Virtual welcome for firm's recruits

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The Independent Online
After the paperless office and the golden hello, a firm of accountants has dreamed up the next stage in technology: the virtual welcome.

New recruits to Morton Thornton, based in St Albans, Hertfordshire, will in future be shown around the three-floor building without leaving their desks - and without taking up the valuable, fee-paying time of other members of staff.

The new virtual-reality tour, which will replace the day-long induction programme that the firm used to offer to its recruits, will also include a guide to the town's cathedral, and pubs.

"It gives you a guided tour in which you can start outside the front door of the practice and 'walk' through the front door and all over the building," said Christopher Lowe, a partner in the 70-strong firm.

The guided tour takes the form of movies in which the user can control the speed and direction of travel. The pictures were collected from digitised camera and video films made on the premises.

But the program's usefulness extends much further. "It can show you pictures of key people in the organisation, and explain procedures such as how to handle clients on the phone, or how to claim expenses."

The pressure for replacing the personal touch with the personal computer did not come from previous recruits, Mr Lowe said. Instead, it was the drive for profitability.

"We were looking at cost structures, and training is expensive, costing up to pounds 70 per hour," he said. "We wanted to get the best value from it. There is a cost-saving in doing it this way."

Rather than tying up a senior partner - who might have to use valuable chargeable time on telling a recruit where the photocopier is - the CD- ROM based product will be able to point the way and save the firm thousands of pounds annually.