As it eyes the next stage of digital connection, and in alignment with evolving business practices, Facebook has today announced a new Horizon Workrooms VR collaboration space, which it says is ‘one of the best ways to work if you can’t be physically together’.
As explained by Facebook:
"Workrooms is a virtual meeting space where you and your colleagues can work better together from anywhere. You can join a meeting in VR as an avatar or dial into the virtual room from your computer by video call. You can use a huge virtual whiteboard to sketch out ideas together, bring your computer and keyboard into VR to work together with others, or just have expressive conversations that feel more like you’re together in person."
As Facebook notes, users can join a Workroom either via VR avatar, or via video link, with users that connect with video instead of through a VR headset displayed on a virtual video screen - ‘just like a real conference room’.
"We support up to 16 people in VR together, and up to 50 people total on a call, including video participants."
The Workroom experience also replicates elements of your real world workspace, with attendees able to use their desktop keyboard, and access files from their home PC, which can then be displayed within the virtual room.
Facebook Reality Labs VP Andrew Bosworth shared this example of a live Workrooms meeting:
Horizon Workrooms is now open for collaboration, built for teams to feel like they’re together despite being apart. The tools we currently have serve people to a certain degree, but we’ve lost the ability to be creative and connected, a gap we believe Workrooms can bridge. pic.twitter.com/TOSyiinKOl— Boz (@boztank) August 19, 2021
Meeting participants are able to download any information presented on the shared VR whiteboard, while the option also supports spatial audio, enhancing the sensory experience, and again replicating real world meetings in a whole new way.
Which, of course, right now could be a perfect fit, amid ongoing lockdowns and seemingly unending restrictions on physical interactions.
But even beyond the current lockdown period, the expectation is that remote work will remain an increasingly popular, and sought-after employment offering. Indeed, according to some analysts, within the next four years, around 70% of the workforce will be working remotely for at least five days every month.
The flexibility of working in your own space, while also eliminating commute time, is now a realistic proposition for many, and it does look set to hold, at least to some degree, in many careers.
Maybe, then, VR meet-ups could be the perfect complement, providing a familiar sense of physical engagement and interaction, while dialing in from your home base. That also aligns with Facebook’s larger ambition to integrate VR as a mainstream offering, moving it functionally beyond gaming and into a more universal, practical tool.
Which then points to the Metaverse, the digital second world that’s set to become a new reality, of sorts, in many respects, for many people around the world. The view is that the Metaverse will eventually evolve into an all-encompassing digital realm, where you can socialize, shop, seek out entertainment, and work, without ever having to leave the comfort of your home, if you don’t want to.
That obviously has broader social and economic implications, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already staked his claim to this new virtual space, recently noting that Facebook will eventually become ‘a Metaverse company’.
The concept may still feel far-fetched, and a way off being a practical reality, but with Facebook already shipping some 5 million Oculus VR headsets (the latest Oculus Quest 2 unit has sold more than all other Oculus headsets combined), and more social and entertainment events already moving online, the time seems right for the next stage.
And maybe, Horizon Workrooms will form another key part of that digital picture.
It’s definitely worth considering, and as VR tools become more commonplace, you can bet that more people will be looking to use them for a wider range of purposes.