The UK economy is slowly emerging from the recession. Budget cuts, time constraints and environmental concerns have nevertheless led a quarter of UK SMEs to swap overseas business travel with alternative means of communication.

Although nearly one in four (24%) UK small businesses communicate with international colleagues on a daily basis, over half (54%) confirm that they or their employees had travelled to unnecessary face to face meetings abroad.

As a result, they have taken action by exploring alternative ways of engaging with international contacts and cutting out often needless, inefficient, and costly journeys.

The emergence of more sophisticated technologies is having a clear impact on the way that businesses are opting to communicate and do business, with two fifths of the UK SMEs selecting Instant Messaging (41%) as their number one preferred alternative to business travel.

Skype (40%), teleconferencing (34%) and video conferencing (28%) also featured on their preferred lists, with video-based communication emerging as the real winner in the face of ongoing travel cuts. Almost half of SMEs in the UK (49%) are planning to increase the amount it is used for business and 59% confirmed it as a direct replacement for business travel.

Despite an increased willingness to adopt new communication technologies, many SMEs still seem hesitant to break with tradition. Over two thirds (65%) believe that e-mail remains the most effective way of communicating, followed by voice calls (39%), video calls and Skype (29%). Surprisingly, Instant Messaging ranks quite low in the league table of effectiveness in spite of being cited as the preferred communication alternative to business travel.

League table of communication method effectiveness:

  • E-mail 65%
  • Voice calls 39%
  • Video calls 36%
  • Skype 29%
  • Instant message 17%
  • Social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn etc) 9%
  • Other 2%

While the cost and time benefits of cutting out business travel are evident, working remotely is not without its drawbacks. For 38% of those surveyed a key challenge is communicating outside of their local time zones, and over a third (36%) misses having a real picture of the person that they are dealing with.

Working remotely has even led to embarrassing scenarios for some. Almost one in 10 SMEs admitted to making an amusing business etiquette or audio/video conference call faux pas with an international client, supplier or colleague. For example, getting caught singing when they thought they were on mute or inadvertently insulting international clients by using British slang.

League table of remote working business dislikes:

  • Communicating outside of your local time zone 38%
  • No real picture of the person that I’m dealing with 36%
  • E-mail response delays 31%
  • Boring conference calls 22%
  • Other 19%

With the obvious cuts in business travel, companies need to find new ways to communicate, collaborate and compete. Without regular face to face meetings, tools that enable people to build and maintain trusted relationships, save time and money, and keeping companies ahead of the game, are key.

It’s no surprise that video-based communication is experiencing a meteoric rise. The only thing to watch out for is the simple faux pas most of us have heard of. Forgetting to mute your microphone or switch off your Web camera when working from home in your pyjamas are common blunders we would all rather avoid.