Businesses are already under pressure to manage their reputations on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and analyst firm Gartner has now forecast that their next priority will be to create policies governing employee avatars.
An increasing number of companies are using virtual environments, such as Second Life, to conduct meetings and build contacts in order to reduce the costs associated with bringing staff together in real life.
Gartner has argued that this is likely to affect businesses not only in computing platform requirements, but because virtual staff behaviour will affect how a company's brand is portrayed in the real world.
The analyst firm has predicted that, by the end of 2013, 70 per cent of businesses will have behaviour guidelines and dress codes established for all employees who have avatars associated with their organisation.
"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 Gartner analyst James Lundy.
"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."
Gartner has put together some brief guidelines for organisations to set up such a code. Companies should advise staff on how to use avatars, and hold classes so that employees can master the basics.
The analyst firm also said that staff should have separate avatars for their personal life, and should dress their work avatar in business clothes.
Gartner suggested that pilot testing is the best option for starting to understand the issues that businesses will face with increased avatar adoption, and advised companies to look inside their organisation for users who are familiar with avatars and their use.
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