,000 a month simply by being able to present to prospects whom he wouldn't have had time to meet personally. This is certainly a highly effective tool and, although there may be some initial reluctance to ‘jump in', one can certainly envisage that this new generation of conference calls will be more valuable and constructive than ever.
Ten Top Tips for effective voice conferencing:
- Meetings should be shorter than face-to-face discussions. They are more efficient but be aware that greater concentration is needed.
- Don't make the agenda too long - hold shorter meetings more frequently.
- Ideally, initial meetings are better face-to-face if those involved haven't met, but if this isn't possible, appoint a chairperson and get them to briefly introduce those involved, to break the ice.
- Think about agreeing and observing an end time for the call as well as a start time - it's courteous and it helps participants to plan
- It's helpful for a chairperson to cut in at intervals to summarise and check for views, since there's no body language or eye contact to observe
- Arrange not to be interrupted during the period of the call.
- Call from a quiet location if possible - you need to concentrate and background noise from your ‘phone will disturb the other conference members
- Don't put your ‘phone on hold during a call if you have on-hold ads or music on your system - you will be broadcasting to everyone - not a way to be popular!
- If you have a ‘call waiting' facility, turn it off - the beeping will be heard by all participants
- Make sure that you have all the necessary papers and references with you before the starting time.
Andrew Pearce is director of Powwownow: http://www.powwownow.com.au/