A new Way of Working, in Virtual Reality

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Virtual reality
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In the new world of ‘hybrid’ working, where people can work from the office, from home, or just from anywhere, there is a risk of feeling disconnected from your co-workers. Sure, we all have multiple Teams meetings during a day, but that doesn’t bring a sense of ‘being together’, does it?

So how do we really work together while working from different locations?

​​​​​​​Many, including myself, think ‘Virtual Reality’ is the answer to that question, because virtual reality makes it possible to talk to co-workers, collaborate with them, socialise with them just like in real life, while being miles apart from each other, by being in the same virtual space.

Meetings in Virtual Reality

Instead of going into a physical meeting room or office space and talk to your co-workers, you can all enter a virtual meeting room from anywhere, and interact with each other, just like in real life. Unlike a Teams meeting, having a meeting in Virtual Reality really gives you a sense of presence, being together in the same room.

When you look at the image below, which is from a virtual meeting room in the ‘Horizon Workrooms’ application, you might think that it all looks too cartoonish and wonder about how anybody can take this seriously. Well, sure, currently virtual environments still look rather simple or cartoonish, but that’s not really an issue when you are in virtual reality, ‘Immersion’ is the keyword here.

You have to remember that you are not looking at this from a ‘Teams meeting’ perspective, you ARE one of the persons (or avatars as they are called) in that meeting, when you look to your left you are looking at the person sitting across you on the left, and when you look right you are looking at the person across you on the right, just like you would in real life.

 

Virtual reality

 

Presenting in Virtual Reality

Organising meetings in a virtual meeting room isn’t the only option you have in Virtual Reality. How would you like to do a (PowerPoint) presentation for a group of people sitting in front of you instead of showing your presentation in Teams meeting?

Why would you, you ask? Well, for one thing, being together in the same (virtual) room will create a more interactive environment, like when doing a real in-person presentation.

Virtual reality

You can stand in front of the presentation screen, use your arms to point at something on the screen, and when you face the room you see everybody looking at you and at the screen. When somebody asks a question, you even hear the direction the sound is coming from, so you can look at that person asking the question, and give back an answer, exactly like you would in real life.

 

Other experiences

Of course, Virtual Reality can offer much more than just a virtual meeting or collaboration room, for example: ​​

  • Using virtual reality for teambuilding purposes. For example, by playing a game of (virtual) ping pong with colleagues in other cities, countries or continents.
  • Having an informal ‘Catching up’ meeting with a co-worker during a game of (virtual)minigolf.
  • Hosting your regular informal ‘Coffee corner’ meetings within your department in a nice virtual reality setting instead of a Teams meeting.
  • Doing some focused work with multiple large (virtual) monitors wirelessly connected to your work PC.

The downside of Virtual Reality

A downside of Virtual Reality is the hardware that is needed for the full Virtual Reality experience. Apart from the need to purchase Virtual Reality headsets for everybody, the biggest downside is perhaps the fact that you need to strap that piece of hardware to your face.

Virtual reality

Virtual Reality and the necessary equipment are still in their infancy, the hardware is getting better and smaller every day, but it is still something that needs to be strapped to your face.

There are also ‘AR (Augmented Reality) glasses’, these are ‘regular’ glasses’ with integrated screens which enable you to see ‘virtual images’. For example, using AR glasses (like the ‘HoloLens’) you can sit at a physical table while you see a virtual person projected at the other end of the table.

​​​​​​​Another ‘drawback’ is perhaps doing Virtual Reality meetings in a hybrid way, meaning that some people are in a virtual meeting room, while others join the meeting in a regular fashion with their webcam.

While people who are in the same (virtual) room together really feel connected to each other, the people joining the meeting remotely might feel not really being part of the meeting, but just ‘listening in’. This is not something specific to Virtual Reality, when you have an in-person meeting at the office, while others join the meeting through Teams, they will probably feel the same.

Meetings where everybody is in the same room, either in real life or in Virtual Reality, is in my opinion still the best option.

 

Microsoft and Virtual Reality

Currently, Microsoft is working on ‘Microsoft Mesh for Teams’, which should enable us to go into an ‘immersive mode’ within a Teams meeting, where you can take part in the meeting from a virtual environment, even while others have joined the meeting using the Teams client on their laptop.

Some things I would like to see in Microsoft Teams are:

  • The ability to create a persistent Virtual Reality workroom in every Teams environment, much like Horizon Workrooms, so that people in a Teams Environment can easily collaborate with each other, or work on their PC from within the virtual environment
  • Display Teams applications in Virtual Reality, for example, displaying a Planner board on a wall and interacting with it.
  • Being able to select an environment type when organising a meeting, for example, a boardroom, meeting room, presentation setting, or for more casual talks, some kind of lounge setting.

 

Right now there isn’t much information available on how Microsoft Mesh for Teams will work and look, so these things might not even happen. Microsoft is said to release something in the next couple of months, so let’s hope we’ll see those features soon.

Virtual reality

Final thoughts

Of course, nothing beats real-life in-person meetings, but with the new ‘hybrid working’ it’s not always possible to have a real in-person meeting, organising that in-person meeting in virtual reality is, in my opinion, the next best thing, as you get far better involvement and interaction than with a regular Teams meeting.

Will we be working 8 hours a day in Virtual Reality in the future? Probably not, but perhaps instead of doing everything through Teams meetings you might use Virtual Reality for situations where the social aspect is more important, for example when working together on a project, being a part of a brainstorming session, just socialising with co-workers, playing a game of ping-pong, or even organising a movie night that includes co-workers from abroad. And yes, doing all those things in person is still better, but how much of this have we been able to do in the past years? How are your team-building efforts going when the people are spread over multiple countries?

To fully feel and understand what Virtual Reality might be able to bring you and your team, you really need to experience it for yourself. If you think that Virtual Reality could have a positive effect on your team dynamics, ‘just’ invest in a couple of Virtual Reality headsets and do a trial. They’re still not cheap, but not as expensive as a few years ago. With a few headsets you can experience Virtual Reality meetings and other experiences yourself. And trust me, whether it will have (enough) benefits for you and your company or not, it’s going to be great fun to try it all out yourself. 😄

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