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3/29/2011
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Businesses Shifting To 'Less Formal' Communication Methods

Desktop video and social media are on the rise, particularly for remote workers, while email and landline phone use are waning, according to a Skype survey.

Increasing Adoption Of New Tools
(click image for larger view)
Increasing Adoption Of New Tools
Skype has released a survey purporting to show that, among reasonably tech-savvy businesses, new communication modes such as desktop video and social media are on the rise, particularly for remote workers.

Skype said the survey was conducted late last year across 1,000 "technology-empowered workers" in the U.S., including 500 end users and 500 decision makers. The survey covered a variety of industries and businesses from small home office to large enterprise.

That "technology-empowered" classification means that the business had to be taking advantage of at least a couple of the newer modes of communication on a weekly basis, "but the bar was set pretty low -- we included mobile phones in there," Lisa Gerould, head of market research for Skype Enterprise, said in an interview. In other words, it wasn't a complete cross-section of American business down to the ones who still operate on a rotary phone and a fax machine, "but it was pretty mainstream," she said, with some focus on knowledge workers.

About 20% of those surveyed said they now use VoIP calling at least once a week and a slightly lower number are using desktop video that often. Skype cited this as evidence that "less formal tools" are starting to reach a "critical mass." A little over 40% of respondents use instant messaging at least once a week, and more than 50% do work-related SMS texting from their phones.

Remote office work is now commonplace in 62% of businesses, where 34% of employees work away from the office, with those people getting 40% of their work done at home, customer locations, or in public spaces. "What we saw was that it wasn't an outlier or a perk," Gerould said. Survey participants thought that flexible work schedules and locations were a boost to employee productivity and satisfaction.

Remote workers were also more than twice as likely to make use of video calling, Gerould said.

The usage of desktop video is accelerating, with about 15% of respondents saying they're using it more this year and more than 25% saying they expect to use it more in the future, according to the survey. As for social media, 29% said they were using it more at work this year and the same number said they expect to use it more in the future. Meanwhile, email and landline phone use had the greatest projected decline, Gerould said.

Many workers (42%) complained of suffering from information overload, and 35% blamed email. Some 48% would like a simpler, unified approach to managing information (an even higher 57% of managers agreed with this statement).

Skype has a particular interest in desktop video, which along with Internet calling and instant messaging is one of the main features of its software. Skype 5.0 introduced greater social networking capabilities, including integration with Facebook. Gerould said the company will continue to broaden its collaborative capabilities, for example with its recently announced partnership with Citrix to embed capabilities from the GoToMeeting conferencing tools.

Skype specifically asked video callers about the value of the medium, and here are some of the answers they got: -- 68% experience richer and more productive communication with colleagues, clients, and suppliers

-- 65% said they collaborate better

-- 62% said they save time

-- 56% said they save money

-- 69% want video to be available on a range of devices and locations, not just fixed systems

Gerould said Skype plans to repeat the study in a year or so to track how these attitudes continue to change.

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