American business professionals are improving workplace efficiency – thanks to an increased reliance on the Internet, according to an MCI WorldCom Conferencing SM study on Internet usage among technology-savvy business people. Internet technology, combined with evolving workplace practices, presents organizations and individuals with new, efficient ways to meet and conduct business – and balance personal and professional lives.

The independent study, The Internet's Impact on Business Productivity and Individual Work Habits, surveyed nearly 300 Internet-connected business professionals on their Web usage. The results show that American businesses are rapidly embracing the Internet as a tool to facilitate communication, collaborate with others and improve productivity. More than half of the respondents say the Internet is central to their companies' daily business practices; only 13 percent say their company limits or discourages Internet use.

A majority of survey respondents use the Internet for a variety of business tasks. For instance, business travelers use the Web frequently to access online maps (94 percent), obtain flight information (89 percent), conduct research on other companies (82 percent), make hotel reservations (67 percent) and purchase airline tickets (58 percent).

Many of those surveyed derive business benefits from using the Internet. In fact, 68 percent say it reduces costs, 63 percent say it improves customer service and 61 percent say it reduces travel. Additionally, more than 50 percent of respondents say using the Internet has personal benefits, noting that it helps improve job satisfaction, quality of work and stress levels.

"Many businesses that were early adopters of the Internet used it to reach constituents, conduct research and communicate with others. However, its bottom-line benefits were difficult to gauge, taken more on faith than fact," explains Tim Reedy, Vice President of Marketing for MCI WorldCom Conferencing.

"Today, the Internet is creating new opportunities for businesses of all sizes and dramatically impacting the work habits of their employees."

Use of the Internet helps business people work productively when they're away from the office, according to the study. When on business travel, four of five respondents said they used the Web to access a corporate network or intranet and more than half used it to make or revise travel plans. The Net also helps traveling business people keep up with personal responsibilities. For example, two thirds purchased products online during business travel, 43 percent banked online and 26 percent managed their investments online.

While most business professionals already use the Internet to help plan business trips, an increasing number are also using it to participate in meetings and collaborate with others. In fact, more than a third of respondents have participated in Internet-based conferences, where presentations are shared and viewed over the Web. Web conferencing enables hundreds of people at dispersed locations to meet as a group, using only an Internet-connected PC and a separate telephone line. Because no one needs to travel to attend, companies save time and money.

Other uses of the Internet for meeting-related tasks include:
75 percent have e-mailed a presentation to meeting participants
46 percent have met via online chat
40 percent have participated in a distance learning session
29 percent have attended a virtual seminar

Tips for Effective Internet-based Meetings
With electronic meetings on the rise, it's more important than ever to know how to make them as effective as possible. Here are some guidelines.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. When it comes to meeting productivity, a little extra prep time can go a long way. Preparation for an electronic meeting is just as important – if not more so – as when a group gathers face to face. It's important to have a meeting agenda and distribute in advance (include meeting date, time and assigned phone number or pass code, if applicable).
Keep it simple. Attention wanders during meetings – even more so in electronic meetings. Use the visual power of the Internet to reinforce key points and organize presentations into short segments so the audience can better retain information.
Use audio to your advantage. With the absence of face-to-face contact, it's important for the meeting facilitator to introduce himself and all meeting participants. Make transitions easy to follow by providing vocal cues to introduce new segments of the presentation.

Research findings suggest corporate America should pursue the following Internet policies and solutions:

Executives should encourage corporate adoption of Internet conferencing to reduce costs and improve productivity.
When implementing Web-based conferencing in your organization, begin with specific applications in functional areas. Businesses that implement Internet conferencing to address a specific need, with tangible goals, will be more successful. Identify applications that will reduce sales or product cycle time (remote training, staff meetings), help you reach customers and prospects more efficiently (Web seminars), facilitate communication within remote work groups (weekly project meetings) or improve investor relations (Web-based quarterly earnings updates, shareholder meetings).
Organizations already using audio and videoconferencing should add Web-based conferencing to enhance meeting practices. Advances in Web-based technology now make it possible to meet with others via the Web to collaborate on projects, present information and reach new customers in ways never before imagined. The survey shows that employees are comfortable using the Internet and welcome new collaborative solutions.
When selecting an Internet conferencing provider, companies should focus on quality as their chief criterion, choose a provider offering solutions that enhance the meeting experience and minimize technical obstacles. The underlying technology should be transparent to the participants. Other requirements, such as ease of use and secure transmission, rank lower on the list of user needs.
Organizations should establish a policy that requires business travelers to consider audio, video or Web conferencing as an alternative. If travel is warranted, Internet use while on business trips will help employees manage professional and personal duties, while reducing the stress of travel. Remote access during travel helps professionals stay in touch with the office, manage travel plans, keep in touch with family and attend to personal tasks such as banking and shopping.
Remember that technology is simply the means to an end – the real focus is collaboration. Web-based conferencing tools enable us to work in new ways. But collaboration is a process, not an automatic result of having people connected electronically. Organizations that invest in the technology without a commitment (training, executive-level endorsement, specific objectives, improvement in meeting skills) to new collaborative processes are not likely to reap the benefits of these promising new tools.

The Internet's Impact on Business Productivity and Individual Work Habits survey was conducted on behalf of MCI WorldCom Conferencing by Socratic Technologies, a market research consultancy that specializes in interactive market research such as Web-based surveys and usability studies. The sample was drawn from Socratic Technologies' Socratic Forum registered database of persons, resulting in a total of 281 qualified respondents during a 10-day period in June 1999. This study is a follow up to MCI WorldCom Conferencing's 1998 Meetings in America study, which took a comprehensive look at trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel and meeting habits. Find both reports in their entirety on the Internet at www.e-meetings.wcom.com/meetsolution.


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