Ten years ago, virtual reality meetings belonged in a sci-fi movie. It was a thing of the future, but now it’s here – and sooner than expected. With the global pandemic changing how we live and work, technology saw almost a decade of growth in just a matter of months.
The virtual reality meeting I experienced within the Horizon Workrooms product is a world away from “jumping on a call.” With a headset on, an avatar, and a functional whiteboard, it adds a whole new dimension to collaborative work from separate locations.
In this article I share a review of my experience in the Metaverse’s virtual meeting space, Horizon Workrooms. I take a closer look at the great, the good, and the okay – and share how I see this tech working for collaboration in the future.
The Horizon Workrooms experience
Using the Oculus Quest VR headset I went into Horizon Workrooms to experience what a meeting could feel like in the virtual space. Oculus Quest is a virtual reality headset developed by Oculus, a division of Facebook, released in Spring 2019.
In set up, you choose your avatar and space, you can also rearrange seating layout and scenes to suit the type of meeting you’re having.
When you’re in the virtual world you can still access your computer screen using a desktop app, this is mapped to the VR room and you can interact with it by typing on your physical keyboard and even share your screen with the entire workroom.
Unlike being in a video call meeting, in Horizon’s Workroom, you can stand up and use a virtual whiteboard and write on it using the Meta controller – which gives haptic feedback when you make contact.
While I didn’t get to try a real meeting as others need a Meta Quest headset too, it was an exciting experience. I quickly saw the positives of technology like this in the workplace, but
like with any new technology, there are drawbacks and a few kinks to be worked out.
Remote working doesn’t suit all personality types or job roles and can make collaboration harder. However, Horizon’s Workspace brings collaboration to life, and allows team members to feel together, even when working apart. This is hugely beneficial when brainstorming, designing, and problem solving. I found it was much more creative and inclusive than Miro or another online whiteboard.
It wasn’t easy to get screenshots and images into the virtual workroom compared to software like Teams where you can drag documents into the chat. Users need to be prepared ahead of going into the virtual space and upload documents using the Workrooms website. This process doesn’t feel very refined, and restricts what you can do if you need to send something unexpectedly.
Video meetings can cause fatigue, particularly when you are staring at the same point on the screen for a long period of time. Having the ability to look around the virtual space is a refreshing change that might help keep people engaged.
However, while it’s great being able to look around the room and keep yourself interested, too long on a VR can cause motion sickness. When you do explore the space you will see people’s avatars rather than their actual faces, which could lead to loss of personal connection.
Access useful equipment
In a small home office there might not be space for a whiteboard. Meta Horizon Workroom gives you the chance to go big with your ideas on a giant one. The haptics on the controller are good, however sometimes it lacks enough feedback to let you know when your pen is the right distance away.
Tech teething problems
At the moment, the technology feels like it needs refining. My keyboard for example, felt slightly higher up than it appeared in the VR world and the screen refresh has a short time lag.
There’s also the problem of batteries holding attendees back. On my first try my headset battery ran out and it all shut down – something that wouldn’t happen in a real meeting, and seems much easier to prepare for with laptops, with their longer battery life. I had to plug into the USB cable which meant I had limited mobility. The Oculus Quest has a battery life of around 2-3 hours, depending on activity, and takes 2.5 hours to reach full charge.
Will VR meetings take precedence over video calls?
Will it replace video calls? I don’t think so. Not yet anyway. At the moment it’s slower and flawed when it comes to simple tasks like screen sharing and note taking.
That being said, feeling like you’re in the room with others you’re working with is a real bonus. When used sparingly it might even boost energy and enhance creativity.
I’m excited to see how this technology evolves over the next few years. From my experience with it, I could see how it could provide huge value, specifically for the type of brainstorming and creative solution finding we do in UX…if all of the attendees have a headset.