SkypeWhile the 2008 – 2009 recession officially ended in June 2009 in the United States, many businesses are still struggling to recover from the country’s economic setbacks. And since travel expenses are again on the rise, the financial strain of business travel is more than many small companies can bear. With the average business trip costing slightly over $1,000 per person, many firms are opting to slash their travel budgets.

With the influx of teleconferencing options, it’s easier than ever to conduct meetings from hundreds of miles away. One of the most popular communications software systems that businesses are implementing to stay connected is Skype. With the service, users can utilize their computers to make calls, both voice and video, to other Skypers, conduct conference calls, instant message, transfer files, and share screens – all for free.

The company has recently launched Skype Connect 1.0, a product exclusively designed for businesses. David Gurlé, the VP and general manager of Skype for Business explained, “Since its inception, Skype has been used by many businesses wanting to reduce communications costs. In fact, based on internal research, in the first quarter of 2010, approximately 37% of Skype users reported that they use Skype for some business or business-related purposes.” Skype Connect now allows businesses to make international calls from desktop phones at Skype’s standard rates and manage calls with features like voicemail, conferencing, call recording, and call routing. The system also gives the option of putting Skype Click & Call buttons on company Web sites so customers and clients can call in from their computers.

And Skype is not alone. Many other meeting options – from GoToMeeting to Ring2, a phone conferencing system compatible with Blackberry – are available to businesses interested in saving money on travel.

However, teleconferencing may not be for everyone. “We use phone conferences, but feel in person meetings suit us best. Meeting us and seeing the clothes in person seems to put our new clients at ease,” explains Dylan Chase, Creative Director of BLACK Collection, LLC, a clothing company based in Washington, D.C. “It is difficult to spread the word on a brand without seeing who you’re targeting. Traveling helps us understand who our consumers really are. It is also the best way to obtain exposure, collaborations, and even boutique accounts with various stores.”

While this technology may not be right for every business situation, it could save a lot of people a lot of money. In a report commissioned by Citrix Online earlier this year, the Telework Research Network found that U.S. businesses could save over $400 billion annually by instituting virtual policies. The study emphasized the benefits of relying on teleconferencing not only for meetings but also to allow employees to work from home occasionally in an effort to increase productivity, save on office costs, and reduce absenteeism and staff turnover.

It may not be feasible for all businesses to completely cut their travel budgets any time soon, but with features like Skype gaining popularity and functionality, most companies have several opportunities to give teleconferencing a try — and put their savings towards something else.