British businesses are increasingly operating in a virtual world where they meet neither customers nor people they work with, as modern technology changes working practices.

Research from BT Business found 62%

of businesses have regular customers they have never met, with 56% of them stating they had only been in contact with customers by email.

The research of 1,000 senior decision makers at UK businesses, carried out by Populus, found 85% of Brits work with people they had never met. This according is because the nature of much work does not require face-to-face contact and business is globalised.

“We see the ‘virtual economy’ playing a major part in our customers’ businesses on a daily basis, particularly when it comes to international trade and exporting among smaller and mid-sized businesses,” said Danny Longbottom, managing director UK SME at BT Business.

“While this new way of working – driven by high-speed internet access and associated new technologies like cloud applications – has numerous benefits, the results also provide some food for thought for businesses about the fundamental nature of people and how they work best.”

The survey found social media had an increasingly important role with social networking platforms such as LinkedIn leading to collaboration. Three quarters (73%) of people said they had accepted a LinkedIn request from someone they had never had previous contact with – which led to new business opportunities for 39%; and a new business partnership for 31%.

But 71% of new business leads still come from existing customers, 38% through mutual friends and 31% from attending networking events.