The ARCH


Exodus to the Virtual Workplace, Part 1

Virtual Workplace

[see also part 2 and part 3]

I’m often asked if it is actually possible to make a living practicing virtual architecture in Second Life. As it turns out, I have indeed become quite a virtual Bedouin lately, and have been lucky enough to derive an equal or greater income working in Second Life than I could ever earn in real life practice. However, virtual consulting isn’t immune to the inevitable ‘feast or famine’ phenomenon real life practitioners face, and I still enjoy balancing virtual work with real-life practice.

As common as this might sound to thousands of others who also work virtually, it can be a shocking, perhaps unbelievable reality to the uninitiated. It certainly took some getting used to, and tuning in to the process and methodology of virtual work has been an unusual experience, to say the least. However, it has shed light on the potential for virtual interaction with clients and colleagues in ways I would never have understood any other way. I write plenty about virtual architecture itself, but there is as much to be said about the roll of the virtual experience itself.

To start with, there is something almost magical about virtual interaction and embodiment. Once the learning curve is behind you and the interface fades from the forefront of your consciousness, the experience can become incredibly immersive and engaging. It doesn’t take long before you achieve the sense of actually existing ‘inside’ a space with other people present, though you may be thousands of miles apart. This sense of presence and enhanced communication are key characteristics of the virtual environment that lead me to believe, with increasing confidence, that virtual workplaces are absolutely right for virtual worlds.

I’ll step even farther out on that limb and suggest that, of all the growing markets in virtual worlds, I think the advent of a truly virtual workplace will have the most immediate and far reaching impact on the shape and quantity of the physical architecture that has traditionally supported it. Everyone knows that kid-worlds and entertainment are the next big thing for virtual worlds, but when it comes to the impact virtual worlds will have on physical architecture, the real world workplace is in for a major face-lift, imho. Of course, it will be the continuation of an existing trend toward remote workplaces, but I believe we can expect to see an even more dramatic transformation in the workplace architecture of the real world in the (near) future.

I definitely cannot claim to be any kind of authority on the subject of workplaces, but working virtually with clients and colleagues on a regular basis has been quite illuminating. I’ve also done my best to track advances in the virtual worlds and their affect on real-life architecture for several years now, since devoting my Master’s Thesis in Architecture to the subject. I even had the opportunity to help design and build a fairly comprehensive virtual workplace for a company using Second Life to augment (and at times replace) their real life offices while working at Clear Ink. The success of these efforts has been mixed, but I’ve certainly learned a lot, and have never been more sure of the value virtual workplaces can bring to any organization.

As is the case with just about everything I read (and write) about virtual worlds, there will be some that yawn at this proposition, knowing full well this is going to happen (or is already happening). Yet others will dismiss the idea as total lunacy. Such dichotomies are the stuff of life on the virtual frontier, I suppose – but I’ll go on with my manifesto nevertheless, in case anyone is still reading. 😉

We can see that workplaces are already in the process of total reinvention in the wake of the telephone and 2D web, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in the process. The new lexicon describing the ‘teleworker’ phenomenon brought us words like office-pooling, JIT spaces, hoteling, and hot-desking – words that have boomed and faded then boomed again. These workplace transformations continue to impact workplace design and are doing so in an alarmingly brief space of time. The transformation isn’t limited to the office either, it is also changing our homes. As more people begin working from home, many remote workers have been forced to re-think their residential space, converting dining rooms and basements into home offices, or building additions to support these new space requirements. This is nothing new. The advent of remote working is already transforming physical architecture in a big way.

As the web extends into a third dimension, I think it is safe to assume we will see a similar transformation resulting from the advent of the 3D virtual workplace that will require new kinds of spaces, and new terminology. Some of it will borrow and build on existing trends, but this time around, the added dimension will require us not only to examine the impact on the physical workplace, but to also consider the architecture of the virtual ‘places’ as well. The current generation of teleworking challenged technologists, graphic designers and web developers to examine how web-based 2D communication channels can assist remote workers, but what will happen, and who will be called upon, when the virtual workplace transforms from a 2D page into a 3D place?

Having worked on several real-life facility planning projects, I have seen firsthand the amount of time and money companies need to spend in the development of the most efficient and appropriate office environment. Teams of in-house managers, architects, interior designers and facility consultants are brought in to carefully examine existing work-flow patterns, team structures, traffic movement, impromptu social habits and more. Designing an efficient workplace requires the team to carefully consider each of these characteristics, interview key staff members, and design a new workplace that is right for the organization. A well crafted crafted workplace is designed to accommodate and reinforce the organization’s core goals and values. I think, as an architect of the virtual world, it would be wise to start borrowing from this process and employing the same comprehensive research and design methodology to the 3D virtual workplace, finding ways in which virtual architecture can also serve to reinforce a company’s values and encourage efficiency.

In the next post, I’ll examine some of the benefits and catalysts I think will contribute to the growth of the virtual workplace. I’ll follow up with some of the characteristics and opportunities of virtual environments that I think are worth considering when developing a virtual workplace.

This post’s title was inspired by Edward Castronova’s insightful book ‘Exodus to the Virtual World.’

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6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Nice post, will be interested to read more. 🙂

Comment by Rez

[…] I have established a viable case for the 3D virtual workplace in post 1 and 2, what about the actual planning, design and virtual architecture required to support it? What […]

Pingback by Exodus to the Virtual Workplace, Part 3 « The ARCH

i am very interested in this area particularly the aspects of creating enterprise workflow applications which can/will/do exist.

Comment by n8k99

[…] Exodus to the Virtual Workplace, Part 1 « The ARCH Exodus to the Virtual Workplace, Part 2 « The ARCH Exodus to the Virtual Workplace, Part 3 « The ARCH […]

Pingback by [put title here] » Blog Archive » Links for Today

[…] of everyone working together in the same ‘place’. I’ve written more about that here, here and […]

Pingback by Tips for Establishing a Presence in Second Life « The ARCH

[…] of everyone working together in the same ‘place’. I’ve written more about that here, here and […]

Pingback by The ARCH Network » Blog Archive » Tips for Establishing a Presence in Second Life




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