If the numerous surveys, studies and research papers are to be believed, 2014 is set to be a big year for business, with audio conferencing set to play a huge part in the revival of many firms desperate to reconnect as the economy picks up.
So what’s your new year’s resolution? Get healthy, be less stressed and spend more time at home? Perhaps you started small in 2013 with aiming to get in your one in five a day. Why not take that concept and put a spin on it for 2014?
Pete Bennett, founder of Buzz Conferencing, said: "We say if you can replace one in five face-to-face meetings with a phone meeting then that's also good for your health, because it means less stress, less travelling."
It's an interesting concept. While Pete admitted that conference calling should never fully replace face-to-face meetings, they can certainly make life a whole lot easier and cheaper. With the economy now picking up, this mantra could be the start of an entirely new way of doing business.
With this in mind, what else is likely to change over the next 12 months as far as audio conferencing is concerned?
Just like the UK economy, continental Europe is also on the rise – albeit at a slower pace. However, as businesses look to expand and inevitably move into foreign markets, effective use of conference call facilities could make a huge difference.
"Using our audio conferencing services allows people to save both time and money when travelling from continental Europe to the UK as well, so it's all really about cost and convenience," Pete noted.
While it's always better to meet your client for the first time and familiarise yourself with them in person, there is no reason why after making initial contact you can't keep in touch over the phone – conducting meetings from your office or even your own home.
A woman's touch
While much has been made this year about the importance of employee wellbeing and how flexible working can make a real difference to workers' job satisfaction, the next 12 months could see a huge rise in the number of firms using conference calling to retain key female members of their workforce.
Pete predicts that the technology could be a great catalyst when it comes to maintaining women's input in business when they take long periods off work to raise a family. While it has always been par for the course that female workers will take maternity leave, he feels as though companies certainly suffer as a result of their absence.
"We need to engage women more in the workplace, even if the workplace doesn't necessarily mean the office, because we're losing a lot of skilled, very clever, very talented women," he said.
Taking over the airwaves: tele-seminars
With every company desperate to stand out from the crowd and establish itself as the leading authority in its field, 2014 could well see the use of teleconferencing by the savviest of small business leaders to get their message across.
While not currently a major market, there is certainly scope for the development of so-called 'expert dial-ins' or 'tele-seminars' to not only help companies network with each other, but to give them a voice and a platform upon which to get their name out to a wider audience.
Effectively, businesses can use the technology as their own private radio station – broadcasting their thoughts, advice and opinions to potentially hundreds of people at a time. This exercise, along with the use of social media, has real potential to raise the profile and authority of any individual wanting to put their company on the map.
Pete said there were plenty of reasons why businesses should dip their toe in the tele-seminar market.
"We've built in features to Buzz that makes that kind of call very effective – specifically aimed at smaller businesses that want to run tele-seminars," he added.
"Buzz Conferencing is a free telephone conferencing service, so you’ve nothing to lose by signing up and having a go, so why not go ahead and try it?"