The COVID outbreak has perhaps shifted fundamentally the way companies, communities and individuals view workspaces and work related activities. As countries scramble to protect their people it seems that the reality of social distancing prescriptions and travel restrictions has rushed things towards a technology driven and technology assisted work reality. Remote work arrangements, video chatting and teleconferences are a few examples of the fact that perhaps in-person meetings with teams, clients, partners or suppliers could become only a secondary way of connecting. Yet, when examining the quality of connectivity the aforementioned mediums offer, a reasonable point is raised: while video calls allow for one-on-one meetings, the critical element of being present within an actual meeting space and being able to interact with people and objects remains elusive for such technologies. Enter VR/XR. VR/XR meetings can be more valuable than traditional face-to-face meetings and more effective that other tech supported methods, as they combine the best of both the physical as well as the digital world:
- VR /XR meetings are overall an inexpensive way to get people together. Companies do not need to cover any travelling expenses for their attendees. This way beyond the obvious cost-saving benefits, they reduce their carbon footprint while –in outbreaks like the current one- they help keep their people safe. In turn, attendees are not restricted by distance, in their choices to participate in as many events as they choose to i.e. living overseas.
- During uncertain times e.g. the present global lockdown following the pandemic, VR supported meeting options cast away any “to host or not to host” dilemmas for live event organizers; people can still remain connected and informed.
- Companies can hold large scale events through VR platforms, with practically no real limit to the number of people attending the meeting and no additional expenses related to leasing extra spaces and offices. This can be exceptionally helpful for smaller brands or individual creators who seek to reach bigger audiences (especially an audience of millennials) through offering a competitive, alternative and immersive option of connecting with followers, customers and collaborators.
- In contrast to “linear” tech supported methods like video conferences, VR meetings being an immersive experience allow users to enjoy the event in an interactive, “first-hand” way. Users can stand up, move around, sketch, present, interact with objects and people like in real life. This critical feature of VR permitting interaction between people and activity within the digital world –very hard to be implemented in video conferences- captures two very important points:
- First, it allows for actual team building e.g. project teams can share documents, can shape and re-shape prototypes on the spot etc. in a natural way. Hence, VR is an effective medium through which remote employees can come together, bond and build comaraderie over a common goal. Simply put, employees talk and work as if they were all together in an office somewhere.
- Second, it facilitates real learning. When immersed, people feel more focused and alert (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). On top of that, humans are experiential learners, in that they learn best by doing, engaging and performing. Now picture how passive a video call can be for the user who can only stare at a screen, listen and occasionally respond. In such conditions, essentially when agency is removed, users easily lose concentration and mental fatigue catches up. There is simply no comparison to a condition in which the participant can act and interact with others and the world.
- VR meetings offer a distraction – free environment for attendees. Most VR conferencing software has an office space design built into it making people feel professional or else, keeping them immersed into their own professional “persona” from start to finish. Unlike video chats, when attendees are in a VR headset, they are focused on what they experience, looking at nothing else. They simply do not have to fight any distractions such as multitasking, answering calls, checking emails, being alerted by phone notifications etc. The big picture is that no one’s valuable time, attention and mental resources get sucked by irrelevant diversions, and consequently the company suffers no productivity losses related to workplace distractions.
- Relationships, team cultures and novel ideas are built within the unofficial groups people tend to form in their workplace. People like to gather and chat beyond projects or deliverables in their lunch or breakrooms. Online chatting platforms cannot offer these conditions or replicate that setting. However, a VR meeting room designed as a breakroom, whereby users are free to interact like they would in the real world encourages real bonding over ideas and information. Research into various multiuser online role-playing games has noted that people feel can enjoy meaningful relationships and powerful emotional experiences online (e.g. Coulson et al., 2012; Dyson et al., 2016; Zhang & Kaufman, 2017).
- On one last but nonetheless very crucial note, VR/XR meetings offer a safe space for introverted employees but perhaps most importantly for people with special needs (e.g. Ke & Im, 2013; Standen & Brown, 2006). VR technologies are all-inclusive tools, since the immersive, multisensory experience they offer transcends any limitations many users might find themselves struggling with in real-life.
Coulson, M., Barnett, J., Ferguson, C. J., & Gould, R. L. (2012). Real feelings for virtual people: Emotional attachments and interpersonal attraction in video games. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1(3), 176.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Csikzentmihaly, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (Vol. 1990). New York: Harper & Row.
Dyson, S. B., Chang, Y. L., Chen, H. C., Hsiung, H. Y., Tseng, C. C., & Chang, J. H. (2016). The effect of tabletop role-playing games on the creative potential and emotional creativity of Taiwanese college students. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 19, 88-96.
Ke, F., & Im, T. (2013). Virtual-reality-based social interaction training for children with high-functioning autism. The Journal of Educational Research, 106(6), 441-461.
Standen, P. J., & Brown, D. J. (2006). Virtual reality and its role in removing the barriers that turn cognitive impairments into intellectual disability. Virtual Reality, 10(3-4), 241-252.
Zhang, F., & Kaufman, D. (2017). Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and socio-emotional wellbeing. Computers in Human Behavior, 73, 451-458.