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Face Time?

Managing employees in Second Life.

Last November, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano stood on the steps of Beijing's Forbidden City and addressed 7,000 IBM employees as a virtual representation of himself. He then took questions from employees, who were represented by their own avatars. Think The Sims, only in a corporate setting.

Could this work for your growing business? A company with 40 employees can likely shell out at least $5,000 for a basic but permanent Second Life meeting space and possibly pay someone to create and maintain the space.

The ability of a virtual venue to keep employees' attention may well offset the cost. "It creates an interesting element of a meeting that you wouldn't have otherwise," says John Beck, president of The Attention Company, a consulting and executive training firm.

To get the most out of virtual meetings, analyze if employees are tech-savvy enough to plug into the concept and enjoy it. If you do go ahead with a meeting, your company can create avatars for less tech-savvy employees. You'll also have to set some ground rules, like how to make sure employees got the gist of the meeting (a follow-up summary e-mail is one way).

If avatars seem far-out, keep an eye on teleconferencing, as companies like Hewlett-Packard and Cisco create better products that put both sides in sync.

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This article was originally published in the June 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Face Time?.

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