How Evolving Laws and Workplace Needs are Bringing Companies into Harmony with the Virtual World

The sputtering global economy
could have a silver lining – companies looking to cut travel costs are
turning to the virtual world for more business services than ever. As a reader recently pointed out, this means more than traveling to a meeting in the virtual world instead of trekking across the country. It also means that important training and workforce development projects are finding happy homes in the Metaverse.

As
CNN reports
, companies are increasingly turning to telecommuting
and virtual conferencing in graphical virtual worlds as a means of
shaving costs and remaining competitive in an economy where credit is
still tight and government life preservers are harder to come by. Let's take a look at just how serious this trend is.

Taking the Work Day to the Web

Graphical interfaces like
ActiveWorlds and Second Life have always hosted at least a small
business presence, but few companies have gone so far as to conduct
wide-ranging business dealings through the virtual world. According to
CNN, the corporate winds are changing:

[Linden
Lab's] Enterprise tool will let employees' avatars —
animated alter egos — meet in virtual worlds from the privacy of a
company's own network, rather than the public networks used in standard
Second Life. That extra security could encourage more companies to take
up the technology.

The
ability to collaborate effectively using
virtual tools may now become an increasingly important skill as
technology offers more options than, say, video conferencing.

The move from real to virtual
business communication is larger than just Second Life. Some
forward-thinking companies are even developing their
own virtual business worlds

in the same style as Second Life Enterprise. These are in-house virtual
worlds, so they don't compete directly with Second Life Enterprise, but
the possibility for cross-pollination is an interesting thought.

There are obvious cost benefits to
working in the virtual world that stand out at a time of global
recession and rolling bankruptcy. Travel costs are reduced to zero as
avatars from around the world come together in one central space.

Collaborative projects can be built
and prototyped
in a synthetic space
instead of committing real-world resources.
Information can not only be shared, but manipulated in three dimensions
by an entire meeting.

There
are, of course, very successful non-graphical competitors to the virtual
business model – GoToMeeting
is perhaps the best known
, and its intuitive interface has likely
drawn clients away from virtual environments with higher learning
curves. But one part of the formula remains constant through graphical
virtual meetings and more streamlined voice conferencing – cost
reductions are real.

Of
course, the flexibility of virtual work makes it ideal for companies
spread across continents and time zones, but what about small start-ups
with minimal staff and no international presence? In this case, there is
something even bolder on the horizon.

Pioneered in Vermont to
much acclaim and publicity, many companies are solving the problem of
financing expensive office space by moving
their entire business into the virtual world
. According to a bill
passed in 2008, companies registered in Vermont no longer need physical
addresses or physical incorporation forms. They can register to conduct
business in Vermont entirely through virtual means.

According to an
article by Inc. Magazine
:

Vermont
plans to charge fees of up to $275 a year for each virtual
company registered, with state income taxes applying only to income
generated in Vermont
itself. The hope is to mimic the success of Delaware,
which collects some $700 million a year in incorporation taxes and fees
by offering low taxes, few regulations, and a business-friendly
judicial system.

Pro-business legislation like
this will almost certainly have an impact in Vermont, as small
businesses are freed from the confines of a physical space. No more
expensive office space, desks, water coolers, commutes, or coffee runs.

For $275, a company can market its
real-world product or provide its services from a hub on the Internet. As business loans dry up and
financing is hard to come by
,
moving a business entirely into virtual space could mean the difference
between a promising company folding up or thriving through the
remainder of the global recession.

But what about businesses that are fascinated by the potential for virtual world arms, but aren't ready to shuffle off that physical coil? After all, not everyone can register a business in Delaware. For example, health care firms are (depending on how one reads the recently-passed health care bill) still required to set up shop in the same state where they intend to operate. This puts an emphasis on using virtual job training technology as an addition to the physical workspace. Several hospitals are doing just that.

Nursing in the 'Verse

A growing number of trade schools and professional health organizations are turning to virtual worlds to provide supplementary job training and practice opportunities. For example, Second Life allows medical students specializing in child delivery to
practice in a virtual arena with other real human beings in addition to
the necessary in-hospital experience. Increased training correlates to a
smaller error rate – in this case, a virtual training system yields
real results in the form of fewer delivery complications.

Virtual nursing training is a growing field, as Norfolk State
University's $2.1 million development grant from the U.S. Army Medical
Research Command shows. And what is the goal of this "virtual
interface"? According to the grant announcement:

The
simulation tool is expected to create a realistic, safe, repeatable
training scenario that will help train nurses and other health care
professionals

As we've seen from cases like Norfolk State University and South
Dakota State University's med student training environments,
the
benefits of virtual training are real enough to spur large-scale
academic investment
in Second Life as a learning tool.

The educational film mentioned above is the project of Pooky Amsterdam, a good friend
of this blog and a well-known Second Life filmmaker directing her
considerable virtual talents into improving the real world. She sees the
film as being especially useful to staff wishing to bone-up on their
delivery skills when they may not be in the vicinity of an expectant
mother.

To learn more about virtual midwifing and to watch
a six-minute version of Pooky's educational video
, check out
Metaverse Health, another great policy-oriented blog that tracks the
health-related uses of virtual worlds.


One thought on “How Evolving Laws and Workplace Needs are Bringing Companies into Harmony with the Virtual World”

  1. I did not know that about Vermont — how very interesting! I might have done that with our company had I known about it.
    You asked for input on your most recent article on Twitter — can I say that I enjoy your articles in general!
    But… Having something so generic posted on Twitter, redirected through Facebook, and the brought here is a little annoying. Why not just say, “Please read and comment on my article on [x], http:/bit.ly/_____” instead? I’d rather know the topic and jump directly here.

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