Month: February 2014

Fulfilling the Promise of Virtual Worlds

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Guest blogger Darren Keegan, Director, UK, Tycoon Systems, lets us in on the secret of why businesses have been wary of virtual worlds – and explains why they are missing out. 

At a recent Future of Work Masterclass event I presented on the use of an IndustryMasters business simulation within a bespoke Virtual World named VirBELA. The talk included inworld footage of globally dispersed virtual teams grappling with business issues in a highly-charged competitive environment with the only real difference being that we were watching avatars instead of the people themselves. We heard and were able to watch arresting behaviours such as team conflict, negative and positive body language, exceptional levels of engagement and critical decision making as it happened in-world. All of which had very clear and obvious applications for business use. Which is why the question I was asked almost immediately did not come as a great surprise: “Whatever happened to Second Life?”.

In this article I’ll try to give a more detailed and thoughtful response than I gave at the time, but even there I was able to recognise that the answer had as much to do with what happened to virtual reality and its value to business as it did the progeny of Linden Labs. For further context, it’s worth considering that in Gartner’s 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Virtual Reality still finds itself rooted firmly in “The Trough of Disillusionment” with an expected wait of 5 to 10 years before potentially reaching the “Plateau of Productivity” where mainstream adoption begins. And whilst Second Life’s 10th Anniversary last year was an opportunity to celebrate a marketplace with over 2m virtual goods for sale and revenues of $3.2bn – hardly a failure – its use by business has all but disappeared. So what happened?

Firstly, it is arguable that the very public failure of many virtual world projects has had an arresting influence on its growth. Research has indicated that over 90 percent of corporate virtual world projects failed within 18 months and less than 10 percent of virtual world registrants become active users, figures largely attributed to technology issues with bandwidth requirements, rendering speeds and the stability of virtual world platforms. A more significant yet largely unheralded issue is likely to relate to issues of privacy and security within virtual worlds, where firms simply do not trust them enough to openly discuss or work on sensitive material.

Yet, technology has improved immeasurably in the past decade and many of the issues which beset the first forays into virtual worlds by pioneering companies such as Cisco and IBM have been largely addressed with bespoke and secure platforms such as VirBELA offering further solutions to issues of security. From research across a staggering range of disciplines we know that virtual worlds offer a host of benefits, particularly where team collaboration across multiple geographies is a necessity. With numerous studies accentuating the superiority of virtual worlds over alternative collaboration modes such as videoconferencing, both in terms of cost and bandwidth requirements.

Our own work demonstrates that the missing link here may, in fact, be purpose. Simply put companies have been unsure what use to make of virtual worlds. Now, simulation technology has progressed to the point that almost any business issue can be modelled in an effective way allowing organisations to address issues such as M&A activity, Diversity and Innovation, Talent Management processes and so on. Yet the potential now exists to build models within a virtual world where the environment itself can be leveraged to reflect the themes being discussed. Genuinely global teams can be formed around business issues which resonate with employees in an environment specifically adapted for synchronous and asynchronous use, where geography can no longer be responsible for the distance and dysfunction common to virtual teams. A place where the potential of virtual worlds may finally be realised.

Exploring mega-trends with GEA

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

Earlier this month I was in Dusseldorf delivering one of our new workshop formats for engineering firm GEA – a combination of our latest research, insights from the Future of Work Research Consortium and company-specific data.

GEA holds regular monthly meetings of their senior HR leadership and wanted to initiate discussion about their future HR strategy by preceding one of their meetings with a workshop discussing the mega-trends and how they are impacting GEA, and in particular its HR function. It was a useful opportunity to take time to think about these mega-trends, which affect and drive much of the company’s HR strategy.

The workshop we devised was divided into two parts: a morning session during which we discussed the mega-trends we’ve identified during our research and an afternoon session which applied these trends to GEA and extrapolated the challenges they are likely to face in light of these trends.

The one thing we needed to make the afternoon session work was data on how GEA is currently dealing with major challenges. To obtain this we sent our Future of Work diagnostic to all attendees in advance of the workshop, and invited them to complete it and send it to other members of their teams.

Using this information, we were able to give the attendees three different perspectives on mega-trends: how they will affect the corporate community as a whole; the trends FoW members feel will be most important over the coming two decades; and the trends and challenges GEA considers most important. There were often differences in these data sets: for example, a number of things FoW members thought would be important were less important to GEA. We were then able to examine this at a deeper level and encourage attendees to consider the reasons for the different perspectives, weighing up whether their industry make some issues less relevant than others, or whether there are some trends to which they need to pay more attention.

The real value of this for GEA is that we were able to give them access to what we know about trends and help them apply it to their current challenges and to a specific rather than speculative future.

We’re hoping to run some more of these workshops over the coming months – contact tina@hotspotsmovement.com if you’d like to learn more.

Five insights on engagement

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

We had a busy start to the week as we hosted our Engagement 2.0 masterclass in London. It was a diverse event offering a wide range of perspectives on the topic, so towards the end of the day, we asked our delegates to think about – and then share – the key insights they were going to take away. Here are the top five…

  1. The link between engagement and performance

    In her keynote, Lynda pointed out that the popularity of engagement surveys is based on the belief that measuring engagement is a way of measuring performance. But some recent research suggests that low performers can be highly engaged and high performers disenfranchised. If this is true, and engagement isn’t as reliable an indicator of performance as previously thought, what does that mean for the future of the engagement survey? And, what are the implications of tying managers’ bonuses to engagement scores?

  2. Is HR ready for Big Data?

    There’s no doubt that Big Data holds a lot of promise. Guest speaker Guy Halfteck gave us his perspective on the potential of Big Data has to help companies identify the best talent for each role. Guy’s company, Knack, uses gaming to generate real-time data about people’s skills that can predict an individual’s performance in a role. But, as one of the videos we commissioned with Central Saint Martin’s highlighted, there is still a lot of work for companies to do when it comes to ensuring they are extracting the most relevant data and interpreting it correctly.

  3. Appreciating diversity

    One thing our delegates were concerned about was how to customise engagement approaches to reflect diversity. While organisations have traditionally focused on adapting their offerings based on gender, race, disability and other visible indicators, our members felt that diversity ran deeper and that truly customised approaches must now reflect life stages and aspirations.

  4. Renegotiating the employee/employer relationship

    The workers of the future won’t be looking for a “permanent” role – they’ll be looking to organisations to add to their career portfolio by providing them with opportunities that will help build their own personal brand. In light of this, how can organisations prepare themselves to renegotiate the deal? How can they create portable credentials that employees can transfer into their next role?

  5. Managing intangible assets

    As our recent newsletter highlighted, health and wellbeing is at the forefront of many workers’ minds. At the masterclass, it was pointed out that in the days when jobs were for life, employers took care of employee health and wellbeing – a priority that fell by the wayside as careers models shifted. The big question is how organisations can re-integrate health and wellbeing into their outlook given that in future employees will be on the scene for a few years at most.

And finally…We all need more sleep!

One of Lynda’s key take-aways from Davos was the need for a solid eight hours’ sleep. Lack of sleep causes poor decision-making, poor health, and can even trigger conditions such as Alzheimer’s. But does anyone but the most eccentric of senior executives have the opportunity to take a nap in the middle of the day? One of our delegates said their company encourages naps – and perhaps in future this practice should become more widespread.