Amanda Van Nuys, Linden Labs’ Director of Enterprise Marketing (and known in-world as Amanda Linden) has an interesting blog posting titled “Working in the Virtual World“. Amanda describes her use of Second Life for work-related meetings and collaboration. A neat physical/virtual tie-in was done with a conference room:
The physical conference room—Isabel—has a virtual counterpart that is an exact replica—Virtual Isabel. A camera in Isabel captures what’s happening in the room and displays it in the virtual space. Simultaneously, the participants in Virtual Isabel are projected on the wall of physical Isabel. The result is a seamless experience—two conference spaces, one real and one virtual, merge into one.
As for Amanda’s use of Second Life for meetings, she describes it as such:
These days, I’m spending at least 2-3 hours a day in Second Life, meeting with my colleagues distributed all over the world—collaborating, brainstorming, learning, and decorating my new office space in LindenWorld.
For companies with a highly distributed workforce, virtual worlds and their associated virtual meeting places can be a win-win scenario. I once met an employee of a Fortune 500 company who noted that he’d never met his manager, nor had he met any member of his entire team — except that he’ “met” them online, in web meetings, conference calls, Skype sessions, etc.
I’m a remote worker – I’m in the Bay Area, while the majority of my company is in the Chicago area. Fortunately for me, my company provides an internal virtual office platform that serves as an interactive intranet plus meeting and collaboration space. The virtual office is simply an application that rides on top of same platform that services virtual tradeshows, virtual career fairs and virtual sales meetings.
To be set up for a virtual meeting on our platform, here’s what I do:
- Login to the virtual office platform (via the web) – my co-workers and I do this as our first task once the computer boots up
- Activate my webcam
- Put on earbuds (so that the folks you’re speaking with don’t hear their voices reflect back into their sessions)
- Request a meeting with a co-worker within the platform
It’s as simple as that. I tend to have a few meetings per week in the virtual office, mixed with the more conventional meeting via telephony conference call. Here are the efficiencies I’ve seen with virtual office meetings:
- Lower overhead to start a meeting – since the virtual office provides presence indication, I know when a colleague is logged in. I can initiate a webcam session with a colleague in the same manner that I’d start up an Instant Messaging session. Compare this to the typical meeting “set-up”, where emails and Outlook invitations are sent and the meeting organizer awaits replies.
- Facilitates ad hoc, spur of the moment collaboration – similar to the gathering at the water cooler – or, the spontaneous brainstorming session around the whiteboard. But in the virtual office, the spontaneity occurs while you’re still at your desk. Additionally, requesting a virtual meeting session is very convenient – compare it to walking over to a colleague and tapping her on the shoulder. Here, your colleague accepts/declines the session with the click of a mouse. If she’s busy, she goes right back to what she was doing. It’s like IM’ing a colleague rather than calling her on the phone.
- Material related to the meeting is at your fingertips (or a mouse-click away) – my virtual office session is simply a tab in my Firefox browser. Information I need for a meeting is likely in another browser tab – or, in an application like Excel or Word. It’s highly convenient to toggle between these apps and have the information I need at my fingertips.
- Immediacy – ever attend a face-to-face meeting and take on an action item to send out a URL to all the meeting participants (when you get back to your desk)? In a virtual meeting, you can find that URL and copy/paste it into your messaging session. Now, your colleague(s) can review the URL in real-time and you can resolve issues (or obtain the necessary feedback) sooner.
- True facial expressions – in an avatar-based virtual space, I can emote via gestures or text comments. In a webcam-based virtual meeting, however, my colleagues can read my true facial expression. The virtual office platform that I use supports multi-user webcam chats (of up to 9 participants), so we can all see one another, as if we all piled into the same conference room.
I haven’t even mentioned the savings in carbon emissions and cost (i.e. the use of IP technologies and the bypass of the telephony network). I’ll always want to connect with colleagues in person – but, today’s technologies help remote workers get the job done – while increasing efficiency and productivity. A long day in the (virtual) office never felt so good!