Explore the possibilities the future holds for Virtual Reality and facilitation.

A February 2021 poll by management consulting company Robert Half showed that 89% of businesses expect the hybrid work model – where employees split their time between home and the office — to be here for good. Moreover, an October 2021 joint study from Google Workspace and The Economist uncovered that 75% of employees believe their companies will fully adopt hybrid work within three years. 

This, of course, will require investment in new technology if the business of work (a.k.a. meetings) is going to continue. While many have tried to make do in 2020 and 2021 via an ad hoc solution of video chat solutions and online collaboration platforms, Zoom fatigue is real. Everyone from National Geographic to researchers at Stanford have explored the concept.

Connecting from wherever & meeting anywhere

One global operation, PricewaterhouseCoopers, has recognized it must help its employees escape the feeling they’re trapped in a tiny box on screen. While it piloted a program in 2017 where it shipped VR headsets to staff, the events of the past couple of years have accelerated this effort. Now PwC is holding meetings in exotic virtual locales like luxury ski chalets, swanky penthouses, and, surprisingly, atop notable skyscrapers. There’s also an initiative underway to outfit physical environments with higher-grade microphones, video meeting screens, and their own supply of VR headsets (so everyone can join meetings at the Empire State Building’s observation deck).

We’ve done something similar here at Voltage Control. This past holiday, we shipped a headset to every team member so we could hold our annual party virtually within a space we created using AltspaceVR. While it wasn’t perfect — I built the room myself with very little training — it allowed us to explore the technology ahead of our upcoming Control The Room Summit, which will be incorporating VR as part of its hybrid component (more on that later).

Zooming in the Metaverse

Even Zoom realizes it will have to do something to make video conferencing more engaging. During its September Zoomtopia event, it announced a partnership with the Meta-owned Oculus. This took place only a few weeks after the company formerly known as Facebook rolled out its Horizon Workrooms.

This team-up will allow Oculus Quest headset users to join Zoom Meetings and use the Zoom Whiteboard directly within VR. Workers at home and the office can then brainstorm together, collaborate on a document, have more visually interesting conversations, or just socialize. You can learn more in the video below. 

The Zoom-Oculus-Horizon partnership isn’t the only option out there, though. Around the same time, Cisco revealed its Webex platform was getting a VR/AR upgrade called Webex Hologram. Alluding to the specter of “Zoom fatigue,” Cisco said it wants to support employers in reducing the friction between virtual and in-person collaboration. Not to be outdone, Microsoft soon offered its Teams users a product called Mesh, which is its take on a VR/AR meeting mash-up. In what has to be a nod to that old Xzibit Facebook meme, Slack is even allowing its users to read messages in virtual reality.

More ways to mix it up

Mixed reality is another technology that can bring excitement, engagement, and interactivity to hybrid meetings. Not to be confused with virtual reality, mixed reality incorporates digital elements into a real environment. Headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap 1 utilize sensing and imaging technologies to merge physical and virtual worlds.

Mixed reality can empower facilitators to enhance meetings in really innovative ways, such as allowing you to explore 3D visual aids that you couldn’t bring into an actual meeting room due to size or weight. Not just confined to headsets, you can present mixed reality elements on screens in a meeting space when a speaker is captured on a video camera (you’ll just need someone in an edit suite to add the layers).

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How we’re experimenting with VR at Voltage Control

After running our third annual Control The Room facilitator summit as a remote event in 2021, we’re back at Austin’s Capital Factory on February 2nd  for a hybrid event. For those that can’t join us there, or simply prefer virtual, we’ll be utilizing Zoom, MURAL, and AltspaceVR to bring everyone together despite the physical distance.

Ultimately we decided to virtually present the conference in a space built within AltspaceVR. We won’t, however, be forcing people into the VR environment, those joining remotely can participate via Zoom if they don’t have a VR headset, or download the desktop version of AltspaceVR! We will be raffling off several pairs ahead of the event because we want to encourage everyone to experience how VR can be deployed in the facilitation space. 

Regardless of how people are joining us digitally, we’ll have hosts monitoring the VR and remote platforms to ensure a feedback loop between the in-person and distanced attendees. VR and Zoom attendees will be able to interact and ask the keynote speakers questions, live, via the platform hosts. As you can see, we’re attempting to create as much connective tissue amongst the disparate environments as possible. 

Steve Schofield of MURAL Labs is additionally hosting a week-long VR build event with world builders and facilitators to explore facilitation in VR. Participants from MURAL, Meta, the Horizon Worlds Community, Voltage Control, and Control The Room will gather in Horizon Worlds to think, explore, and build prior to the Summit. The overarching theme of exploration will be on facilitating retrospectives. The outputs will be shared during the Control the Room conference!

If you’re worried about single-handedly integrating VR into your hybrid meetings, know that our effort isn’t the work of one person — it’s the work of many. We’ll have lots of facilitators available across Zoom, MURAL, and AltspaceVR, as well as  an experienced contractor to run our A/V for us. Porting the event in Zoom alone requires him to set up three cameras and switch between them and an HDMI of the slides.

Control The Room will be our first time holding a hybrid meeting with this much technical complexity, and I look forward to sharing our post-event experiences with you. 

Want to witness our VR integration firsthand? Join us in-person or virtually at the Control The Room 2022 Summit. Single-day in-person tickets, virtual tickets, and tickets for separate workshops are all available! You can find more details here.

-Douglas Ferguson, President

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