Consumer-friendly technologies like Web-based e-mail and instant messaging, Twitter and Facebook have all brought compliance challenges, with companies typically reacting after something has gone wrong. With virtual environments and meetings, however, companies can get ahead of the trend, setting guidelines and preferred platforms before employees start adopting their own. Enterprise-class platforms like Teleplace and ProtoSphere allow companies to control when new users are created and what areas they can access, and set such rules as dress standards for avatars and how to decommission avatars when employees leave the company. In addition, all content in the virtual environment is approved by the company, and often can be integrated with corporate directories, document repositories and work flow systems.

Web-based teleconferencing platforms for business users, like Cisco Systems’ TelePresence for face-to-face meetings and WebEx for desktop sharing and telephone conferencing, offer advantages over consumer alternatives.

“Many of Cisco’s virtual collaboration products offer customers the ability to record and archive meetings,” says Roger Biscay, treasurer at Cisco.

Companies need to take a look at their bylaws, says Tre Critelli, an attorney with Des Moines-based Critelli Law who specializes in virtual environments. For example, some companies require that their boards meet face-to-face to conduct business-and a virtual meeting or teleconference may not qualify.

“If a decision is made in a virtual world, when the members are not in a physical office, and that decision is later challenged, the courts may void that decision,” Critelli says.

Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell points out that firms should take the guidelines they already have–codes of conduct, ethics guidelines and e-mail policies–and extend them to include virtual environments.

“For our emergency response training program for the City of New York, we make city workers who participate read and click accept on a simple, straightforward rules of engagement statement before they start the training program,” says Anders Gronstedt, head of virtual worlds consultancy the Gronstedt Group.

The consultancy has held meetings in the virtual world Second Life for more than three years without problems, he says, but many clients now have moved from ReactionGrid to the more enterprise-friendly Jibe platform, which can create a single self-contained world for each client with easy browser access and allows for saving of chat logs and audio recordings of meetings.

For more on companies’ use of virtual worlds, see Virtual Meeting Rush.