Al Sisto wouldn't knowingly expose his employees to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), nor would he jeopardize his software firm's revenue, two-thirds of which comes from Asia.
So while the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Phoenix Technologies declared all travel to Asia voluntary, he also upgraded his company's Web-based video-conferencing equipment.
Sales representatives who last month considered a flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong part of their commute now woo clients in cyberspace from offices in San Jose.
"For the keynote speeches, the high level meetings, the gatherings of senior executives to further our relationships -- that's where we've had to do a bit of a switcheroo and move to the Web and video conferencing," Sisto said.
Phoenix joins a growing list of Silicon Valley companies using technology as an antidote to traveling to SARS-inflicted places, many of which happen to be critical manufacturing centers of microchips and buyers of local firms' finished products.
The World Health Organization says people should postpone unnecessary travel to Toronto, Hong Kong, Beijing and other parts of China because of SARS.
Although few companies are reporting manufacturing slowdowns or stalled product launches, American executives fear SARS could lead to the shuttering of factories or office parks, bungle business relationships or stifle consumer demand in one of the tech industry's most important regions.
But they're hoping the new generation of high-speed, zero-delay conferencing hardware and software, as well as e-mail and instant messages, will provide an emergency measure of interpersonal
relationship building, a crucial tenet of Asian business.
Communication between Silicon Valley and Asia is essential. The continent produces billions of computer parts each year and low-cost contract workers maintain computer systems and develop software for hundreds of Silicon Valley companies.
Asia and Australia accounted for 38 percent of revenues at Intel Corp in the last quarter of last year and it was the chipmaker's leading revenue generator for the previous three quarters.
Microsoft Corp, which has more than 4,000 employees in Asia, extracts about 20 percent of its global revenue from the region. Asia has been the Redmond, Washington-based software giant's fastest growing market for at least three years.
Instead of flying to Tokyo, Guerrino De Luca, CEO of Logitech International, conducted a live interview last week with Japanese journalists via a new Polycom video system with TV-sized screens installed in the consumer electronics company's headquarters.
Although the company lifted its two-week ban on travel to and within Asia on April 21, Logitech is asking employees to become familiar with telecommuting procedures, as well as teleconferencing and Web-based video conferencing.
About 3,000 of Logtitech's 4,000 workers are in Asia, mainly at manufacturing plants in China.
The SARS outbreak has also sparked many Silicon Valley companies to update emergency strategies and make sure employees have telecommuting tools like firewall-protected access to company servers.
Sun Microsystems Inc has long encouraged employees to telecommute. Sun broadened its iWork program last month in case offices in Asia are shut down or workers quarantined.
Oracle Corp is asking employees to avoid nonessential travel to Asia. Upon return from a SARS-infected country, employees are asked to telecommute for five days.