Posted by: Peter Quirk | May 4, 2008

The employee-centered virtual workplace

A large open plan newspaper office in Europe
Photo licensed under a Creative Commons License


I have been thinking a lot about my ideal virtual office, influenced by four ideas from different spheres:

  1. My experience with social networks at EMC has shown me how I can develop working relationships with people I would normally never meet, either because of distance, or because they sit in a different silo (business unit), or because they are separated from me by several degrees in the management hierarchy.
  2. A video about the new Microsoft Research Lab building in Redmond introduced me to the idea of buildings being designed for reconfiguration by the employees as needed.
  3. Jon Brouchoud’s presentation on wikitecture, where he identified the ideas of modularity and remixing of design components
  4. Enterprise mashups which allow the user to configure any elements they desire into their user interface

I have started to imagine a workspace where I position near me the offices or desks of people I interact with (or would like to interact with) most frequently. These people are related to me by virtue of their proximity in the hierarchy or matrix, my connections to them through projects, or by our shared interests discovered through social networking. Their avatars would be present if they were online in one mode or another (either in-world, or available through IM or a a voice chat to VoIP bridge). As they went offline or their status changed to Do Not Disturb, their avatars would walk away from their desks, off-stage as it were. The soundscape would include untelligible distant conversations, and optionally printers, photocopiers and other office sounds.

So, inspired by Jon Brouchoud’s wikitecture, this environment would allow me to create a 3D mashup of reusable components (including offices, cubes, desks, and avatars). I envisage a toolset like the wiki-tree containing office-appropriate objects with embedded scripts that tie them them to the communications framework. They might also interact with the social networking fabric to calculate the social graph and position the people automatically. 

This idea is currently Not Possible In Second Life (NPISL) because avatars can’t be replicated or proxied into more than location. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine how I might resolve the conflicts inherent in depicting my manager sitting at her desk when in her view of her virtual world she is standing in the office talking to a passer-by.

The idea could be partially implemented in Croquet using its concept of portals. My simple world might look like a collection of these portals, each looking into the island of another employee. The visual effect would be less pleasing than the idea above, and sounds would not travel through the portal. On the other hand there is no issue with conflicting representations of avatars and their own worlds.

Looking through a portal in CroquetWhatever the implementation, the idea has a certain appeal as way to more closely connect the isolated employee with the enterprise. I believe it’s important to put oneself in the context of the enterprise (or the customer if you’re consulting) in order to make the work experience as immersive as possible.

Let me know if the idea resonates with you, or if you have thoughts on how to resolve the conflicts introduced by multiple independent views of avatars.



  1. […] The employee-centered virtual workplace: “I have started to imagine a workspace where I position near me the offices or desks of people I interact with (or would like to interact with) most frequently.” […]

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