In the last one and a half years, companies have had to leapfrog their collaboration technology to overcome the challenges of remote work. Once seen as optional or a nice-to-have, remote work is now the default mode of operation for a massive number of companies (particularly for knowledge work) and a top demand among employees. However, issues arising from the lack of face-to-face interactions remain. Zoom fatigue is now a very real problem, and minorities tend to report increasing discrimination in a remote work setup. For several organisations, engagement has eroded and the phenomenon of Great Resignation is slowly beginning to make a dent.
That’s why organisations need to relook at their communication and collaboration patterns from a new perspective: recreating natural, intuitive interactions in a remote working world. Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to transform how we work by providing us with digital spaces that are easy to inhabit and enriching in terms of the interactions they enable. Unlike video calls and increased screen time, VR collaboration promises to be more pleasure than pain.
Defining VR Collaboration
VR collaboration can be defined as a set of processes, tools, and policies that encourage employees to come together in a simulated virtual space where they can work together in real-time. It is built on the following key elements:
- A VR world – There is a simulated space that mimics a real-world scenario like a conference room, an auditorium, a coffee shop, or a park. Employees come together within this clearly defined environment and collaborate within its boundaries
- 3D avatars – These are the digital representations of employees inside the virtual world. A 3D avatar can be as simple as a floating head with a name tag or as complex as a head-to-toe rendition. To improve VR collaboration and make the experience more enjoyable, most platforms allow employees to customise their avatars
- A VR headset or a VR-compatible device – Employees will use a headset or a VR-compatible PC or smartphone to enter the collaboration space. Typically, the collaboration space supports heterogeneous device use – i.e., some employees may log in through a headset, while others can view and control their avatars from a desktop
- Desktop streaming – This is an optional element, but one that dramatically increases the potential of VR collaboration. It allows employees to view their desktops inside the VR world – without taking off their headsets – and use them for productivity
- Collaboration and productivity tools – Just like a 2D collaboration app has functional features, you will find similar enablers in VR. Infinite virtual whiteboards are among the most common features, as are freehand drawing tools, in-VR video playback, and 3D modelling
Using these five elements, you can craft a VR experience that is both enjoyable and productive for all participants. One of the biggest advantages of VR collaboration is that participants can read and react to a co-worker’s facial expression, body language, and gestures, significantly reducing the risk of miscommunication.
5 Use Cases for VR Collaboration
While VR collaboration can be used by any company that has switched to remote work, it is particularly suitable for five use cases:
- Brainstorming without location barriers
When team members are situated in different parts of the world, it can be difficult to get together for brainstorming sessions and collective and democratised decision-making. This is particularly true for senior executives, given the travel restrictions in place today. VR allows you to connect from anywhere in the world so that important decisions aren’t deferred. It also ensures that brainstorming activities are completed – with concrete outcomes – in real-time without resorting to asynchronous communication like email trails.
- Data visualisation and data-driven decisions
Collaboration based on data is another use case ideal for VR applications. In a virtual space, you can model analytics information, create charts and diagrams, and drill down to discover insights in real-time – in front of your co-workers. This type of collaboration is much more effective than traditional presentation decks or spreadsheet-based analysis, which require much more cognitive effort from the observer without a sufficient cognitive pay-out. D6 VR has made significant strides in this direction.
- Collaborative 3D product design
Product design and product lifecycle management is a complex and time-consuming process due to the involvement of many stakeholders and multiple iterations. In a VR environment, you can quickly draw up a mock-up of 3D designs without worrying about physical constraints. VR 3D mock-ups are fast, easy, and cost-effective to iterate, and errors can be detected early on in the product lifecycle.
- Education and enterprise training
Another group and collaborative activity that’s simplified by VR is learning. Instructor-led learning sessions rely on a sort of cognitive give-and-take, which becomes much harder in a video-based conference or webinar setup. VR recreates a group learning environment with all of its collaborative potential – students can interrupt each other, make eye contact, communicate via gestures, and ensure that they aren’t overlooked or ignored. Further, VR allows for hands-on training in complex areas like surgery or equipment handling.
- Employee engagement
Employee engagement always relied on in-person presence, and it is difficult to muster up the same level of intimacy, enthusiasm, and involvement in a digital avatar. VR can power employee engagement initiatives in the digital world that are almost like the real thing – from VR marathons to VR concerts.
What Are the Challenges of Collaborating in VR?
VR collaboration is here to stay. 67% of millennial employees and nearly half of baby boomers believe VR to be integral to meetings, and workplace collaboration. However, the technology is not without its challenges:
- Last-mile connectivity – Gaps in global internet penetration could make it difficult for employees in certain regions to access VR
- Data privacy and diversity & inclusion (D&I) – Ethical discussions around employee data privacy and D&I in the VR world must be fully ironed out
For now, companies like Spatial, Facebook (now Meta), MeetinVR, and several others are investing heavily in VR collaboration tools to address the growing demand among employees and make further responsible innovations in this space.