autumn end-of-summer has been – and will be even more – a wild ride. During past three weeks I have been videographed, organized and run a hybrid User Group (Teams Finland) meeting, did a next episode of my very popular Microsoft Teams webinar (Microsoft Teams Spotlight), had a proper sendoff towards the next half-century, booked a trip to Redmond, and of course have had lots of customer meetings and PoC building in AI and Metaverse. Diving onto Azure OpenAI and other Azure AI services has been extremely rewarding as it is bringing the future of work to today. Work is changing very rapidly and new opportunities are opening all the time. In the AI a huge number of initiatives, apps, services and uses are born every month, if not every week. In some ways it resembles the dot.com bubble over 20 years ago, but the difference is that AI is driving digitalization and change , with real results (ROI and benefits), faster than anything before. So what about the Metaverse? As I have written before, the Metaverse is not dead. It is bubbling under and starting to utilize more and more AI. In all that, I decided to write this time a bit more about Microsoft Mesh. Early August, a month ago, I wrote about preparing for Mesh, so now I want to start you to think how and why you should be thinking about your use for virtual environments- be it Microsoft Mesh, or some other platform. No, we don’t have any news about when Mesh is coming but we know it is currently in Private Preview. That makes it the perfect timing to start planning about how and when to use it and to what.
What is Microsoft Mesh?
Microsoft Mesh is a platform that powers shared immersive experiences. It offers remote and hybrid workers a more natural way to connect with a sense of co-presence. Mesh also enables creators to build custom employee experiences that bring people together for new hire onboarding, training, team building, and more. Microsoft is bringing Mesh capabilities into Microsoft Teams with avatars and immersive experiences so employees can easily connect where work happens.
I just had to take that from my previous article and put it here as it is quite compact way to tell about Mesh. In this article I want to focus on bringing people together for new hire onboarding, training, team building and more. And especially open up that more part. It is about how, why and when you should be using immersive virtual worlds for benefits as there are lots of meetings and scenarios that don’t benefit from 3D. We leave them as they are for now and instead think use cases that can give value to do in 3D.
Couple of benefits virtual worlds offer
When we are talking about immersive meetings and experiences, it is good to keep in mind what we gain what we can’t get in 2D – at least not very easily or immersively.
Spatial audio brings in the ability to participate or hear conversation or audio depending where you are in the environment. If you are standing near the stage, you can hear the speaker loud and clear. If you move away from the stage you can engage in conversation with others and that doesn’t disturb others who are further away. Spatial audio works like our real world audio: we have conversation with people who are next to us. Or when you walk by a group of people talking, you can hear a bit what they talk about – perhaps it interests you to join them, or just stand nearby so you can listen them.
- Spatial audio makes also possible to create aural experiences. Standing next to a video you can hear the music and audio, for example. Or perhaps there are different background music in different areas, that reflect the feel of the environment. Or environment can react to you with audio. Perhaps it is just little things like a bit of wind adding for immersiveness of the environment – increasing enjoyment, foster creativity, improve motivation and thus learning.
Let’s not forget the obvious: 2D meetings are usually “one talks everyone else listens“. With spatial audio you can have multiple conversations happening at the same time. Think Teams Breakout Rooms here – but being more visual and changing “rooms” happens by moving in the environment.
- Go beyond the barriers of reality. In virtual world there are no other limits but our own imagination. No, this doesn’t mean that every world must look like surreal collection that came our of Salvador Dali’s mind. People need in the environment something familiar for them to ground their minds to – so lobby or starting area should make them feel comfortable. But unlike in the real world you can do things you could: teleport to other areas, fly around the city and land to walk on it’s streets, have architecture that defies gravity, or environment or objects that reacts and changes when you do something. Think like applying magic to our physical world. In the metaverse and virtual worlds you can travel from the earth to the moon and back in seconds, or explore the factory from both bird and detail perspectives during different seasons. On more reality grounded appliances are simulations that you can observe and run again and again.
Unlike in the real world, you can press restart and do it again. This could abovementioned simulations, or it could be training and practicing exercises, learning courses, asking someone to explain it again and again, or visual data analysis. Just to name a few examples.
I could have a long list here, but let’s cut it here and move forward
, and more
Now as we we can imagine a bit more what could be possible, let me give you some ideas how Microsoft Mesh could be used. First the immersive meetings, that you can activate from Microsoft Teams View-menu during the meeting to join directly using your Teams client – or by virtual reality headset (Meta Quest 2/Pro).
- Have a different meeting setting to help to energize. Doing 2D meetings all day long can be tiring, even with camera off and avatars. Perhaps all you need is to have a bit of time in more relaxed environment. In 3D everyone is present and you can engage in conversations, move around and form groups of people easily. Perhaps it is the daily standup, ideation / brainstorming or team checking in about the status. Something that connects all these is that these don’t have immediate need to share content to others – instead these focus on discussion and exchanging ideas. Think it like a walking, ad hoc or quick-paced meeting that is set up easily and don’t require knowledge on “how I am presenting content to virtual reality?”.
- Social gatherings for teams that don’t share the same physical location. Similar to the previous point, but people attending could be larger. Usually you spend your times in chats or 2D meetings – some have cameras on, but most have them off. With a few mouse click people could join the virtual world where they can greet team members and have discussion groups, exchange jokes and just be more relaxed. No, this doesn’t replace real physical meetings but for teams lacking them – it can be fun when used occasionally.
- Watch party – sharing a video or live stream and watching it together, allowing less intrusive way for commenting and chatting aloud with colleagues.
- Town halls, business area meetings and other company events that have been traditionally a 2D meeting. Some people share content & information and mostly people are listening. What virtual worlds change from 2D is the ability to catch up with some colleagues. Spatial audio lets us talk with few colleagues even when there is everyone from the company present. It is very different to talk to 3-5 close colleagues about the topic, instead of asking to open the mic and speak it aloud for everyone in the company.. If you were to do it in 2D meeting, it would mean you had a chat group going on with a few people. In 3D some colleague might join up spontaneously. For chat group, they need to be invited.
When going beyond simple meetings, that is when the fun starts!
Let’s remind ourselves with this picture by Microsoft for Mesh scenarios.
It gives a good start to figure out a few ways where Mesh can be better than 2D – or event physical world in some cases.
- Corporate events – this could be the Townhall mentioned above, or it could be an event in organization’s own space that is branded and also contains interactivity, interactions, videos, holoprojections, aural experiences and more. The event doesn’t need to be a PowerPoint watch party – it could be a holoported CEO on a stage speaking, or themed rooms with different topics and tasks you do together with your colleagues. Why corporate events should be less engaging than social events that are happening in the consumer metaverse already?
- Interactive learning is one of most used use cases – you can learn by your own pace or by live teacher. It gives option to have “hands on training” without being on site. The polytechnic and college nearby has done applications to just this: learn how to drive and handle a fork truck, have fire escape practices and there are lots of possibilities. Perhaps you learn about firewalls by collecting puzzle pieces and putting them together, or by having information flow visualized to you. Education and learning are among the biggest areas that is advancing fast in metaverse tech. You can’t scale physical class rooms quickly, but to virtual training people can join from distances away and it scales to needs.
- Guided and self-guided tours: virtual tours. Have you been to the museum or art gallery? Probably yes. Have you participated in guided tours where the tour guide can help to understand the context and background by telling what objects are. There are also unguided tours when you listen to the recorded guide. Now, let’s push that thought to virtual reality and go on a tour around the upcoming office building, explore the windmill farm, take a walk around the the factory and onboard new employees to the company. This can , and will be , combined with interactive learning.
- Immersive simulations visualize the result. Perhaps it is a new building being built, or solar power farm, and people can see how it looks in the environment and in different times of the day and year. Or simulate natural effects, such as wind, storm, winter or tsunami, on facilities or buildings. Not everyone can “see the data” – we, many of us humans, process visualized information better than endless tables of numbers or graphs. 3D makes it possible to “dive onto” the scene and explore details – up to the level the model has been constructed. For industrial metaverse this is the thing – bringing digital twins alive and using them to find possible exceptions or design errors.
- Product showcase is one of my favorites. If produce or design something real, you can present it to people better in 3D than from a flat video. It can be examined, walked around, touched or just presented in a captivating way. Clothes, lures, bicycles, cars, valves, mars rovers, megacities “the wall” can be brought “alive” – or at least to the environment where people can see them in 3D.
- Visualizing information. How much power windmill factory is producing? What kind of weather conditions there are? Are there issues? What about the big picture of the power grid? How well factory lines work? What our sales process looks like? Yes, the information can be abstract and yet it can be visualized because virtual reality has no limits but what we create.
- Situation rooms for aggregating information to one space. Could be project rooms, operating the company “the bridge” or “sales room”, How to manage a crisis? What information is needed, what kind of decisions need to be made? Instead of flying every stakeholder and key people to the same room in the same city they can meet in the virtual situation room and decide on next actions. Visualizing information and free form collaboration “in the room” can help to make better decision quicker.
- Showrooms can be converted to design or architecture team project rooms, where team can examine, review and make changes to the outcome. Editing 3D models in 3D environment is not ideal, but collecting notes and ideas is.
- Recruiting externally or internally – a showroom variation where you can get to know the company and people. Showing company spaces, atmosphere, key personnel introductions, providing a walk-through around facilities.
- Industrial metaverse, bringing Digital Twins “alive”. Connected to the real world Digital Twins can show their real state and information. Perhaps this is used as a control room for certain scenarios – let’s close those doors, turn down heating, examine potential leaks or issues, test out new configurations. Digital twins are not necessary just one machine – it could be digital twin of a whole factory, airfield or city. How about using Digital Twins to monitor and operate their physical counterparts remotely, from anywhere?
What are your first Mesh-steps?
In this article I hope I have given you something to think about how these use cases could bring value over the way they are done today. While meetings are obvious first steps, they don’t use but a small fraction of the whole potential. It all depends on the company and industry. A lot of organizations should be thinking about “… and more” list and think what are their first custom worlds when Microsoft Mesh becomes available (I hope it will happen this year-half (Ignite?) since Microsoft Build 2023 news and details, but we can’t be sure until it is announced by Microsoft. Fingers crossed!).
I very warmly recommend every organization to start planning and designing for Mesh and how to use it already today. Especially the more engaging the end result is envisioned. For some companies it could be a simple event space in company branding, but I think onboarding and training/learning are generic use cases that resonate with a lot of companies on top of the priority list. For some organizations, it is the functional, integrated, space that supports operations or business, and for some it is about visualizing the data and making better decisions.
As Mesh and virtual reality is very abstract to lot of people it can be hard to think how it can bring value and ROI. If you think Mesh and Metaverse just another tech project, you will not receive the value you want from it. Collaboration, atmosphere, wow-effect and other details make this a very human approach. Just like any other technology, you need to prepare a change management project. For good results you need examples, experiences, champions network, use cases and scenarios that fit your organization and people working there. There can be a rather big leap for people to take from 2D to 3D – especially if they don’t know why, how and what. The benefits for them. Benefits for the organization.
To be able to do that, you need to experience it yourself.
The Matrix came out over 20 years ago. And the quote is still relevant. Instead of the Matrix think Microsoft Mesh world or space that has been connected and tailored to your business and to your needs. That is when people start to have that moment when they realize where this tech can be used and how it can help the company & employees. I talk about Mesh in name here, but we all know there are several platforms out there. Since I work with Microsoft tech and enterprise customers there are factors such as security, privacy, governance, compliance and data residency that separate Mesh from various other platforms. There are lots of companies that are waiting for Microsoft Mesh.
I started this article by talking about AI. In my previous articles I have already envisioned digital humans / assistants / bots that are our buddies in the metaverse. In the virtual world typing or creating content isn’t that easy.. That is why , for many if not all, use cases there will be AI assistants, bots or smart areas that can be conversed with. Yes, I have no doubt we wouldn’t have a Mesh / metaverse Copilot(s) helping us out. As technology and digitalization is advancing at high-speed this isn’t that far away. There are already digital humans, custom neural voice can make “you” speak multiple languages flawlessly, natural language understanding, cognitive services, machine learning and a wide spectrum of AI tech available that can be used already today.
How this all will be, look and can do tomorrow?
It is important to experiment and create proof-of-concepts to gain experiences, understanding and knowledge to where Mesh, Metaverse, integrations and 3D can bring more value. And also where not to use it. Do you want to know more how all this could help your business or how to get started? You know how to reach me.