Talking about "virtual mobility" means the use of new information and communication technologies (ICT) as an alternative to physical mobility. To put it simply, the Internet now enables us to carry out activities from our living rooms or offices that formerly required traveling.
These technologies (collaborative platforms, wikis, e-learning, etc.) have led to new ways of working and learning in which the distance separating the people involved is no longer an obstacle. They have proven to be real sources of efficiency, productivity, solidarity and personal fulfillment.
The Internet has also changed our shopping habits. We no longer need to leave the house to buy products or services or travel to the other side of the world to see a monument or museum.
This has radically changed our perception of the world, enabling us to discover and understand far more than if we had to travel.
Virtual mobility has expanded our horizons considerably and although some people lament this "dematerialization", it has enabled us to become a lot more socially interactive while helping to save the planet.
New ways of working
In many companies, virtual mobility has become a way of working and an organization system in its own right. It usually takes the form of multi-disciplinary project groups working remotely on collaborative platforms using different tools such as software, document sharing and production, videoconferencing, social networks, instant messaging and blogs, etc.
The members of a project group work according to a highly flexible hierarchical structure (the project leader is more of a facilitator than a boss) with a precise schedule and objectives and a set timescale, contributing to the project in addition to their normal workload. The development of sophisticated collaborative platforms makes it possible to create global-scale project groups, taking advantage of time differences to operate around the clock.
Of course, the project group cannot be exclusively "virtual", it needs to alternate "face-to-face" sessions with remote working. The balance between the virtual and the physical is one of the key factors for the success of the project.
Advantages, disadvantages and key factors for working on a collaborative platform
. Gains in time and productivity
. Group dynamics and competitive spirit
. A way of making yourself known and being recognized within the company
. Flexible organization
. Cost optimization (fewer trips)
. More difficult to monitor
. Possibility of participants spreading themselves too thin, always torn between project groups and "normal" work
. Possibility of losing momentum and commitment
. Group creativity (no instant rebound)
Key factors for success
. Specific objectives
. Project pace
. Tailored management
. High-level recognition by the company of the work achieved in project groups
. Alternating of physical and virtual sessions
Example: Bureau Veritas, world leader in compliance evaluation and certification, organizes its 52,000 employees into project teams. These multidisciplinary work teams made up of managers and experts throughout the world work together on sophisticated collaborative platforms to carry out tasks within set time frames (develop a product, solve a problem, etc.). In addition to considerable time and travel savings, this virtual mobility enables the company to identify the best talent: each project group is overseen by a high-level manager and the best contributions are communicated throughout the group.
Telepresence and video conferencing
The video conferencing and telepresence (a sort of improved video conferencing using technologies which remotely create the illusion of being present) market is in full boom. A study carried out by Infonetics Research showed that worldwide sales of equipment totaled 3 billion dollars in 2011, up 34% from 2010. According to Infonetics, companies are expected to invest a total of 22 billion dollars in video conferencing and telepresence between 2012 and 2016.
The main reason for this interest is the travel, time and productivity gains offered by these virtual mobility technologies. According to a study carried out by the international Carbon Disclosure Project, telepresence will save American and British companies 19 billion dollars between 2010 and 2020 and investment in such a system pays off within 15 months on average.
There is another benefit in addition to this financial gain: ecological performance. According to NGO WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), half of companies' CO2 emissions are due to business travel (i.e. business trips and commuting). This makes the potential impact of telepresence and video conferencing highly significant. According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, the 3,000 American and British multinationals could reduce their CO2 emissions by 5.5 tons over 10 years with telepresence (which is equal to the annual emissions of a million cars). And many companies have noted a rapid reduction of 20% to 30% of their carbon footprint after installing a remote meeting system (see our example).
Of course "real-life" meetings remain indispensable in many respects such as "getting a feel for" the room and gaging the reactions of others and adjusting what you say accordingly or because a group's creativity and action are reliant on human contact and physical proximity. Lots of ideas and innovations are the product of meetings which run over or lengthy discussions and seemingly irrelevant digressions. Lots of problems and conflicts are resolved or avoided through "face-to-face" conversations.
Aware of these limitations, advocates of virtual mobility are striving to make video conferencing more life-like. An example is 3D immersive telepresence, which increases the feeling of reality with numerous cameras and banks of HD flat screens displaying life-size images of the participants. However, this type of system, which is costly, remains for the time being restricted to large companies and high-level users (negotiations between managers, board meetings, etc.). Functionality is constantly being added to video conferencing by deploying it to cell phones and tablets and giving it tools for sharing and producing documents, sending instant messages, etc.
. Gains in time and productivity
. Fewer work-related trips and CO2 emissions
. Possibility of bringing people together from all over the world in a virtual way
. Loss of informal human contact
. Decreased group dynamic and creativity
. Equipment is still expensive
. Confidentiality of conversations is not always ensured
Key factors for success
. Strictly define the types of meetings that can be held remotely and those requiring physical presence (brainstorming, project start-up, etc.)
. Choose an open technology which is compatible with everyone involved
. Ensure good connectivity (bandwidth, network stability, security, etc.)
Example: British insurance company AVIVA has 8 ultra-modern telepresence suites throughout the world which its staff used to hold 2579 meetings in 2011, which is an increase of 110% compared with 2010. Virtual mobility has enabled the company to reduce its plane travel by 8%, saving 1400 tons of CO2 and 2.5 million Euros.
According to a study carried out by CEGOS in 6 European countries (France, Germany, Spain, Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands), face-to-face training is the norm: 90% of employees surveyed said they had received this type of training in 2012. However, mixed training, combining face-to-face and on-line sessions is on the increase: 39% of employees took part in 2011 compared with 31% in 2012. Finally, 42% of employees completed training in an exclusively remote way in 2012 compared with 40% in 2010. The rise in virtual training is highest in Great Britain where 53% of employees have completed at least one training course via e-learning or in a virtual class and 50% a mixed training course in the classroom and remotely (compared with 29% and 28% respectively in France where traditional training methods are still favored).
Conclusion: "virtual" training carried out on a screen (and guided by interactive software or geographically remote trainer) is developing at a rapid rate. It is increasingly used to complement traditional training: for working on specific points, reinforcing the impact of learning by expanding it with further exercises carried out alone on a tablet or screen.
According to the CEGOS survey, these are the most common remote training methods:
Percentage of employees having completed at least one of these training courses:
VisioFormation (distance training solution)
The success of the different methods is largely due to their flexibility and efficiency: adaptable to staff's schedules, rapid large-scale deployment, travel and time savings, interactivity and creativity of modules, etc.
Advantages, limitations and key factors for success of virtual training
. High level of interactivity, rapid evaluation
. Can be adapted to trainees' schedules
. No geographical constraints
. Proven effectiveness for numerous training courses
. Travel and time savings
. Reduced CO2 emissions
. Lonely nature of e-learning
. Lower level of dedication
. No group competitive spirit
. Some training is not appropriate
Key factors for success
. In-depth consideration of the positioning of remote training within the company
. Appropriate alternation between classroom and remote training
. Experimentation with the pedagogical effectiveness of interactive modules
. Close monitoring of e-learning and mobile learning
Example: Serious Games use a full range of technological resources (interactivity, video, 3D, etc.) to facilitate learning, teaching and testing. Originally used by the American army and widespread in the USA and UK, Serious Games are starting to be used in French companies. They have multiple uses: provide or complete training, carry out a specific task, expand knowledge, facilitate the integration of new hires, provide information about a new product, simulate a sales meeting, manage customer relationships, get a message across, etc.
Here are some examples of their uses by companies:
- With numerous awards under its belt, the "Renault Challenge" serious game, set up by the automotive manufacturer for 18,000 salespeople in 40 countries, plunges them into a virtual world where they find themselves face to face with customers who they need to find out about in order to satisfy their expectations.
- BNP Paribas has released the serious game Starbank, more specifically designed for their new hires. The aim of the game is to set up a fictitious bank on another planet in 2505 and track its investments in real time. As he moves through the game, the new hire finds out about the group's organization, the budgets, the levels of risk and interdependence of activities in near real-life conditions.
- To ensure the loyalty of its customers, company treasurers, Natixis developed "myCampus Cash management", a fun and innovative web TV training package designed for cash management training.
The virtual university
A university's aim is to transmit academic knowledge to as many people as possible. Traditionally this has only been carried out in dedicated facilities by putting teachers and students in direct contact. Thanks to the Internet, the same university teaching is now offered remotely. The result is virtual mobility which considerably expands the diffusion of knowledge throughout society, thus increasing the influence of universities.
This is the case, for example, of the Virtual University of Tunis, which brings together students and employees from all over French-speaking Africa for completely on-line training (330 learners on 9 courses leading to qualifications including 5 professional Master's degrees and 4 Bachelor's degrees) or partially on-line training (320 courses involving 315,000 learners and 3600 teachers).
Always available and continuously adjusting to the learner's level, the virtual university is particularly effective in terms of in-service training, making it easier for working people to complete higher education courses which are adapted to their pace and schedules.
But the virtual university also has its disadvantages. One of them is that the virtual disappearance of human contact makes it more difficult for the different trainers to interact, despite all the communication tools at their disposal.
Furthermore, knowledge evaluation systems often involve multiple-choice tests and self-assessment rather than real test procedures. And although the absence of physical and attendance monitoring reduces pressure on students, it can also result in a lower level of dedication.
Advantages, limitations and key factors for success of the virtual university
Key factors for success
No physical contact
No group competitive spirit
Direct tutoring is difficult
Knowledge tested by self-assessment
Risk of quitting the course
Tailored schedule and working rhythm
Possibility of not keeping up to date in subjects which are constantly changing
In-service training is possible
Eliminates sociodemographic influences
Removes geographical, social and financial obstacles
No personalized monitoring
Access to resources
Unlimited resources which are available day and night
Lack of personalized advice
Example: The aim of the REVE project is to boost the impact and effectiveness of traditional Erasmus courses: virtual actions in addition to existing exchange programs to prepare for and monitor physical mobility; following courses at the original university while abroad; integration of e-learning modules into traditional teaching.
On-line leisure and shopping
- On-line shopping
E-commerce is in full expansion. According to the Center for Retail Research, on-line sales in Europe are expected to reach 233 billion euros in 2012, which is a 16% increase compared with 2011. France, with an increase of 22%, is a particularly buoyant market, the 3rd biggest in the European Union (47 billion euros) after the United Kingdom (68 billion euros) and Germany (51 billion euros). In the USA, the increase is expected to reach 12% for a market worth approximately 200 billion euros. In 2011, Internet shopping had already grown significantly: +18% in Europe, +24% in France, +15% in Germany and +11% in the USA.
Traditional retail, on the other hand, is only increasing by 1 to 2% a year in developed countries.
The increase in Internet shopping is due to certain well-known competitive advantages: lower prices due to lower margins, the effect of scale (worldwide store window) and the absence of stores, almost constant sales and reductions, a very wide range of products, 24-hour opening, travel and time savings for the consumer and delivery to the customer's house or nearby. Virtual commerce does, however, suffer from certain limitations which the major players in the sector are relentlessly working on: personal data security, risk of counterfeits, impossible to try out the product, after-sales service is sometimes lacking, the often under-estimated level of logistics costs, etc.
In certain cases, it is the combination of traditional retail and on-line shopping which wins out. Most of the traditional chain stores (Décathlon and Darty in France for example) have developed an effective e-commerce system which increases their global sales without eating into "real" store sales.
- Are on-line purchases really green?
One of the frequently cited benefits of e-commerce is that it is a lot "greener" than traditional retail due to avoiding thousands of trips (customers going to the stores). Is this really the case?
There are differing studies on the subject. According to a survey made by FEVAD (Fédération e-commerce et vente à distance), on-line sales quarter CO2 emissions due to eliminating customer car trips. However, an American study carried out by Scott Matthews and Chris Hendrickson concluded that it had similar CO2 emissions to traditional retail with the savings in "customer" trips being offset by the increased logistics involved in delivering products to shoppers' homes.
- Augmented reality to remove shopping obstacles
To overcome one of the main obstacles to on-line shopping, namely it being impossible to try out the products, on-line retailers are using new technologies, particularly augmented reality which "transposes" their products onto an image of the customer who is filmed or photographed with a webcam. From jewelry, watches, glasses and clothes to cars and even apartments, augmented reality is starting to catch on in many areas.
Example: In the on-line Ray-Ban store, customers can try on the brand's whole range using augmented reality software (Virtual Mirror) which takes a picture of the site visitor so they can choose the frames to put on their nose and see the result.
Advantages, disadvantages and key factors for success of virtual retail
. Travel and time savings
. Fast delivery
. Vast choice
. Lower prices, constant promotions
. Open 24h
. Payment security is not always guaranteed
. Impossible to try out the product
. Risk of counterfeits
. After-sales service and delivery system are sometimes lacking
Key factors for success
. Control of e-retailers by a third-party organization
. Strict management of the logistics chain
. Wide choice of products, rapid turnover of products and regular promotions
. Customer loyalty
In this all-digital age, the tourism industry is no exception to the rule. Many Internet users are taking advantage of the latest technology to visit the world's many sights in 3D.
Virtual tourism enables Internet users who are unable to travel (not much time off work, commitments, lack of money, etc.) or who want to prepare for a trip to enjoy the world's rich heritage without leaving the house. Numerous virtual tours have thus been designed throughout the world, such as Virtual Sweden and 360cities.
Although virtual tourism undoubtedly contributes to protecting the environment by reducing CO2 emissions relating to transport (coaches, planes, cars, etc.), it cannot replace actual tourism. It is more a matter of intermodal complementarity: the Louvre never saw its numbers fall after its 3D visits were introduced.
Example: The Louvre Museum took the virtual step very early on by offering the 3D tour of certain rooms and multimedia guides for numerous works of art. The result was that in 2010, the number of virtual visits had greatly exceeded that of physical visits (10.7 million Internet visitors compared with 8.5 million "physical" visitors).