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Monday, May 12, 2008

Where Global means Virtual

It's not always easy to get new employees to mix well with co-workers—especially when they're scattered across the globe or speak different languages. Few companies know this as well as IBM (IBM), the computer services provider that last year alone added 20,000 new staff members, many from Brazil, China, India, and Russia.

But IBM may have found a way to overcome new employees' geographic and cultural barriers. When the Armonk (N.Y.) company can't get recent hires to mingle in person, it has them interact virtually, using the same kind of 3D technology that runs virtual worlds such as Linden Lab's Second Life. "It makes you want to start relationships," says Chuck Hamilton, manager of new media and learning at IBM@Play, a division that uses social media to foster collaboration. "People who are farther away—this is especially true of people who are not American-centric—get the feeling that they're not isolated."

Using software from Activeworlds, IBM builds virtual work spaces that let workers in far-flung regions use avatars, or graphic representations of themselves, to handle such tasks as rehearsing presentations or learning about employee benefits. The experimentation puts IBM in the vanguard of companies that, having tested the limits of marketing in such online environments as Second Life, are now infiltrating virtual worlds to tackle a range of other activities, from meetings to collaboration, from training to employee recruiting.

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