In case you missed it, we recently handed back the keys to our Berkshire office in favour of an entirely distributed AndAnotherDay. This shouldn’t be a surprise in 2022, with many businesses going remote or hybrid over the last two years. But one aspect of studio life that we knew we’d start to miss before long was being around one another, and collaborating as a team.
Of course, there are coffee shops, walking meetings, co-working spaces and the infamous Wokingham Pizza Express. But none of those scenarios are quite right for working, for us at least. We also didn’t fancy the idea of sitting on Zoom or Teams for hours on end whilst we joined up on projects. Don’t get us wrong, we love working together, but ‘co-working’ and ‘Zoom’ should never be in the same sentence.
The technology is already there
Thanks to devices like the Oculus, accessible VR options are already tried and tested on a consumer level. In fact, the Rift or the Quest are the perfect VR/AR headset for a virtual workspace. They’re lightweight, they’re easy to set-up, and the hand controls are incredibly intuitive. And with an estimated 12.5 million headsets sold in 2021 alone, VR has quickly become a dominant category in home tech.
The hard sell isn’t the price point, with devices starting at just shy of £300 (or £30 if you’re happy using Samsung’s Gear VR), but more so the mindset of strapping on a giant pair of plastic goggles and essentially blindfolding yourself before a meeting.
Acclimatising to VR
My first experience of VR was at a marketing tech agency who used the headsets to have some fun at work and break up the day with exercise. The initial feeling of being ‘immersed’ was strange. It’s not so much the devices that you’re wearing or holding, but the fact that you’re sealing yourself off from the outside world from a sensory perspective – particularly if you’re wearing headphones too. However, once I’d found my sea legs, I was hooked. In fact, I went home and bought my own Oculus that evening, and have used it a great deal since.
One of my favourite VR experiences is neither a game nor a 360º video. But instead, just the lobby in which you start. This is the home screen of the platform, and can be customised to your taste (from a library of several rooms, including a Japanese ryokan or a mountainside Bond villain-esque retreat). These lobby scenes are beautifully designed and understated, with plenty of space to walk around and explore the room, not to mention the mesmerising views across fields, mountain ranges or cities.
The lobby is quiet, calming and intriguing. It stops me in my tracks from bouncing straight through it and into whichever game I am working my way through. And in a way, I feel this is how virtual workspaces should be too. Serene, inviting, secluded and accessible. Virtual workspaces and offices don’t need to have all the bells and whistles found in the latest game titles, or the flashing lights and loud noises of VR festivals.
Breaking down the barrier
For many, this whole idea seems crazy, and you can’t blame them. Perhaps their idea of VR is born from a viral video of someone falling over whilst on a virtual rollercoaster, or maybe smashing their TV by letting go of a controller. Truth is, VR doesn’t have to be hectic, and if we want more people to embrace it, we need to show its softer side. Only then will we see wider buy-in for business use.
There are some incredible use cases out there, including the most obvious – bringing together distributed teams. This could be organisations spread across multiple regions, or an agency pitching an idea to their client in another country. In education, this could be lectures, and in pharmaceutical or medical, this could be important research being shared in a virtual setting.
A virtual AndAnotherDay studio
Recently, Keiron has been trying out Horizon Workrooms for a client. It’s currently in beta, but offers a hopeful solution to what we feel makes a good virtual space. It’s easy for individuals and teams to connect, it looks great, and best of all, your computer screen and keyboard come along with you after you install the Virtual Desktop Software on your Mac or PC. It is essentially just like stepping into a meeting with your faithful laptop tucked under your arm.
You can adjust the layout of the room to suit your tastes and your business needs, and the table will dynamically scale as more people join your meeting. Your avatar, whilst slightly cartoonish, can be customised to look like you, and you can draw on a shared whiteboard using the hand controller as a pen.
It’s early days for us, but we are early adopters. So we’re keen to use this more and more and we’d encourage anybody reading this who has access to a headset to try out a virtual meeting with us. But as we said before, it’s not all meetings. This could be a good opportunity for team catch-ups, socialising with colleagues, or even running design sprints.
The right time and place
Whilst we do get excited at the prospect of wider virtual workplace adoption, we do feel it has a time and a place. Overusing it could make the simplicity of signing into a meeting a little redundant. Pulling on and peeling off a headset multiple times a day, not to mention keeping everything charged, could get complicated, cumbersome and annoying.
Despite us enjoying VR for work and play, a virtual meet always feels like a treat, and we feel that VR in the workplace won’t lose its shine for quite some time. If anything, it will get easier as more applications and integrations emerge, and headset sales continue to soar.
Let us know your thoughts on virtual workspaces, workplaces and meetings. We’d love to know if this is something you’ve tried. If not, maybe it’s time? If you do find yourself venturing into realms unknown, give us a shout.