The maddening, surreal experience of VR work meetings.

When a junior manager at technology consulting firm Accenture tried to organize her first work meeting in the metaverse, it was difficult to even log in. take off my Oculus, look on my phone for the two-factor authentication code that was sent to my phone, then remember the number, put my headphones back on and try to enter it,” she told me conditionally. anonymity. “But when you take the Oculus off, it automatically goes to sleep, and I was trying to navigate back and forth. She wasn’t the only one struggling with easy access to the animated meeting room; by the time the meeting ended, some team members still hadn’t gotten in.

This may not be the future that was promised when companies went all-in on the metaverse last year. And the malaise is showing: The attention and derision of virtual and augmented reality developments has died down in recent months. Still, the money is pouring in, and companies of all kinds want a piece of it. McKinsey predicts that metaversion will turn from a science fiction term into a $5 trillion business by 2030. But instead of speculating on virtual plots of land and partying in digitized nightclubs, the latest push is focused on smaller, more mainstream uses.

And what is more common than your workplace? The listing for the recent Consumer Electronics Show included some ambitious plans to move your work into the metaverse, such as building a “digital twin of your headquarters.” The meta has also tried this with real-time implementations Horizon worldsoffice spaces, workrooms, for internal use by employees.

Not bad! Except that Meta’s heavy investment in VR has wreaked havoc on the company’s finances, Horizon worlds it has less than 200,000 users, Meta employees don’t like having to procure all the necessary equipment or even use Workrooms, and C-suite enthusiasm seems to have cooled. The clunky look, the headset, the nausea and dizziness during use, the fatigue hangover from the zoom, the imperfect facial replication, and the lack of truly additive features have alienated even the people who should love this metaverse technology the most; other offices that use Workrooms have found it difficult to work with dense financial information or even type words.

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Yet companies, including some outside of technology, are still struggling to make this happen, which is why large corporations are deploying metaverse executives.

So I decided to talk to executives who have incorporated metaversion into their companies, and workers who have been nudged by their bosses to check it out, to see if some of the hype can actually translate into corporate culture. I find that workers and bosses, perhaps unsurprisingly, tend to have different opinions about the utility of metaversion for everyday tasks. Additionally, businesses may want to adopt metaverse technology, which doesn’t necessarily make work easier, but for a different reason entirely.

An Accenture executive told me that “over the last year, our company introduced a large number of Oculus headsets to a large population to see how we could adopt the technology ourselves. I feel like we were the guinea pigs for how the meta-version could be applied more to the social environment of the workplace.”

But even during the initial sign-on phase of VR experimentation, there were issues – primarily accessibility issues, especially for employees with nausea or other disabilities, as well as learning how to adapt to social mores in a digital environment. Basic etiquette such as figuring out how and where to stand next to other participants, learning specific tools, and shaping the look and characteristics of your 3D avatar presented unexpected challenges. “The body shapes that were available in [AltspaceVR app] he didn’t have characters that had breasts,” an Accenture executive told me.

The company continued to promote the use of metaverse technology, even offering headsets to new hires in advance. Still, nothing was forced on the employees, the manager said; bosses were happy for their reports to use the technology to access meditation and mental health apps. Currently, many of the Accenture manager’s colleagues seem to be bearish on the technology and don’t use their Oculus app much. (A little craving for “low-fidelity” told me Minecraft virtual happy hour.)

But he suspects it’s less about what they do with it than how Accenture can offer the hardware to its clients as a whole. “My company would invest in other companies wanting to use meta, and not worry so much about how many virtual happy hours we have in our Oculus,” she said. “We sell you the experience, we sell you the new business model, we sell you how your companies can integrate the future into your workplace. And I think as long as other companies are buying, we’re going to continue to act like it’s a great thing.”

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One leader experimenting with VR-at-work happened to be close to my own workplace: David Stern, founder and CEO of Slate’s podcast platform Supporting Cast. Stern first worked on a VR experiment for Slate in 2017, when the site launched the Facebook-hosted virtual chat show Spaces, but he didn’t think about it in a collaborative context until recently, after using VR to play poker with friends. and reading business analyst Ben Thompson’s reports on the use of virtual workspaces. That’s when he decided to buy 10 Oculus Quest 2 headsets for his employees, who all work remotely, and see how they could all get the most out of them: 45-minute meetings, occasional social outings.

But he experienced the same problems as the Accenture manager. “Between forgetting to charge the headsets, updating the operating system, installing/updating new apps, logging into accounts, sharing the screen between the desktop and the headset, there’s just a lot that can go wrong,” Stern wrote to me in an email. He and the staff enjoyed some of the features of the meta version — three-dimensional immersion, improved audio quality compared to video conferencing apps like Zoom — but they might see the whole thing as better suited for one purpose than another. “I’m not sure it’s better for meetings, especially if you’re doing a lot of screen sharing to look at someone’s desktop,” he wrote. “But in some ways it might be better to have an open conversation or brainstorm.

He’s not the only boss to be clear-eyed about the limitations of the meta, though he’s trying. Rahul Mehra, co-founder of Indian automation startup Roadcast, sounds psyched about the prospects of working with metaversion support, but candid about the current hurdles. “Right now we have more disadvantages than advantages,” he told me: slow Internet speeds in South and Southeast Asia, a lack of consistent and compatible software for different hardware brands, and a lack of workers with the right skills to improve such problems. . Mehra would rather be in the metaverse than on a video conference or group call, but right now he’d still prefer a real office meeting to an animated one. Like his staff, it sounds like: “Some are of the opinion that maybe this software needs to be developed more or needs to be simplified,” he said. “Most of the senior people in my company, who might be in the finance department or the HR department, are really not happy about it.”

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Still, Mehra hopes to continue working with the metaverse-as-office, such as interviewing candidates in various parts of Asia. Moreover, he thinks that adoption could be the key to making his business more attractive to both potential partners and job seekers, which is the mentality of many corporate executives and companies like Accenture: “The people you hire also see, that this company is very forward thinking.”

Assuming the technology improves, if corporations continue to buy and distribute headsets, if every meeting becomes a VR or AR meeting, even proponents of this shift don’t think it will be as massively disruptive as Mark Zuckerberg thinks it will be . “Could I see people waking up and putting on a headset and then taking it off at 5 in the evening? I hope not. And I don’t see it,” said Sean Hurwitz, CEO of Michigan-based Pixo VR.

In any case, it turns out that an animated, interactive, gamified universe can be another opportunity for play over work. “I think it works, at least for social gatherings, and we’ll continue to use it for the foreseeable future,” Stern wrote. “The jury is still out on productivity-focused use cases.”

Future Tense is a partnership between Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that explores emerging technology, public policy, and society.


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