Maybe the craze for playing with avatars has subsided, but some believe that they could become a fixture in the workplace over the next few years.

Nigel Moulton, Chief Technology Officer EMEA for communications company Avaya, says it can encourage people to work together better than when they're face to face.

Avaya has been staking a claim in the market over the past 15 months with AvayaLive Engage, a platform for virtual environments in which users interact with each other through avatars. An organisation can create the environment, and employees can create their virtual characters to cut the hassle of getting together in a particular office.

Moulton is a cheerleader for the technology, saying that the virtual environment reduces inhibitions that often appear in the physical workplace.

"We find people collaborate more naturally in a virtual environment than the real world," he says. "There seems to be less of a barrier to collaborating."

There are some informal rules that are best followed: for example, people should create avatars that do not look greatly different to their real world appearance, and dressing the avatar in line with the type of meeting taking place.

Nigel Moulton
Moulton: 'fewer barriers to collaborating'

Moulton says the technology provides a flexible platform for meetings. It's possible to hold conversations, provide presentations and show videos to participants, and they can interact with virtual objects, such as carrying out tasks and downloading written materials.

Avaya itself has used it extensively in training, in which a range of digital resources can be brought into the process.

So far it has been used largely by larger companies, which have been able to show a return on the capital investment through the travel savings. But Moulton says that service providers are making it available on a pay per use model better suited to smaller firms.

Some smaller companies are using it to work with partners on specific projects, and set up communities of interest in which they can deal with shared problems.

"If you project forwards 18 to 24 months I think you will see people begin to more broadly embrace these virtual worlds," Moulton says. "This notion that I attend a meeting through my browser will become more commonplace."