Virtual worlds are here to stay and enterprises need to have policies that govern how employees behave when representing companies with avatars, Gartner says.
Although the hype surrounding virtual worlds has diminished since the Second Life land rush came and went and Google euthanized its Lively chat space, business consulting firm Gartner nonetheless sees a growing corporate role for online environments.
In a research note completed in August and just now released, the firm predicts that by the end of 2013, 70% of enterprises will have established policies for employee behavior in virtual worlds, including dress codes for avatars.
A critical component of a dress code is clothing, which isn't always as widely distributed in virtual worlds as it is in the real one. Avatars with little or no clothing have long been a source of Second Life's popularity and remain so: Witness that several recent Second Life disciplinary actions taken in the past week cite incidents of indecency.
The fact that a Second Life avatar ranked 95 on Maxim's 2007 list of the top 100 women was not due to the 3D character's boardroom attire.
James Lundy, managing VP at Gartner, says that with the rising use of virtual environments for business purposes, companies have to be aware of how employees' use of avatars might affect brand perception.
As an example of what can go wrong, Gartner's report cites the mixed experience had by visitors to a major automaker's Second Life presence following annoyed responses from employee avatars who resented being asked too many questions.
"We advise establishing codes of behavior that apply in any circumstance when an employee is acting as a company representative, whether in a real or virtual environment," Lundy said in a statement.
In cases where employees participate in a virtual world in both professional and personal capacities, Gartner advises that separate avatars be maintained for each role.
Increasing business use of avatars for activities like online meetings means that companies may invest in computers more capable of handling 3D graphics, the report suggests. Or employees may turn to their home computers for interacting with virtual environments because home computers are generally more powerful than company-issued machines.
"The upcoming release of Windows 7 should also help this," the report says. "Also helping is the increased use of Apple Mac computers, which have more graphics capability and memory in the base configuration."
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