Thursday 5th May 2016

What is the future of collaboration and how does that relate to consumer technology? In ten or more years’ time, what will a business meeting look like or even feel like?

The answer appears to be whatever you want it to be!

In 1986 AT&T patented the first videoconferencing codec. Video meetings in the workplace rose in popularity during the 1990’s with the increase of affordable technology and improved bandwidth. In today’s corporate meetings the idea of meeting remotely goes hand in hand with video presence, but what is next?

Virtual reality (VR) is a hot topic at the moment in the consumer and gaming space with products like the Oculas Rift, HTC Vive and Gear VR but how does this translate to the world of corporate meetings?

Imagine a meeting room or collaboration space that you can design. Create your own purpose built space and on the fly, add additional capacity and share presentations and video – all in a fully immersive and 3D experience. The idea of virtual meeting spaces is not new, however utilizing new VR technologies, virtual rooms are a virtual “physical” space where you feel as though you are truly present. Represented by an avatar an attendee can interact with other participants and the space and objects around them.

I tried out one service that is available now, that’s right – available today! Having only used VR headsets in the mid to late 90’s I was sceptical. I strapped on the HTC Vive and after some navigation I was joining a guest waiting room from a service called AltspaceVR.To use the word immersive is an understatement, there is a good reason for the hype around these new technologies, they are incredible! I tried out creating my own space and joining other open spaces. The service is not specifically geared to collaboration currently, but the possibilities are exciting. If we look at the pattern of cutting-edge technology and corporate and enterprise adoption, it’s easy to predict that within a matter of years we will be seeing services like “Skype VR” with features allowing us to create custom collaboration spaces, share and explore designed products and structures, interact with each other and the space around us – all without leaving our home offices.

So where is the future of the meeting going?

Well as we know the concept of remote working is growing and more and more technologies like Skype for Business are enabling remote workers to collaborate more efficiently, bringing the video or remote meeting experience closer to a true face-to-face engagement. Virtual Reality is the next step in that evolution. The technology needs to get smaller and more convenient, and the large amount of data being sent and received depends on strong network availability and bandwidth, but it is only a matter of time. The advent of 3D scanning and modelling also enables potential avatars in the virtual spaces to be accurate representations of our physical selves. Assuming that the future of virtual reality meetings involves avatars, we can predict that not all virtual representations of participants will be accurate to reality. If you can create an avatar that is taller, has better hair and build, it is likely the majority of users will do so.

While virtual spaces can offer people an even more immersive and realistic face-to-face experience there will always be a need for person-to-person live interaction in the same space. Additional technological advances in holographic projection also theoretically allow for the interaction of participants in VR to be present in physical rooms, and for that room to be created in the VR space that participant occupies.

Virtual reality will likely play a key role in the future of workplace collaboration and is a truly exciting and immersive technology, however there will always be a need for physical space….otherwise where will the tea, coffee and biscuits go?

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