Al Schmidt, on the AllCollaboration LinkedIn Forum, pointed to an interesting article from CNN titled Going to the Virtual Office in Second Life. Second Life, for those new to the concept, is an online virtual world where people can meet up, interact, and transact. Some businesses have joined Second Life to promote their brands and interact with customers in new ways.
Applying this model to collaboration is an intriguing experiment, and many of the beta users are companies known for their support for collaboration and for continuously testing new models. It will be interesting to see if this tool will break down some of the barriers when people work remotely and never or rarely get a chance to meet in person.
Based on my past experience, my "gut" estimate of the half-life of a face-to-face relationship is roughly 6 months. That means that people who meet face-to-face only twice a year are twice as likely to misread the intentions of other remote workers or step on other people's toes in the course of a collaboration project. Such miscues result in lost time to repair interpersonal damage and heal bruised egos. And the risk of incidents double every 6 months without some good face-to-face bonding.
It will be interesting to learn whether a virtual community such as this can inject more personal interactions and stretch the half-life of relationships, to make remote collaboration more productive without having more frequent (and costly) face-to-face meetings.