Monday, January 19, 2009

Virtual Worlds - A Business Collaboration Tool?

You have no doubt been hearing more about Virtual Worlds. In this era when new social networking sites seem to come on line daily Virtual World technology is already migrating into the business arena. Some are skeptical of its usefulness in business, possibly believing that it is more a toy than a real tool. The fact is, however, that the use of Virtual Worlds is expanding in business. This may be partly attributable to the generational shift now occurring in the workforce. For whatever reason, this appears to be yet another technology FM’s will need to understand, adopt, and adapt.

Virtual Worlds offer many advantages. There is an air of anonymity about them which may give users a sense of freedom t0 express themselves more than they might otherwise. Users can imbue their virtual selves with characteristics and quirks that they choose. They design how their avatar looks, choosing to be realistic or take a bit of license with reality. And that, really, is the crux of the Virtual World dilemma for business. Fantasy or reality, or some mix of the two?

Virtual Worlds enhance the collaboration experience, adding a human touch and allowing random interactions which support idea migration. People from all over the globe can “go” to a virtual space and meet together, interacting for purpose while expressing their personality. And that, after all, is what makes meetings so much fun. Right?

There are issues, however. Virtual Worlds present an open playground for the mischievous among us. Indeed, there are plenty of examples where corporate Virtual Worlds have been defaced and otherwise vandalized, and there is opportunity for bad actors to amuse themselves by being disruptive or disingenuous.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Paul Hemp discussed how businesses can encourage appropriate use of the technology. Actions he suggests include creating policies that require the Virtual World to mirror reality exclusively, not allowing elements of fantasy to be present. Hemp makes the point that, in the business context, Virtual Worlds should be used to replicate reality, not escape it.

Some companies are creating their virtual environments using one of the existing palettes, such as Second Life. Others, however, are investing in their own Virtual World space to better control access, content, and behavior.

Many FM’s are responsible for conference support functions and technologies. These folks, especially, should be on the learning curve now. Virtual Worlds may seem to be the playground of the big companies, but as more adapt the technology the cost will come down. For those who choose to use one of the existing systems the cost is already low enough to encourage wide adoption.

No comments:

Post a Comment