Owl Labs CEO says more immersive remote meetings could pave the way to the metaverse

Tim Kridel quizzes Frank Weishaupt, CEO of collaboration technology manufacturer Owl Labs, about the company’s recent survey on office workers’ attitudes to the metaverse.

TK: In the late ’90s, analysts often asked companies, “What’s your internet strategy?” In the 2000s, they asked, “What’s your mobile strategy?” Is the buzz already reaching the point that they’ll soon be asking, “What’s your metaverse strategy?” I ask because I’m interested in the perception that the metaverse will become fundamental for just about every type of organisation, such as schools, health care providers, e-tailers and so on.

FW: This is a great question!  While topical at the given moment, we believe that we still have a way to go for employers having a fully determined metaverse strategy. We're slowly starting to consider what that might look like with tools like Microsoft’s Mesh and pundits like Bill Gates claiming that the metaverse meetings will replace Zoom in as little as three years. However, the goal remains the same, how do we create more immersive and engaging experiences today for our hybrid teams? Employers can start making changes to their tech stack now that will lead us closer to the “metaverse” and make our hybrid experiences far better, right now. Immersive technology is clearly the future, as we found in our recent survey, with over half of the population wanting better videoconferencing technologies, while a further 44% are ready to adopt virtual reality (VR) in the workplace. 

TK: For enterprises and other end users, what’s the business case for investing in metaverse hardware, software and services? For example, how does it enable them to work more efficiently, or interact more effectively with customers? What kinds of new services (e.g., entertainment, sports, distance learning) will it enable them to offer? 

FW: As we discovered through our recent research, the growing adoption of flexible and hybrid work is driving the need for more immersive technologies. Over a third of UK employees believe that the metaverse has the potential to increase collaboration and creativity by facilitating seamless social interactions which are more engaging for those working remotely. With hybrid work becoming the norm, it’s going to require more thoughtful ways to engage and more innovative technology to maintain and build new relationships both internally and externally with clients. 

Another point our research brought up is that inclusivity can be helped through immersive technology like a workplace metaverse. For instance, 34% of respondents noted that the metaverse will help reduce proximity bias by ensuring that those in the office full-time don’t receive unfair preferential training, treatment or progression. By allowing everyone to interact on the same level playing field regardless of location, 41% believe that the metaverse and immersive collaboration technology will boost inclusion and diversity in the workplace. 

TK: The press release for your survey says: “As well as exploring the metaverse, the UK also expects higher adoption of immersive technology to drive more engaging hybrid work practices. Over half (52%) of the population want better video conferencing technologies, while a further 44% are ready to adopt virtual reality (VR) in the workplace. The UK’s growing appetite for more immersive office environments is reflected in a quarter (25%) of the UK wanting employers to incorporate holograms and avatars at work, while a third (33%) want companies to adopt augmented reality (AR).” This raises questions about what exactly the metaverse is and how many use cases are already supported by existing technologies such as VR, digital twins and CAVE (as discussed in this article). Have major players such as Meta and Microsoft agreed on a ballpark definition of “metaverse”? Or is the concept still so new and nebulous that vendors, analysts and potential end users are still defining its capabilities, technologies and experiences in myriad, disparate ways?

FW: Despite the swell around the topic, we believe that we are still in the early stages of determining an exact definition of what the metaverse is - most especially an “office” metaverse. These are uncharted waters with many factors that need to be considered, most likely involving input and guidelines from company leadership and HR teams alike.  Eventually, as more and more companies begin to build and adopt their own versions of the metaverse, a working definition will emerge. Ultimately, when it comes to an office metaverse, it will be up to employers and employees to decide what it looks like and what works best for them. However - as previously mentioned - the most appealing part of the metaverse is creating more immersive and in-person like experiences.  You can achieve a lot of that feeling today by implementing more innovative technology, which we are focused on creating at Owl Labs.

 TK: The press release also says that younger people are the most open (56%) to exploring the metaverse at work, which isn’t surprising. But the geographic differences are intriguing: “Across the UK, Northern Ireland is the most forward-thinking, with nearly two thirds (61%) keen to work in the metaverse. In contrast, the northeast of England is the most reluctant to adopt the metaverse, at just 37%. Over a half (52%) of Londoners are keen to work in an office metaverse.” Why? Inavate readers will be interested in the reasons(s) for those geographic differences. They also will be interested in your thoughts about whether there are similar differences within, and between, other EMEA countries. 

FW: Regional breakdowns of data are always really interesting, however in order to answer this question, further research is necessary. We wouldn’t want to speculate on our side! Geographic disparities often have a lot of different layers to why they come about.

Top image: Shutterstock.com/naratrip

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