Virtual Worlds: Immersive Training, Collaboration and Meetings

Are virtual worlds really viable environments for work? According to a survey by Unisfair, a global provider of virtual events and business environments, usage of virtual environments is growing for marketing, training and collaboration. Surveying 550 marketers nationwide, the study revealed that 60 percent of respondents plan to increase spending on virtual events and environments this year.
The breakdown of virtual activities outlined in the survey include training (42 percent); customer engagement (36 percent); internal collaboration (34 percent); lead generation (29 percent); and networking (8 percent). Nearly half of the respondents predict an increase in “hybrid” corporate events within two years.
Marketing and customer outreach aside, how can organizations with remote teams looking for more effective ways to train new team members and collaborate make use of virtual environments? I’ve previously outlined how my virtual team collaborates, including the use of the virtual world Second Life for both meetings and socializing. Yes, Second Life is still in use, only now without the hype. Some virtual work-related activities that take place in Second Life include:

  1. Team meetings. Many organizations take advantage of the sense of “presence” in virtual worlds to conduct effective virtual team meetings. Examples include a vibrant nonprofit community run by TechSoup (Nonprofit Commons); corporate meeting places for executive teams and shareholders, such as the Air France-KLM space; and small virtual teams bringing together global team members for “face-to-face” exchanges, such as Conversify’s quarterly meetings which are held in Second Life. Communications can take place easily with Second Life’s audio and IM chat features  as well as the ability to display multimedia presentation materials. You can explore tools to import Google Docs (s goog) and other applications as well as live streaming by visiting the I-Zone Virtual Collaboration Environment (VCE) in Second Life. Don’t have a Second Life meeting space built yet? There are many available ready-built options including the Ginny Business Center and the Alpine Executive Center (where you can also ski virtually when your meeting is done).
  2. Collaboration sessions. Whether you interact with your team in existing collaborative virtual spaces such as those created by Orange22 Design Lab LLC or you start from scratch and provide your team with the tools to create and build an environment together, virtual worlds can boost those “a-ha!” moments by providing the ability to push past the limitations of the real world. Providing a sandbox in a virtual world can deliver truly “out-of-the-box” thinking by your team.
  3. Training and learning events. Learning in a virtual environment can take the form of formal classes in classroom or auditorium settings or even simulation environments such as SuperBuy, an mock retail store environment that provides new employee orientation training by letting them engage in immersive role-playing activities related to their job. Virtual university campuses abound, including University of Texas and San Diego State University. Companies such as Bevill Edge provide virtual training services via SpotOn3D‘s Biz Grid (you can view a video about their services).
  4. Hybrid virtual and “real world” events. Many major conferences have added virtual components to real world events, including the women’s bloggers conference BlogHer. The online versions of these events usually consist of panel discussions and keynotes streaming into Second Life from the real world event, or concurrent live events taking place solely in Second Life, or both. Companies such as Virtualis offer ready-to-go conference and convention environments for virtual events.

Second Life isn’t the only virtual environment, of course. There is also OpenSimulator, an open source multi-platform, multi-user 3D application server, and SpotOn3D. Or you can explore the specialized virtual meeting and events platforms offered by companies such as UnisfairVenueGen and newer player Kitely. While the upsides to holding virtual meetings, trainings and events include lower travel costs, there can also be challenges such as connectivity issues and lack of attention. Respondents in the Unisfair survey cited the ability to multitask as a plus to attending virtual events (58 percent) so you do run the risk of inattention from attendees. But in our current world of overly accessible social networks on mobile devices, even real world interactions face that challenge.
How are you integrating virtual worlds and platforms into your business, particularly interactions with your virtual team?