Terminal Loneliness

November 5, 2009

I had reason to drop my daughter off at Heathrow on Wednesday. I have been on the top of mountains that were more crowded than Terminal 1. Instead of the usual risk of being kneecapped by a wheeled case, driven by a man focusing partly on his blue tooth and partly on his Blackberry (or an old lady with her eye on being first to the check-in desk), the main danger was being knocked down by tumbleweed. The police were all having coffee and even eyed me with suspicion out of sheer boredom.

I had that morning seen a press release about MeetingZone being adopted by Addleshaw Goddard, apparently as part of its drive to save the planet (although the emphasis on the billing efficacy of the system made me doubtful). The combination of events made me wonder if we really are seeing the long predicted shift away from travel to meetings and a move to more virtual meetings. Certainly the melding of a declared desire to be green and improvements in technology should make this inevitable.

But I wonder if the real driver is client pressure to cut costs – and fixed fees. My theory is that, just as we express mock horror and the ancient legal charging system based on the number of the words in a document (ancient – but entirely redundant!), future generations will wonder at a system that involves quite so many meetings in an age when the technology makes it possible to meet face-to-face without hours of travelling time. We are some way off ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ but maybe not as far off as we like to pretend.

If clients start to wonder why they are paying vast travel costs and vast amounts in travelling time, the pressure to be ‘green’ may well fit nicely with a pressure to make some money even where margins are tight. If a client asks for a meeting, it will be an extra, rather like a RyanAir coffee (and {i}almost{/i} as expensive). What’s more you can charge for travelling time while working on another matter entirely and charging someone else for that – lovely jubbly.

Do let me know if you have changed your policy on travel and meetings. I would be interested in any insights into trends and any views on the advantages and disadvantages.