In the last week, Meta has multiplied announcements about working in the metaverse, suggesting that it would now be possible and even beneficial to turn to these virtual worlds for this important part of our daily lives. However, there is reason to be skeptical.
At a time when hybrid work has taken hold, Meta, or rather its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, wants to push us to work in the metaverse, this still vaguely defined concept that he considers to be the future of the Internet. At its annual conference, Connect, last week, the American giant made a lot of announcements about work in this universe of virtual worlds, which we will especially have access to thanks to virtual, augmented and mixed reality headsets.
Despite these advertising effects, the reality of Meta’s metaverse is not so good, and one wonders if it is really possible to work on it… and if we are ready to do it.
For the Californian group, the work in the metaverse will be carried out, among other things, using its new mixed reality headset, the Meta Quest Pro. He claims that this entity “was designed with the goal of improved collaboration and productivity”. It allows users to find themselves in virtual worlds without being cut off from the real world, and peripheral vision remains unobstructed. They are thus able to see their immediate surroundings, on which 3D elements are superimposed, and use their physical keyboard and mouse to work on virtual screens.
Meta Quest Pro also features an eye and face tracking system that allows avatars in the metaverse to replicate users’ facial expressions. According to the company, it provides “a much stronger sense of presence than traditional video calls” during virtual meetings, with avatars capable of expressing non-verbal signs. Specifically, when a person smiles, winks or raises an eyebrow, their digital version must do the same.
Meta has also announced a partnership with Microsoft – one of its competitors in the metaverse space – to offer the company’s services in its virtual universe. For starters, the company’s software packages (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) will soon be usable with the Meta headset. In addition, the collaborative communication application, Teams, will be integrated directly into Horizon Workrooms (virtual workspaces), allowing users to participate in immersive meetings and later join a Teams meeting directly from these rooms. And from 2023, users will be able to join them via Zoom.
Meta also caters specifically to architects, designers and other creators. From next year, the American giant will allow them to see 3D models in Horizon Workrooms. The company is partnering with Adobe and Autodesk, which publishes 3D creation software, for this purpose. Finally, Meta is working on a project called Magic Room, “a mixed reality experience (…) that enables any group of people, some gathered in a physical space and others at a distance, to collaborate”. It may be available as early as 2023.
Between advantages and disadvantages
Meta thus sells us dreams, especially since the benefits of working in the metaverse are many. In addition to improved productivity, virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) reality can prevent employees from being distracted, especially if they work in an open space. With the former, they could stay focused by being in a personal virtual office. This would also be the case with the second, with the integration of “virtual separators” in the physical workplace. In addition, being able to adapt your work environment in VR is a way to reduce stress, e.g. with the simulation of a room filled with greenery. This is explained by researchers who wanted to study the effects of working in VR over a longer period of time in an article published in June.
They conducted an experiment with 18 participants who worked for one week in a virtual environment and another in a physical environment, for a duration of 8 hours a day, with a 45-minute lunch break. Done with the Meta Quest 2 helmet, this experience, on the contrary, showed the disadvantages of virtual reality, such as the harmful effects of this technology on health. Two participants were forced to drop out on the first day due to nausea, migraines and anxiety. The rest reported a 48% increase in eye strain and 42% increase in frustration levels during their VR work week. They also reported a 20% drop in well-being and felt less productive compared to their work week in a physical environment.
In addition to this study, which shows that working in the metaverse does not only have advantages, Meta’s virtual platforms are still far from ready. Earlier this year, employees including Andrew Bosworth, Meta’s CTO, who traveled to Horizon Workrooms for a meeting were forced to switch to Zoom due to technical issues, the report revealed. New York Times the beginning of October. Horizon Worlds, the company’s main VR platform, has many quality issues that the media recently exposed. The edge. “Feedback from creators, users, testers and many of our team members points to the weight of frustrating little things, stability issues and bugs that make it impossible for our community to experience the magic of Horizon”wrote Vishal Shah, vice president of the company’s metaverse in an internal memo dated Sept. 15 obtained by the media.
Worse, even Meta’s own employees aren’t keen on its metaverse. According to a May poll of 1,000 of them, 58% don’t understand the company’s metaverse strategy. Many of them also spend some time there. “For many of us, we don’t spend much time in Horizon (…) Why don’t we like the product we created enough to use it all the time? The simple truth is, if we don’t like it, how can we expect our users to like it? », asked Vishal Shah. In another memo published 15 days later, he announced the development of a plan for “making leaders accountable” so their team uses Horizon Worlds at least once a week.
Equipment to enter the metaverse can also be problematic. A Bloomberg reporter who attended the company’s conference with the Meta Quest 2 headset mentioned facial pain due to the device’s weight (503 grams). A problem related to the battery, which is integrated into the helmet, whereas on the Meta Quest Pro it is placed in the arch or on the back of the head. Despite this design, weight is still an issue as the company’s new helmet is heavier than its predecessor (722 grams). After testing it for 2 hours, a journalist has from washington post said that the device had left marks on his forehead, but also that he suffered from headaches. Another issue: The Bloomberg reporter reported that the headset ruined her makeup, leading her to wonder how many Meta employees work in VR and wear makeup every day.
If Meta is banking heavily on the metaverse and wants us to work in this virtual universe, leading us to believe that it would be convenient for hybrid work, the reality is much less pretty. Given the many problems, we are still far from the day when working in the metaverse will bring only benefits.