Working from home isn’t quite like going into the office, but armed with a VR headset and a new app, you might get virtually there.
With much of the country in lockdown and fewer people making their way into often people-heavy CBDs to talk and work, it may not be easy to keep the same flow of person-to-person communication going.
Rather than sit next to someone and voice your opinion on things whenever you want, these days you’re very much in a bubble, meeting for the regular WebEx, Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams call, though itself can feel very much like the rigmarole of WFH-life. Things are not what they used to be, and if that’s jarring your workplace, we’d say you’re probably not alone.
There are things developers are trying to do to fix it. Always-on and open meeting rooms are one, and Slack recently rolled out a voice “Huddle” concept to keep people talking, but it still mightn’t be quite as real as the real thing.
That might be where virtual reality can step in, and something Facebook and its VR division Oculus has been working on.
The latest concept takes the entertainment focus of the Oculus Quest 2 and shifts it to the workplace a little, releasing an app named “Horizon Workrooms” to let people collaborate in virtual reality. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a focus on work at play in VR, with Optus mixing 5G and VR work workers last year, however Facebook’s approach is a little different.
Built for works who normally collaborate in person, Horizon Workrooms is a virtual meeting space that requires occupants to have an Oculus Quest 2 VR headset and their regular computer, dialing into a virtual environment for others who may not have a VR headset to play along.
The idea is more mixed reality (MR) than total virtual reality (VR), and sees a desk and compatible keyboard brought into the world in front of you, allowing you to keep working with your hands on the right part of the keyboard while you’re inside a virtualised environment.
You can see other workers near you, shown as digital avatars, and the audio is built to be both timely and dimensional, so it will sound as if they’re near you, not shouting in your ears like on every other video call. And those workers will have access to taking notes during a meeting, chatting, file sharing, and calendars via Outlook and Google, too.
However, because not every workspace will have a VR headset to go around, folks without one can dial in using a video call, screen sharing and checking out what everyone is working on like another conference call, except with some of them experience it in a virtual conference of sorts.
Anyone keen to try this will need an Oculus Quest 2 headset, we’re told, with others not supported here. That may mean owners of the HTC Vive are out of luck, as are other headset owners, as the app only loads via the Oculus and requires a Facebook account. It’s in open beta now, however, so if you’re interested in seeing if WFH can feel a little more real, you may be able to try it now.