It's good to confer

British Telecom saved £128 million last year - and lessened its impact on the environment - by eliminating unnecessary travel for meetings. Lesley King explains how it was done


Meetings are an intrinsic part of working life, but, as many time-poor executives will testify, a heavy meetings culture can severely interrupt the flow of the working day. Many organisations are now looking for ways to ensure that only meetings with a clear purpose take place, and that participants all have a role to play.

In the case of BT, this has meant introducing telephone, video and web-based conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings wherever possible.

SustainIT (a business unit of the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development) and the University of Bradford have carried out research into the benefits of BT's new conferencing culture. They found that, on average, each avoided meeting saves a minimum of £432 in travel costs, accommodation fees and unproductive travel time, amounting to savings of £128 million in the past year alone.
Conferencing generally requires less time investment in terms of participation. Around 65% of BT users testified that their last call had been of less than an hour's duration, making it easier for busy people to attend.

"It saves huge amounts of time, both in terms of travelling and because meetings tend to be more focused," testified one BT employee. "Things get done quicker because a conference call can be organised weekly instead of holding monthly meetings."
Conferencing is also having a huge impact on the quality and effectiveness of meetings. Because conferences can be set up and held virtually in an instant, decisions can be made extra-quickly.

Cutting the carbon
Most importantly, conferencing can have a positive impact on the environment. Each of the 1.5 million journeys BT eliminated last year created an average saving of approximately 32kg of CO2 emissions. This means that the use of conferencing prevented a total of around 47,400 tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.

"Use of communications technology is a key element in helping to reduce the impact of BT's operations," says Group Head of Environment Mike Hughes. "Our conferencing services have helped deliver our targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and are increasingly being used to reduce daily commutes and travelling for meetings."

Significant personal benefits were also highlighted by the study. The findings indicate that conferencing eliminates almost 300,000 face-to-face meetings every year at BT. Employees can now avoid some 1.5 million return journeys, a major bonus for staff who might otherwise find themselves travelling the length and breadth of the country for just an hour-long meeting - often travelling on their own time.
Majority report
When surveyed by SustainIT and the University of Bradford, around 57% of respondents said conferencing was having a positive impact on their work-life balance, and around three quarters said it has increased their work performance.

The majority of conferencing at BT is done via audio, making use of conventional voice telephony. On those occasions where some visual support is required, video conferencing can be used to transmit images and pictures. Business applications are generally conducted from a dedicated videoconferencing suite, although more and more people are also attaching videocams to their PC, even allowing face-to-face contact from home.

Another option to make the facility as much like a face-to-face meeting as possible is web conferencing, which adds a valuable element to the traditional audio conference, as the ability to share and amend documents or pictures in real time contributes to increased productivity.

Aside from all the cash saved by the company and the time saved by its employees, BT also takes pleasure in the way the conferencing revolution has helped it in its relationship with the environment. Hughes adds, "BT's global warming CO2 emissions are now 53% less than the level they were at in 1996."
For more information call Leslie King on 020 7356 5383 or e-mail leslie.king@bt.com

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