Avatars in the Enterprise: It’s complicated, but here are three recommendations for organizations

Dirk Songuer
8 min readMar 28, 2023


In 2020 many organizations had to switch to a remote working model due to the COVID pandemic. Personal meetings were replaced by remote meetings and day-to-day interactions by digital collaboration tools.

While remote work is now a viable option in many organizations, there is a desire to increase presence in remote teams to foster personal relationships and understanding. Enterprise collaboration tools are already adding Metaverse capabilities like avatars, spatial meeting rooms and 3D asset management to their solutions as a result. As many organizations already use these tools, they will get access to the new Metaverse functionalities as well.

This Metaverse in the enterprise is about utilizing highly immersive communication and collaboration tools to better enable people in an organization, bringing them together through a feeling of presence, fostering personal relationships and understanding.

That all sounds great, but when it comes to avatars in the enterprise, things can get complicated.

Why Avatars in enterprise are complicated

When I talk about avatars, I mean the representation of a person in virtuality. Such representations are highly context sensitive, just as in real life: People present themselves differently at work than they do at home, with family, or with friends. Their “Instagram personality” is different than their “work personality” and they rarely transfer their personality between contexts.

It’s socially expected behavior to display (and omit) certain aspects of identity based on different contexts.

Even within an organization people might be mindful of which “work circles” they bring together and how they act within them. They represent themselves differently in front of their manager than together with co-workers or talking to the owner of the company.

This means that users will need more than one representation of themselves, which they use in different contexts.

Avatars at work will need to reflect different work contexts [Credit: Midjourney]

In a work context there will also be specific explicit and implicit expectations around avatars, based on the employer. For example, the company dress codes in real life may transfer into the digital space as well.

Do not fall into the trap of “the Metaverse being a whimsical space with new rules” — this is about people representing a brand that has deliberate values and expectations. In real life, people representing the brand will need to do so according to brand guidance. Digital brand representatives, like websites, apps, and digital products, also need to reflect these values. There might be slight variations based on the medium, but overall, brand representation needs to be coherent and recognizable — even in the Metaverse.

Depending on the brand, these might not be ok as work avatars [Credit: Midjourney]

As work is considered part of real life, some social norms will also automatically transfer over into the virtual space, shaping expectations around “socially acceptable representation”.

This is especially true for representing physical properties. In a work context, the default assumption is that sex, age, ethnicity, height, body shape is directly transferred — or at least that the avatar reflects an abstraction of the actual properties.

This is not a technical limitation, as users would be able to just as easily generate an avatar that is different than their physical properties. With avatars every external attribute is changeable and merely temporary. They are all completely fluid.

However, choosing a female avatar as a male employer might lead to irritation. Choosing an African American presenting avatar as a Caucasian male might be considered digital blackfacing / cultural appropriation.

Beyond misrepresentation, if the goal is to foster personal relationships and understanding between remote co-workers, how would that even work when people use unrecognizable, alien forms and shapes as avatars? Or the other extreme: When all look alike?

Depending on the social norms, these might not be ok as work avatars [Credit: Midjourney]

Then again, every organization is different and what is ok for one might be an absolute no-go for others. So don’t expect a general “Avatar etiquette” to emerge anytime soon. This very much depends on the organization and regional social norms.

This is a stark difference between an Enterprise Metaverse, where the focus is on representation and recognition, and a Consumer Metaverse, where the focus is on identity exploration and individuality. Again, this mirrors the real world, where certain behaviors that are ok in private are not acceptable in work environments.

Also note that representation is not stable in time. People age, but besides that they might also change their physical appearance, either deliberately or involuntarily. This includes changing their hair, style of clothes, to things like temporary or permanent disabilities. Somebody now requiring glasses, prosthetics, or a wheelchair should be represented in virtuality as well.

Physical properties frequently change for people [Credit: Midjourney]

Just be aware that digital representation in virtuality is a lot of work for organizations. Yes, it is only “some virtual characters running around on screen, like in games,” but in a work context, there is a clear link to reality, with associated social and organizational norms and expectations.

To navigate this complexity, here are three recommendations to get you started.

Recommendation 1: Take what you have, then adapt

As a first step, it is a good baseline to transfer the physical into virtuality as-is. That means trying to “virtualize” people as closely as possible to their physical properties, add all real-world organizational guidance and expectations, then adapt.

Your organization already has rules and guidance around representation and behavior, explicit and implicit. This goes for physical things like people, spaces, and other “embodiments” of the brand, as well as digital things like websites, social profiles, and so on. Collect everything, from your dress code guidance, to meeting rules, to coffee etiquette, to brand visual identity, to style books.

Then try to think how all this would look in virtuality. Do you really think that the meeting rules should be different when people meet in a physical meeting room vs. a virtual one? Do you think it’s ok that they suddenly wear pajamas instead of office casual? Most of these things will just transfer 1:1.

But you might want to change specific things. In this case you need to be deliberate about the differences in virtuality: You need to tell people that pajamas are ok for their avatar, even though they are not ok in the actual office. Otherwise, people will automatically fall back to the real-world rules.

There needs to be a clear set of guidelines about what a user can and cannot do with their avatars. Create simple rules around: “This is ok, this is not ok”. Think of your corporate identity / logo guidelines.

Create simple avatar style guides [Credit: Midjourney]

Recommendation 2: Formalize avatar creation

An important question is: Who creates the avatars?

If you leave avatar creation to your employees, you need to be aware that (assuming your organization is not a design studio) not everybody is a designer. No matter how easy to use, how accessible and how delightful the avatar creator is: A significant amount of people will not use it. Mandating that “everybody has to do it” will either just lead to people using the default avatars or to a lot of (official or unofficial) support requests to “help me get the computer person thingy to look like me”.

However, there are tools to create baseline models from profile pictures, which are a good start. They can help to customize the default avatar while still offering customization to interested users. Most enterprise Metaverse suites will either have that feature or allow avatars to be imported from such tools.

If that is not an option, consider creating avatars centrally. Yes, depending on your organization’s size you might need dedicated resources, but you can integrate the task into the standard employee onboarding process. Just like adding the employees profile picture to their company profile, this provides large organizations with consistency and scale, assuming that avatar creation experts will always be faster than even experienced users.

However, keep in mind that users might not be happy with their representation. And that representation is never time stable. So even then, such centrally created avatars can only be a starting template that users can ideally style and change themselves later.

Avatar creation is never trivial, no matter how good the tool is [Credits: Midjourney & EVE Online]

Recommendation 3: Leave room for discussion

As people explore their identity and representations in virtual dimensions, it will be hard for them to disentangle reality. Instinctively they will bring a lot of cultural and social subtext from reality into these virtual environments.

This will range from social norms to stereotypes and biases. What will happen to current societal discussions like gender fluidity if they now include an environment where every physical property is completely fluid?

There are also generational differences. Some generations might perceive changing skin color and ethnic attributes as cultural appropriation while other generations won’t even understand the problem as video games have taught them that avatar skin color is simply an RGB value you can change at any time.

All of this is important and must be respected. You might not like the ensuing discussions, but you also cannot avoid them. As a result, it is recommended to create a dedicated, internal forum for discussion. And of course, monitor and moderate it accordingly.

Ideally this extends into a governance model that includes a diverse set of people across the organization, representing all ages, genders, cultural backgrounds, and levels. The goal is to actively aggregate and discuss the concerns of the community and to then shape organization-wide rules and guidelines.

This can be extended into a Responsible Metaverse initiative for your organization, looking into concerns like Metaverse security, safety, accessibility, and equitability, as they apply to the organization.

After all, your Metaverse is inhabited by your people — and you don’t want to leave anyone behind.

Your Metaverse is populated by your people [Credit: Midjourney]


Avatars are a representation of your employees in virtuality. They are your people, in all their complexity. While the virtual representation might be a simplified abstraction, the people behind the pixels are still the same.

Likewise, your organization in virtuality is still the same, with the same brand values, goals, and conventions.

In short, here is the list of recommendations:

  1. Transfer the physical into virtuality as-is. “Virtualize” your organization, including all guidelines, rules, customs, and rituals based on what you have. Represent your people as closely as possible to their physical properties. Then adapt.
  2. Formalize avatar creation in a way that is manageable and scalable for your organization, but also gives individuals the opportunity to express themselves in different contexts.
  3. Actively aggregate and discuss the concerns of the community to then shape organization-wide rules and guidelines, also looking into concerns like Metaverse security, safety, accessibility, and equitability, as they apply to the organization.

Again, do not fall into the trap of “the Metaverse being a whimsical space with new rules that is separate from reality” —the whole point of using the Metaverse in the enterprise is to enable real people in a real organization to work better together on real-world problems. Nothing about this is separate and it requires just as much thought and governance as everything else in your organization.



Dirk Songuer

Living in Berlin / Germany, loving technology, society, good food, well designed games and this world in general. Views are mine, k?