Perhaps you're not an online gamer, Web 2.0 enthusiast, or technology early adopter. Training and e-learning in virtual worlds (web 3D) are intriguing, but on the whole, the technology appears faddish and far out, and seemingly unrelated to you and your career.
I can relate. I never liked games or gadgets. When my turn came at the arcade, my time in Pac-Man's maze was embarrassingly brief. No visionary was I in 1993 when I coolly dismissed the cell phone as a prop of the status conscious. Seven years later, when business necessity forced me to get a cell phone myself, I used it only occasionally and begrudgingly.
But virtual worlds (VWs) are different. When I came upon them, an obsession immediately took hold. Coming off a stint as a global IT executive responsible for coordinating the activities of a workforce spread across 10,000 miles, I realized their potential to make the global workplace more cohesive and much greener. And today, this potential is making its presence felt in each part of the career continuum: pre-employment, onboarding and training, and the workplace. Given the power of virtual environments, their place in lives of employees everywhere is only likely to increase with time.
As a pre-employment tool
Companies are increasingly using VWs to find new employees, particularly ones who are technology-oriented and do not require physical presence to do the job. Job fairs are becoming common occurrences in VWs, and many well-known consulting companies and technology leaders have screened and hired employees who came to them first in a VW.
Companies ask interested VW community members to fill out online applications, then invite promising candidates in for an initial interview in a VW. Not only does this reduce travel and disruption, it provides an engaging way to get to know someone. As a candidate, you are forced to consider how to "dress" for an interview - penguin avatar versus business person avatar - and how best to demonstrate your comfort with a new technology and atypical interaction.
Depending on the VW, companies may even be able to interview candidates without knowing about their physical limitations, if any, or their gender or race. Virtual worlds permit a level of helpful anonymity, particularly in a preliminary job interview.
For onboarding and as a training tool
VWs also can be excellent onboarding and training tools. Since they can be developed and designed to realistically replicate any environment imaginable, companies can use virtual environments to prepare the newly hired employee for work. For example, using 3D engagement, new hires not only learn about their new company but also get a sense for their employer's corporate culture, the look and feel of its facilities, and meet with a human resources representative to ask questions about policies and sign up for benefits.
Training is also an outstanding use of VWs. Role playing in the typical workplace environment may be the most obvious way to apply training in the workplace. Putting salespeople in nearly real-life sales experiences can aid in ensuring that company products are being represented in accordance with company goals. For new managers, role playing in a VW can make the transition to overseeing the work of others far more effective, from day one.
Also consider experiential training where employees work together to achieve real results that were until now only possible in the physical world, in person. Since many virtual environments include physics engines that can be made to mimic or defy real life constraints, even the more complex training exercises that rely on movement and interaction can be applied in virtual environments.
In the workplace
Virtual worlds are now being used increasingly for real work. Since avatar-to-avatar interaction mimics real-life engagement, we can now use virtual environments to render local what is actually global. Many international organizations are using virtual environments to connect remote workers to physical locations and geographically dispersed workers to each other.
With avatars that voice or text chat with each other, employees feel like they're with each other in the same office. This means improved cohesion, watercooler chat, and sharing in the workplace. It also adds "serendipity" - accidental but fortunate interactions, for example, "Hey, seeing you reminds me of something."
Beyond feeling like you are with others despite physical distance, virtual worlds can make real work more efficient and effective. Imagine practicing a workplace task over and over in a realistic virtual environment before doing so in real life; or streaming video to a globally dispersed team of experts in a virtual environment as they offer advice on how to solve a mechanical problem in real time.
This last example is an important one. Perhaps equally as important as the cohesion that is generated among globally dispersed employees together in a virtual environment, is that virtual environments, unlike most other non-real settings, allow for groups of people to congregate and analyze situations together, at the same time, regardless of physical location. So a team of executives can come together in a virtual world to consider an issue together in the same virtual room. A group of coders can come together to brainstorm a solution together, perhaps while reviewing their code in dynamic 3D.
3D modeling not only of products but of processes and behaviors comes to mind. Think about a global IT process, laid out in 3D along several virtual walls in a virtual environment. Imagine the process integrated with actual back end data. Manipulate the process in 3D to see how the data is impacted. These simulations - virtual to real and back - are hugely impactful and meaningful, particularly for people like me whose eyes glaze over at spreadsheets but, visually inclined, can fully appreciate changes in color, size, or shape.