While experiencing work in lockdown, European Practice Director at Expressworks, Jonathan Berry, turned his thoughts to the opportunities offered to connect with colleagues by VR (Virtual Reality).
“In recent weeks we’ve all become used to holding meetings and connecting with colleagues via video conferencing tools, such as Zoom and Teams,” said Jonathan. “But we haven’t always found the experience to be very satisfactory. As humans we are social animals and require the stimulus of other humans. We rely on more than words to communicate and many of the cues we are used to picking up on are lost through video conferencing, as useful as it has been during this time.”
Could there be a better way?
More commonly thought of as a science fiction plot device or gaming accessory, VR has been gaining ground in real life applications. In a trial conducted by Oxford academics in 2018, they discovered that nearly three out of four patients with a serious phobia of heights could overcome it using VR. The study led them to believe that VR could be the way forward for treating a number of mental health issues.
Expressworks recently decided to hold a few key company meetings in VR to see if there could be potential benefits to the workplace too.
“It was agreed that the experiment would be a success if the VR enhanced rather than distracted us from the meeting, if it allowed us to easily share the materials we needed to discuss, if we had better focus during the meeting and if we had better recall after the meeting,” explained Jonathan.
“We had meetings in space stations, mountaintop retreats, beach resorts and futuristic offices. Initially the novelty of each new setting was exciting, however, by the end of an hour long meeting the tiny lag between movement and result had us feeling physically sick.”
Having your colleagues or employees feel sick is never a good idea when trying to hold a meeting, so the technology has some way to go before mainstream adoption is possible. One of the reasons why its full potential has still to be realised may be that VR for meetings hasn’t been properly commercialised yet. There are a number of different platforms available, but none are specifically focused on meetings. AltspaceVR offers an amazing social experience, but it doesn’t have the professional feel necessary for the corporate world. Rumii is great for training and education, but it isn’t versatile enough for large meetings with input required from multiple sources. MeetinVR looks the most promising solution at the moment, but it isn’t on general release yet.
“In our experiment there was a point in between the initial location excitement and the onset of movement lag induced nausea, at which the enormous potential for this technology was clear. You are immersed in a virtual world which allows for almost complete concentration and focus. The illusion is in fact so complete that you hear the sound from a speaker who appears to be on your left, from that direction. In addition, because it feels like a game it is both fun as well as being serious.”
This lockdown came too early for VR meetings, but with social distancing likely to continue for some time and future lockdowns a distinct possibility, VR meetings look certain to have their day.
“The technology isn’t there yet, but it feels close,” said Jonathan. “Maybe our ‘new normal’ will provide the catalyst needed to encourage the investment required to make this possibility mainstream.”