Hi, my name is Maret. I’m a floating cartoon blob wearing a suit jacket, no pants, and a buzzing smartwatch inviting me to a product scope meeting with my partners.
We’re a geographically split VR and AR studio. And this is how we do business.
It’s 4:00 PM in Oklahoma, and 2:00 PM in Portland and Seattle. I’m working from my sunny living room, but with one click on my virtual watch, I’m instantly transported to a hip conference center room with clerestories opening to a cartoony night sky.
The room has several nodes, including one with whiteboards, one with a bar and poker table, an intimate meeting table with couches, and a stage set up with charades. The markers work. The microphone projects. We’re that tech company with ping pong tables; ours just happen to be virtual.
Everything you need to know about our company, Bevel is that we choose to meet here.
As our team tends to do, we spend a few minutes shooting each other with confetti blasters and plunger arrows before four of us gather at the central conference table to discuss matters of real money and real work. After a while I wish I had a real chair.
I duck out of the night sky meeting and back into my sunny living room.
Wide windows give me an unobstructed view of my real-world neighborhood. I hadn’t forgotten I was at home, but I certainly wasn’t aware of it while in the virtual space, and my eyes are not adjusted to the brightness.
If you ever get a chance, watch a VR noob take off a headset for the first time. It’s almost as fun as watching them go into VR. Their return to the real world is always accompanied with a gasp and how they’d forgotten where they were. I’m an old pro, and it still happens to me.
After fetching a real chair, a real sip of water, I return to our real meeting.
Virtual reality meetings are in some ways like every other meeting you’ve ever been to.
A virtual pen rolls across our conference table and lands on the floor. Someone has to retrieve it. The white board and props act true to life, which means doodling, and note-taking. We talk over one another and apologize for it. We draw diagrams. We make decisions. Everything feels natural and normal even though the virtual space around us is just a cartoon representation.
VR meetings show some of the best and the worst of everything technology has to offer.
Sometimes, particularly with free spaces like RecRoom, functions don’t work. No one likes waiting for the tech to tech, and unfortunately “multiplayer” VR is still more buggy than I’d like. My system crashes every time I take one of the VR pictures you’re enjoying. Without body language, our team often has to make clarifications for clear communications. The headsets aren’t comfortable to wear for extended periods, and even though the immersive grandeur of VR is a joy, I kinda miss that sunny day feeling just outside my window.
But VR does one thing better than conference calls, our daily Discord chats, and Slack: my team feels like we’re in each other’s presence. Seamlessly brainstorming on a shared whiteboard with imperfect virtual avatars bridges a gap between communications technology and our need to exist in a physical world.
And while the analogy to horse blinders is unsettling, we stay on task during the whole meeting. For one of our developers with ADHD, the VR arrangement allows him to focus on what matters while literally shutting out distractors. The active, playful setting allows him to feel the movement his ADHD brain craves.
VR meetings aren’t for everyone or for every meeting, but if a physical meeting place is impossible or impractical, VR is an option that can be just as real and productive as anything else.