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Posted by Erica Driver on February 4, 2008
Come dream with me for a minute. My colleagues and I all have 3D interactive virtual workspaces, regardless of where we physically work (in a corporate office, a home office, on a mountain top, or on the road — whether in the US, Europe, or Asia). Our avatars populate our workspaces when we are online (or “in-world,” in virtual world parlance) (see Figure 1). Some of us have fairly traditional-looking offices, like this one. Others are really “out-there” — underwater, out in space, in tree houses or ice caves. Some of our virtual workspaces look more like factories, workshops, sanctuaries, or galleries. We can easily customize our virtual workspaces to reflect who we are — much the way we customize our real-world, physical workplaces with plants, pictures, books, awards, and toys.
Figure 1: My Second Life avatar (Erica Burns) hard at work in a virtual office
Let’s take it a little further:
Figure 2: A colleague stops by the virtual office and checks out what I’m working on
The beauty of virtual world technology like this: distributed workers get new capabilities (like building relationships with, and randomly sharing ideas with, remote colleagues because you happen to be in the same place at the same time — thereby potentially driving up creativity and innovation). And all information workers get improved ways of doing things they can do today (like talking, instant messaging, and interacting with shared presentation materials over the Web), thereby driving up their productivity.
My prediction: forward-thinking organizations will put virtual environments like this in place during the next few years. Their employees will develop relationships that strengthen their feeling of belonging to a larger organization and sharing an important mission. Employees’ loyalty to the company will increase, and this will lead to easier employee recruiting and longer retention. Distributed workforces will begin to share ideas and learnings in ways that just weren’t possible without this technology. For example, they will meet in the virtual world to build, share, and collaborate on 3D prototypes of physical or theoretical objects. In organizations that are re-orienting themselves toward pervasive innovation, the use of virtual worlds will lead to a long-term competitive advantage. (For a great book on pervasive innovation leading to long-term competitive advantage, read Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management.)
[Credit: Thanks for support with this blog post to my friend Charles O’Connell -- IT professional and Second Life estate manager, architecture review board member, builder, scripter, vendor, and enthusiast.]