VR at Work: Meetings and Collaboration

This is final part of a three-part blog series exploring how VR is changing the future of work. You can find the first part of the series here and the second part here.

After exploring training and design in recent articles on the future of work, my final piece turns to look at something familiar to almost everyone — remote meetings and collaboration.

The past few years have seen a huge upheaval in working patterns, with the pandemic forcing rapid global adoption of remote working practices. The aftershocks are still being felt, with many people now operating in a hybrid working set-up.

There are benefits and drawbacks to remote meetings. For example, they’re flexible and easy to join from anywhere. But one common gripe during the peak of the pandemic was meeting fatigue. After months and years of staring at a grid of faces on Microsoft Teams or Zoom, workers reached a point where they felt something was missing — being in a room with real people. For example, our 2022 Employee Workplace Technology Survey found that 63% of workers favour a hybrid model, but 38% named building relationships with colleagues as their biggest concern in the shift.

In-person meetings have been a welcome return, but many of us are still regularly taking part in online meetings, and this is where VR is seeking to prove its worth. The most lauded benefit is the sense of presence. The combination of 3D avatars and spatial video and audio can make virtual meetings feel impressively real — which was the outcome of my hands-on experience with the Meta Quest Pro. Talking to other participants in the Horizon Workrooms space whose facial expressions and gestures were being replicated right in front of me was a powerful experience.

Beyond making participants feel more real, VR meetings can also bend the world around users. For example, if you’re in a one-to-one meeting, why not choose an intimate setting with two chairs by the fireside? For a team call, participants could opt for a meeting room complete with multiple tables for breakout spaces and interactive elements like whiteboards. And for company events where there could be hundreds or thousands of participants, virtual spaces can be scaled all the way up to halls or theatres so people can join in great numbers.

From what I’ve seen and tried, these elements can appear subtle in isolation, but create a powerful and immersive experience when added together. Platforms like Arthur, Meta Horizon Workrooms and Spatial have all impressed me with their ability to elevate virtual meetings to a whole new level, demonstrating just how limited video calls can feel.

As impressive as these experiences are, this is an area where I feel as though VR doesn’t immediately sell itself as a transformational technology. Given the investments that companies have made to reach a point where video calling and remote working support their needs, the idea of now deploying VR headsets to help people have more immersive conversations might not seem worthwhile.

However, much like the other uses for VR at work explored in my previous articles, the technology can also support greater business objectives. Hosting events or meetings in VR rather than in person would result in less travel, meaning less time and money spent on moving people around — and delivering a notable environmental benefit. Additionally, the time spent in these meetings should be more productive. People at a virtual away day will be giving their full attention to presentations when wearing a VR headset, and will be far less likely to get distracted by their phone and e-mail.

The biggest factor that I expect to drive adoption of VR for meetings and collaboration is the wider interest in social VR experiences. There’s a strong focus in the consumer segment on taking demand for VR beyond gaming, and I expect that social uses will be a huge area of investment. When tech giants like Apple, Meta and Microsoft start to nail social experiences that make VR headsets not only useful but genuinely desirable, I expect it’ll spill over into meetings and workplace collaboration.

And, to come full circle, it’s important to remember that meetings and workplace collaboration intersect with the other uses explored in this series. For example, when it comes to creativity and design, one of the most transformational steps forward has been in allowing teammates to work on 3D models together. For learning and training, many successful examples have been for training people individually, but it’s not hard to imagine group training sessions in virtual worlds further developing the experience.

As such, I expect to see growing appetite for VR from businesses and workplaces seeking innovative ways to work in the coming years. Whether people are looking to meet, train, design or think about something totally different than I’ve discussed, VR is being used in new and inventive ways to reshape the working world.