The coronavirus (COVID-19) may be about to trigger a significant paradigm shift in the business world.

This past Friday, my Fortune 50 client contacted me to let me know that my trip from Silicon Valley to Los Angeles this week was canceled. Those of us flying in for the meeting will now hold the meeting via video conferencing. Later that day, the news reported that other major companies were canceling non-essential business travel.

If I were younger and less pragmatic, I’d probably be disappointed. But, I’m not.

Sure, it would have been wonderful to meet face-to-face, but the luxury of that is not critical to the success of the meeting. I won’t have to get up at 4:15 a.m., leave the house at 5 a.m. to get to the airport by 5:20 a.m. so I can catch a 7 a.m. flight to Los Angeles so I can get a ride to downtown L.A. for an 11 a.m. meeting.

Instead, at 11 a.m., I’ll simply connect via the Internet to my client in L.A. and other team members spread out in the U.S. Sounds appealing to me!

As I write this, I have no idea how long the travel restrictions might be imposed. The longer this goes, the more likely I think it will become that corporations will continue the practice of not allowing non-essential travel for internal employees. “Non-essential” means if you can achieve the business outcome using video conferencing, do it!

And, that is potentially a very good thing. It’s not so good, however, for the travel industry (airlines, hotels, restaurants, shuttle services, etc.). The travel industry should not expect demand to bounce back for a year or 2.

Less expense, less wear and tear on employees, and higher productivity is amongst the benefits of non-discretionary business travel. If people really need to meet face-to-face, that can be the exception rather than the rule–the second choice, not the first.

I used to fly over 100,000 miles a year. If I was home for a few days, I’d get antsy–shouldn’t I be somewhere? Shouldn’t I be on my way to the airport?

I don’t miss it one bit. Business travel just isn’t as much fun today. And, the threat of being exposed to the coronavirus is not very comforting.

Thought for the week:

“Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking we can get on with creating the future.” — James Bertrand


Dave Gardner

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, author, and blogger based in Silicon Valley. He's been in the front row for the birth and evolution of Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of the world. Since 1992, Dave Gardner focuses on making the complex simple around people, process and technology. Dave is the author of Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy - How Build to Order, Assemble to Order, Configure to Order, Make to Order, and Engineer to Order Manufacturers Increase Profits and Better Satisfy Customers.

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