Using virtual worlds in HR

Written by
Changeboard Team

04 Aug 2010

04 Aug 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Virtual worlds dying a death?

Virtual worlds are online communities where users can socialise, connect and create in real time using voice and chat, represented onscreen by an avatar. They can be 2d or 3d, but 3d virtual worlds provide a far more immersive experience. An obvious example of a 3d virtual world is Second Life, but there are many others that are increasingly used for business including OpenSim and Unity 3D.

Following the media hype surrounding virtual worlds in 2007, mainstream interest has slowly ebbed away and most remember them as places where big brands wasted millions of pounds, creating meaningless virtual marketing spaces which hardly anybody visited.

Used mainly for communicating with consumers, virtual worlds failed so spectacularly because there weren't enough interactions, barriers to entry were too high and it was difficult to reach specific segments of the target market. But, having been adapted by businesses for everyday use, this virtual technology has come into its own as a powerful tool for communication.

Resurgence of virtual worlds in HR?

At the heart of the resurgence of virtual worlds is the HR community, which has championed the technology due to its ability to connect geographically dispersed people in a visually rich and engaging environment.

The recession has also spurred an increase in interest from smaller businesses that have clients or suppliers based across the globe and are seeking ways to collaborate at reduced cost and time. When combined with its multitude of uses, it becomes a very powerful tool indeed.

Case study: BP & Manchester Business School

One of the main attractions of virtual technology is that it can connect staff based in the far corners of the globe in a far more cost-effective and greener way than traditional methods.

We at Corporation Pop continue to work with BP and Manchester Business School to deliver virtual graduation ceremonies through Second Life for the oil companys senior executives, rewarding them for completing a project management programme. Similar to real-world graduations, they come complete with specially designed graduation gowns, lifelike avatars, an academic procession and speeches - the ultimate finale to an e-learning experience.

It would be near impossible for the executives to take part in a traditional awards ceremony as they are spread across several continents. By holding it virtually, we make it possible for them to be rewarded for their achievements with minimal disruption; saving time and money as well as reducing environmental impact.  

Working with BP and Manchester Business School is just one example of how weve seen businesses benefit from virtual technology. IBM, Intel, the NHS,, Diageo, Monster, Unilever and Philips are just a few of the organisations actively engaged and reaping the Benefits.

Using virtual worlds to recruit

While not a replacement for traditional recruitment methods, virtual worlds can help companies interact with a wide geographical pool of perspective employees at little cost.
Professional services company Accenture has dabbled in virtual worlds since 2006. The recruitment team recognised how successful it could be and established a branded careers island in Second Life, which it uses to network with prospective employees, answer candidate questions and meet candidates that recruiters couldnt easily get together with otherwise. It also includes a series of games to engage people and encourage teamwork.

The company has successfully recruited through events held 'in-world' and has found that its recruitment has become more standardised worldwide as people start to use the same processes. Accenture is looking for technology savvy people, so candidates interacting with them virtually are already displaying relevant skills. It also allows the company to gain insight to a persons personality and communication skills. is another company using virtual technology to recruit. Last year it conducted its first virtual job fair which included interviewing in-world; job applicants had access to hiring managers and recruiters based globally. Monster has also recently held a jobs fair virtually, which generated more than 19,000 registrations and had more than 138,000 unique visitors.

How do virtual worlds benefit businesses?

Virtual worlds allow unrivalled levels of interaction between participants. Using voice technology users speak to each other in real-time which, united with the sense of shared location, creates an experience that surpasses any rival video conferencing or chat room facility.

By channelling the creation of private spaces, interaction with scripted objects and integration of external video and audio content, virtual worlds also provide an ideal platform for any kind of one-to-one or one-to-many meeting environment.

We recently heard of the huge cost savings IBM experienced from holding a virtual world conference and annual meeting in-world. Held in a specially designed space for 200 plus participants, the estimated return on investment for the conference was around ??200,000 and the annual meeting was run at around one fifth of the cost of a real life event.

Top tips for getting virtual on Second Life

Using virtual technology for the first time can be a daunting process, but Second Life is a good place to start to learn the basics. To get the best out of your experience, follow these simple steps:

  • Access to Second Life is often blocked by corporate firewalls, speak to your IT manager to check if your company has access.
  • Second Life is simple and free to join, just select a standard avatar and name on their website and by completing your contact details, registration will be complete.    
  • When entering your account its a good idea to have a headset and microphone plugged in to your PC to get a much richer and engaging experience.
  • Get familiar with using your avatar before starting your in-world exploration - it will make things much easier.
  • Finally, make use of the events programme available within Second Life as a good way to understand how to use the technology in a business capacity.

Having familiarised yourself with virtual world environments, you will be able to decide whether to go ahead and create your own workspace or whether to get a specialist involved. Second Life have a searchable database of suppliers; look out for those companies that are on the Gold Solution Providers programme as they have been carefully reviewed and selected.

Virtual technology - the way forward for HR?

Leading IT research company Gartner believes that by 2012, 70% of organisations will be using virtual worlds to support internal collaboration and social interaction in a secure, efficient and cost-effective way. While Gartner may be a little optimistic with its prediction, I believe that within five years well see virtual worlds become an embedded part of many large corporations digital communications tools. 

Lower barriers to entry, a blurring of the line between 2d and 3d virtual worlds and higher quality graphics mean that virtual communication will become evermore intrinsic to daily business.

Virtual technology opens up endless possibilities for the HR community and it just takes one small step to open up a whole new world of Benefits, particularly those that affect the bottom line such as time and cost-effectiveness and return on investment.