Replace One Face-to-Face

If you’ve been in a coma for the last couple of years you might have missed the emergence of an enormous awareness of global warming and a focus on being “green”.  What may not be as apparent is the shift that has occurred in the strategic vision and mission of most companies and how to capitalize upon green is on the lips of most business people. This is occurring while simultaneously there has been an increasing concern about business continuity in a day of terrorism, avian flu and accelerating gasoline prices and, most importantly, an explosion of innovation and disruption of business status quo causing leaders to re-think how people collaborate, create and innovate.

There are so many incredibly simple things you can do to make a personal and positive change in your impact on being green: turn off lights and replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents; conserve water; don’t drive around if you don’t have to or carpool; recycle; stop the herbicide and pesticide use; and so forth.

Businesses are made up of people (who are obviously negatively impacted by global warming) and are increasingly buying green products and services from others and pressuring companies to become more green. One could argue it’s in every firms best interest to be green, deliver green products and services, and help their employees become more so in order to be more profitable and be good corporate citizens. As long as what companies do doesn’t “dilute shareholder value” most senior leadership will react and many already are going green and profiting from doing so.

But what if making less of an impact was good for the bottom line and could also become part of helping employees be more productive and, most importantly, turned out to be a fabulous way to mitigate risk, ensure business continuity in the event of a catastrophe and sparked creativity and innovation through collaboration?

As always, what I’m about to argue isn’t a magic bullet nor is it a research paper on business continuity, collaboration and being green. It’s just a couple of dots I’ve connected that you might find worthwhile.

How many of you are leveraging what might be in front of us at this very moment that could save fuel and minimize your carbon spewing? Let you telecommute and still do your job? Help you learn how to use the technology effectively so you can communicate well with others and deliver ever higher levels of value and invention? Be prepared to work remotely in the event of a catastrophe?

If you have a computer, a webcam and a broadband connection (and maybe a headset for voice over IP), you have the tools you need right now to replace one face-to-face and save a car/plane trip; a bunch of your time; and learn to use all of these new tools that may come in handy as you’ll see below.

Some believe that gas prices may hit $4 a gallon and the expense of automobile travel will begin to dramatically hurt consumers, you and your staff as well as the economy overall. As we move into the winter of ’08-’09, there is an increased possibility of a global Avian flu pandemic and many people will find ways to stay home from work (absentee rates will soar and may reach 40%), keep their kids out of school and generally stay away from coffee shops, retail stores and other venues where people congregate.

In this post I won’t delve into the likelihood of either scenario occurring (or God forbid, both or even another major terrorist attack), but even modest preparation can help your business to continue regardless of what happens.

Here are some sobering statistics:

  • 43% of US companies never reopen after a disaster and 29% more close within 3 years.
  • 93% of companies that suffer a significant data loss are out of business within 5 years.
  • 20% of small to medium size businesses suffer a major disaster every 5 years.
  • 78% of organizations which lacked contingency plans but suffered catastrophic loss were gone within 2 years…most had insurance, & many even had business interruption coverage.
  • Sources:  U.S. National Fire Protection Agency, U.S. Bureau of Labor, Richmond House Group and

No question that companies invest in business continuity (especially with I.T. systems), but most CFO’s care about shareholder value and the bottom line and will only modestly invest in risk mitigation weighted to the level of risk (i.e., not much is invested). Most will, however, invest in systems that provide upside potential for an increase in revenue.

This is where collaborative systems and technologies come in.

I’m less interested in downside as I am in upside: the power of collaboration and what it can do to make us all more productive and to make it easier to connect with other people. Collaboration is all about humans connecting, working toward shared outcomes and toward our respective incentives. Collaborating is the catalyst for creation and innovation.

C.K. Prahalad, a well known professor of business administration at the University of Michigan (and chairman of Praja, a knowledge-sharing software company) and his colleague Dr. Venkatram Ramaswamy, a professor of marketing at the University of Michigan Business School, wrote a paper entitled, “The Collaboration Continuum” (PDF) which makes my entire point about the power of collaboration:

It’s critical for managers to recognize that information infrastructure, with all its social and technical dimensions, is central to the new forms of collaboration. The ability to elicit tacit knowledge, and to collaborate across cultures and distances and multiple agendas, requires a technical infrastructure that can seamlessly handle structured and unstructured information, text, images, audio, video, and all sensory data. Successful experiences that foster further collaboration can be built only on infrastructures that allow for a positive total experience. Done right, collaboration will transform IT into a strategic capability–though it also may displace traditional IT perspectives and capabilities.


There are so many tools you could use today to replace one face-to-face and save fuel, time, and lessen your impact on the environment while learning new behaviors, protocols and methods, there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t move on this now and empower your employees, pitch your boss on telecommuting or contacting your partners, customers, suppliers or prospects virtually and replace at least one face-to-face this week.

I’m using Skype and Skype video daily; iChat theater and screen sharing; and am in constant communication with clients, colleagues and peers whether I’m in my office, home office or in a coffee shop or airport with my laptop. While I use these technologies to augment my face-to-face meetings held at other times, I can still reduce the total number of them.

In 2006 and 2007 I’ve replaced at least 25 face-to-face meetings with virtual technologies. Four of those were airplane travel and saved days and a significant carbon footprint. If I saved 100 gallons of gasoline and hours of commuting time, the ROI is easily measured while my increased productivity is not, but I know I get a lot more done when I’m not in the car moving from place-to-place for my face-to-face.

Give it a try and replace just one.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.