By Nigel Stevens, director of product management at Cable&Wireless Worldwide.

“Two news stories this summer once again highlighted just how quickly businesses are going to have to change their approach to travel.

The Confederation of British Industry announced that road tolls will be essential to avoid gridlock on Britain’s motorways. Congestion costs the economy an estimated £7 billion to £8 billion a year, which will more than double by 2025 according to the confederation.

The AA announced that UK petrol prices could hit a record average high of £1.20 a litre in the next few weeks. If the Chancellor raises petrol duties by 3p as planned, this could have an enormous impact on costs for employees using their cars to travel to business meetings.

It is becoming increasingly clear that businesses need to take a long hard look at their current travel practices and consider whether they are sustainable in the future.

Video conferencing technology has been around for a while now and has traditionally been seen as a ‘nice to have’. With the cost of even relatively short car journeys rising rapidly, however, employees will be less and less willing to use their cars for work-related travel, especially if these journeys will be on grid-locked motorways. The time will come in the not-too-distant future when businesses will need to look afresh at how they conduct meetings and video conferencing will become an increasingly essential business tool.

A trend that we see becoming more and more widespread is for third-party businesses to offer Managed Video Conferencing suites in urban areas for hire on a per-hour basis; this will make the services affordable for smaller businesses that can’t afford to invest in the in-house facilities that larger enterprises are building for themselves. The situation will be similar to the phone boxes of the past when owning a phone was beyond the means of most people — they filled a gap in the market for houses that could not afford to run their own phones.

In just a few years, all non-essential businesses travel will be scrapped and more and more meetings will be conducted virtually. Instead of travelling from Manchester to London for a business meeting, workers will simply travel the much shorter distance to their nearest video conferencing suite and conduct the meeting from there. Not only will this reduce unnecessary travel costs, but it will also increase productivity as less time will be spent en route to meetings. For the first time, such solutions are not so much a matter of ‘if’, but of ‘when’.”