VR conferences: is virtual reality the video conference of the future?

Holographic meeting rooms, avatars for team members – will we even have to come face to face with each other in the future? What are the benefits of virtual reality technology for meetings and conferences? Where does it reach its limits?

Virtual reality supports working from home thanks to realistic 3D simulations.
Image: © adam121/ Adobe Stock

Covid as a driving force for remote working and video conferences

Before the pandemic, it was only relevant to employees working on international projects, but over the past year and a half it has found its way into the day-to-day business of most companies as well as our personal lives: digital communication via video chat. Zoom, Teams, Slack (the list goes on) are now a permanent feature for people working from home and are a much more time-efficient communication solution than sending the usual emails. Whether discussing projects, scheduling your week, or even negotiating contracts – video chat lets you talk face to face, even across different continents.

In the digital industry, flexible working and video conferences are now more the norm than the exception. According to a DMEXCO survey conducted in June 2021, around 86 percent of respondents in the German DMEXCO community have the option to work remotely.

One thing is sure then: there is a huge market for new technologies used for remote working, video conferences, etc. However, the crucial question is: what kinds of companies and business fields would be wise to invest in VR software and what added value does it generate apart from a better sense of communication?

Virtual reality: from the gaming sector to an industrial scale

The gaming industry has long been tapping into the demand for a “real experience” and for many years has focused on further developing and optimizing high-end VR glasses. But it doesn’t stop there, other industry sectors have also been quick to recognize the potential of virtual reality and have been implementing it and often combining it with augmented reality to support their workflows when planning projects and in various development stages. A simple click of a mouse can open the door to an automobile plant, a rehabilitation center, or a bygone Maya civilization. The following are typical examples of VR application scenarios:

  • Real estate: In the construction phase, architects and engineers can efficiently collaborate thanks to VR and work on the same project at the same time without having to be on-site. At this stage, the realtor can already give prospective buyers a virtual tour of the finished building, including its furnishings.
  • Medicine and research: VR applications help doctors prepare for complicated procedures.
  • Learning: Training no longer has to be held in person, but can be brought to participants’ living rooms using tangible real-life examples.
  • E-commerce: Before buying products, not only can they be tested in terms of their features, but they can also be tried out in their virtually generated “natural environment”.

These innovative communication possibilities can also enhance remote working scenarios.

Does VR technology improve communication?

It’s fascinating to think that companies could leverage the optimization effects of immersive technologies for themselves and their employees in order to overcome the weaknesses of conventional communication methods when it comes to collaboration. A typical video conference, for example, is known to lead to fatigue and – despite all its advantages – is not without its problems in day-to-day business: small laptop screens that struggle to display any more than six participants, 2D aesthetics that look less than lifelike, difficulties demonstrating plastic objects. Accidentally talking over someone immediately turns into chaos or sudden silence, with the result that most colleagues prefer to say nothing at all. The teamwork consequently suffers – and that means slower workflows.

These obstacles can be overcome using VR technology and the right equipment. Nowadays, the required end devices are much more affordable than they were when they were first being developed, and the basic technologies on offer have reached a high level of maturity at the same time.

Software for VR conferences – an overview

From simple standard features to high-end solutions, there is now a good range of VR software on the market.

  • Spatial, for example, has all the necessary features for joint meetings and allows 3D objects and other work materials to be uploaded and included.
  • The MeetinVR application creates virtual conference and creative rooms for six to twelve participants.
  • Breakroom offers both meeting rooms and social hangouts where you can have a chat and even attend a concert with colleagues.
  • In the free open-source application “Mozilla Hubs”, the creative ones among us can even let their imagination run wild and design their own workspace.

The market segment is booming and new providers are regularly coming on the scene, so you should keep an eye on what’s being offered if you and your team want to be immersed in new worlds.

Virtual workspaces: cost-effective and environmentally friendly

Virtual conference rooms – also referred to as virtual workspaces – are increasingly gaining ground without actually taking up any space. Using a virtual workspace to expand the physically confining four walls of an employee’s home office is a valuable option not only socially, but also from an environmental and economic perspective.

  • A laid-back atmosphere where you’re virtually surrounded by colleagues makes it easier to brainstorm together and leads to greater creativity and more productive results.
  • VR conferences and virtual meetings speed up workflows and thus offer great savings potential, making them extremely attractive.
  • Contribution to climate protection: expensive and environmentally harmful business trips can be replaced by talking via a screen when video conferences are used regularly.

However, you shouldn’t expect too much (not yet at least). Avatars may be modeled on colleagues, but their movements still aren’t perfect and the basic laptop camera ultimately provides a more realistic picture. What’s more, some people suffer from motion sickness and feel nauseous when wearing VR glasses.

Virtual reality as an opportunity for collaboration

So, is virtual reality the future of video conferences? Only time will tell. All in all, though, the fact that a virtual conference room facilitates communication, enables collaboration on 3D objects, and conveys the feeling of sitting among and not just opposite colleagues is a positive sign. For remote working to retain its foothold and above all be efficient, the augmentation possibilities of virtual reality are certainly an interesting option.

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