If you're like me, the people with whom you work are all over the place. So how do you get the job done? You have some traditional tools: phone calls, email, audio and video conferencing, web presentation tools. You have new tools such as Unified Communications and telepresence if you're lucky enough and the people are in the right place.
Do these cover all aspects of how work is done? I would suggest no.
Think about the last time you had an on-site team meeting with your virtual team. Surely you had a kick off by the team leader, maybe some workshops (typically split between presentation and dialog modes) and lots of side discussions (in the back of the room, in the hallway, over coffee).
Where did the value come from? Some from the kickoff and workshop presentations... lots from the workshop dialogs, coffee breaks and side discussions. And what about the value of bumping into someone with the critical knowledge you need?
Does UC address these capabilities? Only partially. For group discussions, UC unifies audio or video conferencing, but these turn to noise during coffee breaks! Side discussions can be done in a limited way via IMs- a poor substitute for having a rich verbal interaction with a peer.
So what's the answer?
Enterprise-grade virtual reality solutions that incorporate avatars tagged with employee directory information (name, photo, role), integrated with UC and other business-oriented collaboration tools, and with business processes. This environment supports presentation, group discussions and ad hoc side meeting, the latter two enhanced by 3D audio, which allows two or more people in close virtual proximity to have private side discussions... just like real life.
Is virtual reality a reality for business? It soon will be from Nortel. We just announced our development of web.alive (part of our CTO Innovation Program), and our acquisition of 3D audio expertise and technology from DiamondWare. Web.alive is a software application accessible from a standard browser. You invoke its capabilities when it makes sense to better get the job done.
I've used web.alive and it delivers on our vision for unified communications and beyond. Very neat, simple and effective.