Virtual reality (VR) has enjoyed status as “the next big thing” in technology since the movie The Lawnmower Man some 25 years ago. While some believed VR would eventually permeate every form of online communication, even business communication, this is not yet a reality. A variety of consumer VR systems hit the market—mostly within the video game industry—but none of them made a significant impact on the technology world.
While some companies are now going all in on this technology, from my experience of working with business leaders, I feel that modern videoconferencing and team engagement need not require an investment in VR technology. While interesting use cases for VR abound, they reside mostly in video gaming and other niche areas. When translating person-to-person experiences to an online forum, the experience and engagement you offer matter much more than the visual realism you can simulate, especially in the workplace.
And the future of videoconferencing should instead focus on increasing engagement among employees, especially those working remotely. These same concepts also apply to virtual events, meetings, and other networking activities. The secret involves giving participants the freedom to interact and engage with others.
What Mark Zuckerberg and Meta Get Wrong
Just look at Facebook, which is now boasting the new corporate moniker of Meta. Its Oculus VR device shows promise, and with consumers now used to video chatting, it seems like something that has the potential to go viral. Mark Zuckerberg and his team are betting big on VR and the concept of the metaverse.
Unfortunately, the public still holds a largely hands-off attitude toward VR. In fact, a recent survey by YouGov reveals that users just aren’t that interested in the metaverse or VR technology. The survey results note that only 36% show an interest in the metaverse. Even more telling is the 72% stating they have no plans to wear a VR headset within the next year. These aren’t the numbers of a technology poised to quickly go viral.
However, this aversion to VR tech and apathy toward the metaverse don’t necessarily relate to a lack of desire for more engaging online experiences or for technology that supports a hybrid work model. The continued growth of remote work collaboration is proof of that. Instead, professionals want to move some office experiences online without losing the collaboration, freedom, and community offered in an office setting. Employees increasingly prefer the ability to collaborate and network online—a scenario requiring a technology approach that supports interaction and engagement.
Finding the Ideal Metaverse
Like past technological shifts based on user readiness, I think the ideal metaverse arrives at a time when people begin valuing their digital lives more than their physical lives. It’s a potential transformation not dependent on a VR headset or other wearable equipment. Instead, it’s a scenario in which digital items hold more worth than their physical equivalents.
As more companies build their own metaverses, expect a focus on crafting digital experiences to substitute for those in the real world. The key for business success in this area involves building engagement between teams formerly located in the same office. Managers already struggle with keeping remote employees sufficiently engaged on projects, especially with workers located in different time zones. The future office metaverse needs to make increased engagement a critical goal of this new virtual technology landscape.
Technology teams crafting metaverse assets need to ensure a seamless experience between the physical and virtual. As such, augmented reality (AR) is likely to have more of a meaningful impact in the ideal metaverse, considering the public aversion to VR headsets but not metaverses mixing physical and digital entities. Facilitating person-to-person communication with AR-based digital assets offers the freedom, engagement, and interaction for true online workforce collaboration. Will the 21st-century office reside in this ideal metaverse?
The Future of Videoconferencing
Instead of increasing the faux realism of VR environments, the future of business videoconferencing lies in providing the tools to increase engagement, collaboration, and productivity. Again, this metaverse focuses on providing the means for employees to collaborate with coworkers, meet with clients, and network with other professionals, all done online.
One thing my team is experimenting with in developing best practices for videoconferencing with the goal of engaging is including spaces for users to break off, start separate conversations, and make new connections in the context of the larger meeting or conference. In addition to supporting networking and collaboration, this also helps build the kind of company culture organizations now struggle with in this new remote working era.
Ultimately, focusing on AR and engagement as opposed to visual realism provides a better fit for what businesses need. While there is still a place for massively immersive VR experiences, they probably lie in the realms of gaming and entertainment.
In the end, expect this AR-powered business metaverse to never replace in-person interaction. Instead, it will augment the collaboration that takes place every day in virtual chat rooms; videoconferencing sessions; and, of course, those traditional physical offices. While the VR metaverse of The Lawnmower Man might never become relevant to the business world, there’s no denying that similar technologies are quickly transforming workplaces into something promising.
Andrew Amann is the CEO and co-founder of NineTwoThree Digital Ventures, an innovative team of web and mobile application product designers and software engineers dedicated to incubating digital products and services.
Amann is an experienced intrapreneur and entrepreneur. He is responsible for patents for three supply chain innovations and worked on nuclear submarine components. He has successfully launched eight start-ups, including digital business card solution Inigo App, acquired by Royaltie. Amann excels at bootstrapping start-ups without the involvement of venture capital.
Amann graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and took his MBA classes in the University of Strathclyde. He currently helps businesses grow with innovative Web and mobile application development and serves as advisor to a number of internally funded ventures, including Altar and Vineteq.