Will VR Gamification Change The Way We Work From Home?
Gamification could just be the next step in business interaction.
The Virtual Office
With a cartoonish 2D animation style, customisable sprites and a top-down UI, you might assume you were watching your co-worker run a Pokémon emulator at work.
That was before they invited you into their virtual office for a meeting.
Part-office chat room, part-game, part-digital conference centre, gather.town is forming a new generation of a virtual meeting spaces which bring instant messenger services, email, video calls and a geographically distant workforce together in a single social setting.
Avatars controlled by the user can drop in and out of conversations by walking around, customising their virtual office space and bringing up collective notebooks at meeting-room tables.
Created to address home working’s loneliness problem, gather’s “town” offers users a simulacrum of communal space, with its organic conversations, cheery bustle and personalised corners.
And they aren’t alone.
VR technology holds the potential for virtual interaction in a previously unimaginable naturalistic setting. Facebooks’ Infinite Office already allows users to add virtual screens to their home set-up. Introducted this week, Facebook’s new virtual office app Horizon Workrooms will also enable users to put on their Horizon oculus headsets and project themselves into a virtual office. Though a while to mass adoption yet, Facebook is showing us a glimpse into a possible future.
Gaming As Community
However, it’s important to stress that this is not a new phenomenon.
Services like gather are formalising the improvised meeting spaces that already thrive in many gaming communities. From office meets in Minecraft, to Lil Nas X’s roblox concert, the infrastructure of gaming has been successfully co-opted for social gatherings over the course of the pandemic.
These digital do-it-yourself meeting rooms have also been adopted by university communities. First year university student meetings on open-world gaming platforms proved a popular alternative to restricted in-person gatherings in the UK.
Can Virtual Reality Be Mass Adopted At Work?
The question is not whether these kinds of virtual interactions work. The question is whether formalised services like gather can make the jump to professional life.
There are plenty of reasons to suspect they might.
COVID-19 massively accelerated the mass adoption of video conference applications like Zoom and Microsoft teams. As travel restrictions and flexible working continue to play an oversized role in professional life, video conference technology isn’t going anywhere.
However, even as these applications continue to embed themselves in daily life, the world has become increasingly conscious of the toll that overuse of these programs can take on the user.
Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab identified several primary causes of “Zoom fatigue”, but one of the main issues seems to be the novelty of this new technology.
In the same way that the first car caused panic on the roads, the rapid rise of video conferencing has accelerated far ahead of the customs and rules which will contain and normalise it.
“Gamifying” these virtual interactions might be one of way of making them feel more human. In this context, the silliness of applications like gather may well be part of their appeal. Studies show that employees exposed to humour are more focussed and more diligent at performing tasks.
Paradoxically, a virtual office might make the future of work feel more human.
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Header Image: Facebook’s virtual office allows employees to interact remotely as avatars. Image via Facebook.