Businesses should introduce online dress codes for Avatars used by their staff at Work, the IT analyst Gartner said today.
Avatars are creeping into business environments and will have far reaching implications for businesses, from policy to dress code, behaviour and computing platform requirements, it said.
The company predicts that by year-end 2013, 70 per cent of businesses will have behaviour guidelines and dress codes established for all employees who have avatars associated with the organisation.
Avatars are two- or-three dimensional objects that usuallyu resemble a human and are often animated and controlled remotely by a person in a virtual or 3-D internet environment. In a business setting they are used as visual representations of people, the firm said.
"As the use of virtual environments for business purposes grows, businesses need to understand how employees are using avatars in ways that might affect the business or the business's reputation," said James Lundy, managing vice president at Gartner.
"We advise establishing codes of behaviour that apply in any circumstance when an employee is acting as a company representative, whether in a real or virtual environment. Addendums, specific to virtual environments can be added as required."
Gartner has identified six guidelines that organisations can follow to make the best use of avatars:
1.Help users learn to control their avatars. For most people, controlling and using an avatar is not viewed as intuitive or easy, but like any skill, after a few sessions a user can master the basics.
2. Recognise that users will have a personal affinity with their avatar. Users often take pride in their avatar and dress them up or down. Establish a dress codes if the avatar is being used for company business.
3. Educate users on the risks and responsibilities of reputation management. Organisations can avoid problems with employees mixing their personal and professional avatar interaction and activities by suggesting that employees use one avatar for their work interactions and another avatar for personal activities.
4. Extend the code of conduct to include avatars in 3-D virtual environments. Just as with social networking sites and individual web pages where employees participate as representatives of their employer, an avatar's behaviour and appearance are a reflection of the individual and the company they work for.
5. Explore the business case for avatars. Justifying avatar use in a business setting is becoming easier, in part because avatar use is gaining wider acceptance. Training and virtual meetings are the top use cases, and one of the main reasons for the increased use of avatars is cost.
6. Encourage employees to use Avatars and run corporate pilots. Web meetings are emerging as an important new use case for virtual environments, and this may be a good point at which to start learning about the issues and opportunities surrounding users and avatars.