Metaverse Sneaks Into Work Meetings: Maybe a Competition to Zoom?
At the end of last year, Bill Gates announced it on his blog: Within the next two or three years, most virtual meetings will move from image grids with 2D cameras to the Metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars.
His conviction coincides with that of the majority of experts, who believe that the work meetings that we get used to during the pandemic through Zoom, Meet, or other applications will pass for a better life as soon as the use of computers is expanded.
Virtual Reality Headsets
It seems that this will be the trend. According to the latest forecast of the technological research portal Counterpoint Global XR (VR / AR), sales of virtual reality headsets will grow about ten times in just four years, passing 11 million units in 2021 to 105 million in 2025.
“As these devices enter more and more in homes and companies, work meetings in the metaverse will become more widespread because they provide a different value compared to traditional virtual meetings with Zoom or Meet,” explains Luis Villarejo, CEO of Immersion Studio, a spin-off of the UOC.
“It is as if we had ADSL and fiber had arrived. The Metaverse is similar, a technological tool that allows us to do things better in a way closer to reality. And one of the use cases is work meetings », says Villarejo, who has been meeting with his colleagues in the Metaverse for two years to discuss work issues.
How the Metaverse Works
The Metaverse is a set of experiences we can access through applications such as Horizon Workrooms, created by Meta, the former Facebook, which allows us to immerse ourselves in a virtual environment in which we see the other participants in the meeting.
As Lluis Villarejo explains, if we have virtual reality glasses, we can create our avatar, personalize it and see the rest of the people in the form of an avatar in the same space, be it an office, an outdoor place, or the chosen environment. Our avatar will respond to the movements we make. When we speak, it will move its lips.
You do not stop seeing avatars, but it is a real experience. One of its advantages is that you can move around that virtual space, change position, and place people from a perspective that they all see you if you are going to do a presentation or sit at a round table if you are going to participate in a debate.
In addition, it has other functionalities. For example, it allows you to share resources such as PowerPoint presentations, photos, documents, etc. “All of that is displayed on a big screen within that virtual space to support what you’re doing.
In addition, you have a blackboard where you and all the other meeting members can draw and work on concepts collaboratively,” says Villarejo.
In short, it makes it easier for all the dynamics generated in a meeting of this type in virtual reality to be closer to what a physical meeting is. And that is the objective of this type of software: to continue doing what we used to do in a face-to-face meeting, but at a distance, as long as we have virtual reality glasses, which allow us to take full advantage of all the application’s features.
Because, although we can also access the Metaverse from a phone, a laptop, or a desktop computer without having virtual reality glasses and participate anyway, in that case, it will not represent our avatar and will not define our avatar in the meeting – what other people will see it is the image of the video as if they were witnessing a Zoom participant—and we will not be able to access the virtual whiteboard either.
The Key to Success
But how will the Metaverse change our relationship with remote work? In the opinion of Manel Fernández Jaria, collaborating professor at the UOC’s Economics and Business Studies, the Metaverse will make the connection between the physical world and the digital world more powerful, and, of course,, the human experience of communication in this environment will be more significant.
He says, “we will need a period of adaptation similar to what we have needed to fully accept the digital world in our way of living today, but it will certainly happen.”
Among its potentialities, the labor welfare expert highlights that companies will be able to access all the existing talent since transforming the physical barrier will facilitate access to this global talent. “The Metaverse can take advantage of the best of the physical world and the best of the digital world, and that can be an excellent opportunity for companies.
Without a doubt, it will promote the three P’s defined by John Elkington, an expert in corporate responsibility and sustainable development: profit, planet, and people, he maintains, adding that in all sectors, there will be some company that will cause disruption, so «real innovation is necessary. We’ll have to start thinking about taking our avatar to the stylist.”
Of course, the physical presence in companies will not disappear. “Horse carriages didn’t go out of use because horses died out, but because we found more efficient ways to get around and work.
Subsequently, we have given them a different service. The Metaverse at work will lead to more efficient ways of operating. Will use the physical presence in companies will use the physical reality in companies in a different way than we have now, “says Manel Fernández Jaria.
A Compliment, Not a Substitute
One of the reasons the Metaverse won’t completely do away with face-to-face meetings at work is that it, too, has its limitations. As Pierre Bourdin, professor at the UOC’s Informatics, Multimedia and Telecommunications Studies, explains, in this virtual environment, details are constantly lost, “even compared to Zoom, since you don’t see the faces of the interlocutors. This loss of accurate contact means that it is not highly recommended for critical meetings or with unknown interlocutors, where the appreciation of trust is an essential factor.
In his opinion, although these systems can capture and transmit many non-verbal behaviors, such as the way we act or the place where we are looking, many details about our interlocutors still escape them.
“For example, if they are nervous, if they are attentive or if they are convinced. Not to mention all the aspects related to the meeting in an indirect way, but which also have an influence, such as if the person comes to receive me and accompanies me to the meeting room if he offers me water or coffee or what we talk about in the corridors or the elevator arriving at the meeting room”, he adds.
Another obstacle highlighted by Professor Pierre Bourdin is that of guaranteeing user safety. For example, how can we ensure that a caller is who he says he is? “If everyone has the appearance of an avatar, it is not so obvious.
In the same way, the guarantee of using the data generated by these tools can also be an issue. What do the helmet cameras record, what we say, what we write on the whiteboard or the documents we exchange and are they safe? Who has access to them?” asks Bourdin.
On the other hand, the labor welfare expert believes that efforts must continue to be made, so that teleworking does not invade the home, and we must learn to work with technological change.
According to Manel Fernandez Jaria, although fortunately, the debate on digital disconnection is increasingly present, better legal regulation is needed and, above all, an organizational change also in the ethical aspect.
Protecting our time away from work is crucial to maintaining a balance between productivity and a healthy work-life balance.