The ability to connect with others via live video and voice communications, believe it or not, was alive and kicking since the 1870's. Video conferencing didn't roll around until a century later, and although we can now see our colleagues in higher resolution, no one has really been re-inventing the wheel.
The virtual reality (VR) headsets, crafted by Oculus and HTC, arrived on the scene and presented us with a lot more possibility. They were first created for video games, an obvious application for a truly immersive experience in an industry worth $100 billion. Now, thanks to the future of work movement picking up steam, other use cases for VR have sprouted up -- such as in the workplace.
Except you didn't know you needed it in the first place.
Chance Glasco, video game animator-turned-tech startup guy, is probably one of the best people to chat with on using VR in gaming and also in the enterprise. As one of the founding members of Infinity Ward, Glasco put out seven titles in the Call of Duty franchise over a decade, until he reached game industry-burn out. He then skipped town to Brazil to plot his next move.
It wasn't until he reconnected with Elbert Perez, a college friend and HTC Vive prototyper, that Glasco co-founded Doghead Simulations -- the company behind VR meeting software Rumii.
He quotes Henry Ford in reference to using VR to recreate the meeting experience: 'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.'
Glasco thinks that the VR meeting is one of those things that people don't know that they want, until they put on a headset and try it on for size.
"Instead of making the horse faster, we are trying to bring you something totally different. Something that's better than a horse," he said. "Say you're an architect in New York and you have a client in London. You could import a CAD file and walk through the house that you're working on. So you'll get that sense of scale, especially for things like engineering, that isn't captured very well just by using video technology."
Glasco now lives in Orlando, Florida, working remotely with Doghead's distributed team of 17 people that's spread across three continents.
Doghead team BBQ
As they are all owners of VR hardware, team hangouts at Doghead have the potential to get fairly imaginative (think military simulations and team battles), and also solves issues that many distributed teams face when it comes to developing trust and engagement.
"I think one of the biggest issues is that you've got a lot of people who work together who don't feel like they've been together. So using the power of social presence, we're a lot closer," said Glasco. "The thing with Rumii is you really feel like you're with other people, your brain just buys into that sense of team, and collaboration is a lot stronger than using video."
Glasco walks us through what a typical meeting in Rumii would look like. What would normally be a rather two-dimensional experience in video conferencing software such as Skype or Zoom, will be vastly different with VR.
The "lobby" as seen in Rumii
Instead of starting awkwardly on webcam, Rumii users would begin the meeting by waiting in a "lobby" which is their company's general space. In that lobby, you'll have customizable walls that may include things like your company's social feed and a stock ticker. Or if you're a car company you might even have a 3D model in the middle of the lobby, rotating away.
Then everyone arrives in the lobby and it's off to the meeting room you go, where there'll be an interactive wall to present on. This is where shared desktops can be brought up and slides can be presented in VR.
The best part about Rumii that you can throw body language into the mix, which is something that video conferencing can never achieve. Glasco also points out that besides body language, which can scoop up more empathy from your teammates, eye-tracking technology is soon to make its way into headsets. Which means that you'll soon be able to lock eyes with your teammates in a VR meeting environment.
Engagement is a real problem in teleconferencing, especially if you're not the one that's presenting. Remote workers can attest to this: If you have your video off and your mic muted, you could leave the room and no one would even notice.
"Something like 67% of people doing teleconferencing are actually doing something else, like writing an email or playing a game on their phone. But with VR, you're closed off to the world around you for that meeting - there's nothing to distract you from outside that meeting," said Glasco.
Doghead team meeting in Rumii
And if you've missed the meeting, there's no reason why you have to miss out on the experience. An exciting overlap between the gaming and enterprise world, according to Glasco, is definitely the ability to enter spectator mode for meetings.
"One thing you could do is record the animation and audio data, then you can actually re-attend that meeting as if you were there for the first time. It's like if you've seen any games where you have spectator mode, you can fly around and see what other people are doing. Imagine that, but inside a VR meeting. So you can revisit all your old meetings and see what you might have missed out on," he said.
And if you're still not convinced that VR meetings are the next best thing since sliced rye, just imagine how deep you can plunge into the world of science fiction.
"There are 3D depth-sensing cameras that are being produced or prototyped right now. The quality is not quite where we want it to be, but I imagine that in the next couple years, you'll see what I like to call a 'Princess Leia hologram' from Star Wars. What you're seeing is a 30 frames-per-second image that has depth in front of you," Glasco said and notes hopefully that as cameras improve, Doghead will be able to integrate the technology into Rumii.
Chances are, the possibility of seeing your remote teammates in hologram form will ignite passion in even the most adamant of meeting haters.
There is one big downside to VR technology as it improves though -- one of these days, you'll have to start wearing pants to your meetings.