If video conferencing doesn’t work, can the metaverse make it better?

Image: Meta.

A virtual office by the sea or an environment reminiscent of a futuristic version of San Francisco: this is how Meta imagines the workplace of the future in the metaverse.

At the company’s offices in London, I recently had the opportunity to try out ZDNet’s latest device, the Meta Quest Pro, and a series of related features known as Horizon Workrooms.

According to Meta, Quest Pro is designed “specifically” to boost creativity and collaboration in the workplace. If until now the metaverse was mainly focused on consumer applications, games through virtual shopping, the company would like to emphasize that Quest Pro is a step forward in another direction: the workplace of the future.

Find a collaborative environment

For Steve Hatch, Meta’s Vice President for Northern Europe, all companies know that the ability to work more flexibly is the key to success. New technologies can help make hybrid workers feel happy and included wherever they are.

“The starting point – and the work we do here – is how to create the best possible experiences for people and for companies. At the heart of it all is real inclusion and a working environment that works for everyone. »

A recent survey from Meta shows that most employees (81%) want to work in collaborative environments. Yet only 16% believe video calling helps them feel present in meetings, and only 14% believe it helps them collaborate better with colleagues.

More than half (59%) of UK employees surveyed for this study believe the metaverse can help bridge this lack of inclusion and mimic the sense of togetherness that comes from working in an office .

A fairly comfortable helmet to wear

Meta’s VR headset debuted in early October. It includes eye-tracking technology, which aims to make natural expressions and expressiveness more accurate in the metaverse, and mixed reality, which aims to create a more effective interaction between the digital and physical environments.

Unlike the Fresnel lenses and thick shields of the previous Quest 2 headset, the Pro uses Pancake optics, which have 75% higher contrast, 33% higher resolution and a 40% thinner profile. Add to that the new controllers, which include a modular stylus that doubles as a virtual marker on whiteboards, and you’ve got a completely revamped virtual experience, according to Meta.

So what does it look like? Like all VR technology, it takes some getting used to when using the headset for the first time, especially if you’re new to the metaverse like me.

At one point during the demo, I was using my fingers to pinch and point at the menus at the bottom of the screen, and I accidentally used the “swap seats” feature and jumped across the room to change positions.

Aside from the unexpected teleportation when I first got to know my online environment, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to get used to being in the virtual office.

I didn’t find the helmet very heavy. Surround sound, which lets you follow who’s talking, was crisp, clear and effective. When you’re in an online space with other people, it’s easy to use Quest Pro to interact with people and follow conversations.

Mixed reality is not a success

Still, while sound and visuals are crisp and well-defined, those hoping Quest Pro will be a major step toward a metaverse that blends mixed-reality environments may be disappointed. For me, using budding collaborative workspaces is still a distinctly virtual experience.

Using Meta’s headset to interact with other people feels like an online game, as in The Simsbut none of the characters have legs and all sit politely at their desks.

I only used the headset for 10-15 minutes, so otherwise it would be unfair to give a full product review.

More rooms for more atmospheres

What I got to try—and enjoy—were some of the Horizon Workrooms features that Meta hopes will usher in a new era of enterprise collaboration.

Flexible rooms allow users to choose different types of workspaces—from breakout groups to brainstorming to presentation rooms—that expand as new people join the meeting.

You can also customize your meeting environment, whether it’s a beachside office or a futuristic location, then change your avatar to suit your mood and personality.

There is no doubt that customization and gamification are important elements of Horizon Workrooms.

Has already been tested in a few companies

The Meta team at the event told me that some large organizations are currently beta testing these products.

It will be interesting to talk to the leaders of these organizations to find out if the technology is really helping to close the lack of inclusion of hybrid workers.

For now, and as some of my colleagues have also discovered recently using the HTC Vive Sync, meetings in the metaverse remain a niche and rather expensive activity.

To expand virtual workspace efforts, Meta is working with Microsoft, Accenture and others.

According to Steve Hatch, these partnerships are important because the metaverse—despite Meta’s much-publicized investment in technology—will not be built by a single company in isolation.

“Our prediction is that you will increasingly see companies that would normally be described as competitors working closely together to build this metaverse together,” he says. “There will be tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of organizations building this space together, many of which probably don’t exist yet. »

Source: ZDNet.com

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