22 April 2010

[Literature] Productivity and play in organizations

In Productivity and play in organizations by Hansen et al. (2009) are described the reactions of executives when asked about using virtual worlds (VW) for their business. Hansen et al. analyzed 25 business executive written reports after they had spent some time evaluating Second Life as a valuable platform for companies. 7 sensible topics have been extracted from the reports by the researchers.

In the context of virtual worlds, productivity can have very broad and different meanings depending on who is producing, who is getting benefits from the production, what is created, and so on. Hence the researchers narrow and explain their definition of productivity: they try to answer the question In what ways can virtual worlds enhance the operation of everyday organizations?. In other terms, they look for productivity as measured through … revenue generation and cost control. Asking executives their opinion was important for this study for two reasons. First, executives are the ones who are effectively in charge of revenue generation and cost control. Second, they are instrumental in the adoption and appropriation of such a technology by the company because they are the ones who decide of using a VW or not.

The methodology followed by Hansen et al. deals with analyzing the reflection papers produced by MBA students and extract the key information from them. The first phase of their analysis was a grounded-theory-oriented comparison of the reports to identify patterns (open-coding). After having had a sense of the overall content, they started to gather the arguments in favor and against the use of VW for business (selective-coding).

Seven tensions, or points of disagreements between respondents, were identified. I replaced some of the cells of table 2 given in the article to illustrate the arguments in favor and against the use of Second Life for business.

Tension In favor Against
Popularity 40,000 residents at any given time Residents not in the business-oriented locations, Web2.0 social websites have 100M+ users
First-mover Get used to SL now for long-term benefits The SL phenomenon is slowing down, we wait for more robust VW platforms
Demographic Young and tech savvy Geekiness, social awkwardness
Anonymity Honest and uninhibited information Trust issues & misinformation
Sociality VW brings more social presence than other electronic media Limited social cues
Experience Immersion & 3D prototyping Lack of authenticity
Social Benefit Freedom (virtual tourism, expression) and therapy Dehumanizing

These tensions have also been cross-tabulated with the business application they affected: marketing and brand awareness, training and distance learning, meetings and collaboration, product innovation and testing, recruitment and interviewing, and virtual tours. Marketing and organizational training were the two domains where VW could bring the most valuable help to businesses. However, respondents recognized that marketing in the context of VW is very recent and requires particular skills the company does not always have. Community marketing, a new skill of the community manager?

In the last decade, the business press has been split in two sides: those who say VW are the future, and the careful, more conservative ones. Based on a CMC approach, Hansen et al. remark that lack of control and depersonalization are the two main concerns with the use of VW for businesses. In the light of previous CMC works, the reluctance to use VW may decrease as familiarity with the medium increases. However, VW provide synchronicity and 3D graphics, affordances unseen in older electronic media such as email or forums. Research has a role to play in determining if previous CMC results still apply to VW.

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