About two months ago, I bought my first virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift S to be specific. Being a gaming fanatic in my spare time, I couldn't resist buying myself into VR any longer.
The first evening of owning the headset, I started an application named Bigscreen VR. I was expecting to be amazed by watching 3D movies in my private virtual cinema, but couldn't resist joining the open theater lobby where other people were engaged in conversations.
What completely floored me was the sense of being in a room with a couple of people rather than talking over the internet. To clarify this; when interacting via Skype, for example, you never really know whether the person is paying attention to you or something else on their screen. However, in VR you see where the user is pointing with their head, so you know you got someones attention, only by the fact that they are staring right into your virtual eyes.
Another great addition to meeting in VR is that you can use your hands. You can point, wave and even do a thumbs up when you feel like it. If you want to get someones attention, wave your hands or point to that object that you are referring to.
What is it like to meet in VR?
Sounds great, but how does this all come together?
When I joined a random room in Bigscreen, there were 3 people present. It turned out that they were also trying out their headset, so we already had a conversation topic from the get-go. After half an hour of being amazed by our headsets and sharing tips and tricks, it rolled into other conversations about our jobs, hobbies, and interests.
For some reason, the conversation shifted to the Eurovision SongFestival. I had a viewing party with a bunch of my friends that weekend before. All three people in the room, being from a different continent, didn't have a clue what I was talking about. I mirrored my computer screen onto the cinema screen and gave my new VR friends a small presentation about "what is the Eurovision Songfestival?".
I never left my VR headset during the presentation, was pointing at the screen and taking questions from one person at the time. It was at that moment, I knew, this could be useful for remote teams.
Below I've included a segment of a video where you can see it for yourself. This is a conversation between the creator of Bigscreen VR and a Youtuber by the name of Virtual Reality Oasis.
This meeting could have been an email
Look, I am not saying you should discuss everything inside of a VR headset (although it's much more fun). With VR you are not trying to bring back the office into working remotely, you are trying to enhance the social interactions that you have as a team.
The number two and three on the list of "what's your biggest struggle with working remotely" are loneliness and collaborating/communicating. I think that VR can help with bringing those percentages down within your team.
So when do I see co-workers putting on their VR headsets?
The start of the week, one of the most valuable times to get the whole team on the same page. Often this meeting will take place via a video call where one person shares a screen, and you go over the coming week.
Why not enhance that? If everybody puts on their headset, they will not only be part of the meeting; they will be immersed in it. Everybody picks their chair, greets each other, and focus their attention on the meeting. They can see the talking points on the big screen, see who is talking and be fully present (e.g. not secretly replying to email during the meeting).
Since this is Virtual reality, you can even hang out after the meeting to talk with some co-workers about their weekend. Just navigate to that virtual sofa in the corner of the room and have a chat!
Brainstorming would also be much more fun an intuitive in VR since you have a lot more tools at your disposal to have a productive session. For instance, you can draw into 3D space, allowing you to quickly mock-up something to show to your team.
But, what about those post-it sessions? Well, you could either pull up Trello on the big screen or create a virtual post-it wall. Everyone can then stand in front of that wall and reorder the post-its, just use your controller/hand to pick them up and move them around.
Steam and Oculus are working very hard on making virtual homes which you can completely redecorate with furniture, art, TV's and even with intractable items like an arcade or table tennis table.
With a little imagination, you could build a virtual hangout office. Place some couches, some TV's and a table tennis table and you already have a decent place for your team to hang out with one another on Friday afternoons.
Having a virtual office allows your team to meet each other in a more fun environment than Zoom or Skype. Just don't forget what I wrote earlier; it's not a replacement for a physical office, just a tool for improving upon your current remote working situation.
What headset should I get to try it out?
That depends on your budget. This year, good VR experiences have become more affordable and accessible. No longer is it required to own a gaming PC.
If you do happen to have a more than decent PC you could buy a PC VR headset which will cost you anywhere between 300 and a thousand dollars. Here are some options when it comes to PC VR headsets;
Most common PC headsets
Top of the line PC headsets
Alternative PC headsets
I don't have money to spend on an expensive PC
Don't worry! VR is getting more accessible and cheaper thanks to the standalone (no PC required) Oculus Quest and the Oculus Go. The Oculus Go already enables you to meet in Bigscreen, but cannot use your hands since it only has a single controller.
More companies will follow Oculus in the quest to make the best standalone (no pc required) headset, so I expect that within a year we'll have plenty of good options.
If you want to get into VR, I highly recommend that you buy the Oculus Quest. At this moment, it is the best standalone VR headset with an extensive library of good VR experiences. The fact that its put on and play makes it the best headset to get into VR with.
Not all sunshine and Rainbows 🌈
Currently, VR is only an option for small remote teams. This is mostly due to the max amount of people that can be in a virtual room together at the same time. However this limit increases every couple of months, so it won't take long until you can have all of your team present in your VR weeklies.
There is also room for improvement when it comes to the applications. Bigscreen is more focused on watching content together and not so much meeting with a lot of people at once. We are still waiting for a VR application that will provide us with more tools (like post-its) that are more tailored towards collaboration then social gathering.
Should I get my team into it?
Is this the time to get your team into VR? If some of your team is already familiar with it, I encourage you to give it a try, start with the people who own a headset to discover how you can best utilize the benefits of virtual reality.
If no one in your teams owns a headset, it's a better idea to wait just a little bit longer until headsets become more affordable. But if you got some spare change, pick up an Oculus Quest and start experimenting with it!
Personally, I think it's only a matter of a few years before you'll receive a VR headset besides a new laptop when you start working for a remote company.