‘The New Way of Working’ and agile and scrum are hard to imagine in the modern office garden. The first promises us flexibility in where and when we work. The second brings us together more at fixed times. So the two trends do not always go well together. Virtual reality will help us with this. In this article, we tell you how.
‘The New Way of Working.’ In recent years it has been embraced by more and more companies. Most thinkers today have a laptop with which they can do their work virtually anywhere and anytime. At home, at the office or another branch of a company, everything is possible. We are so much more flexible when and where we do our work.
On the other hand, we also see that agile and scrum are more than just an ICT party. Within this body of thought, we see that people work together more and more often on projects and products.
The combination of these trends ensures that we are drawn to both sides. On the one hand, we must and want to be flexible in where and when we work. On the other hand, we are expected to intensively work together on the spot. This can be a challenge, especially if team members spread out over different locations in the (outside) country. Taking account of who, when and where, is becoming increasingly difficult.
Current means are not always ideal.
To deal with this challenge, an arsenal of programs and tools is ready. Especially Skype has become a regular at the larger companies. Everyone who has ever sat in a Skype meeting (with more than ten participants) knows the frustrations.
Due to delays in speech and the lack of non-verbal communication, it does not always work well. We also do not find a one-to-one collaboration via video conferencing with real life (IRL) work session.
We miss out on old-fashioned tools, such as a simple A4 with a pen or a pile of post-its. We saw the developments around virtual reality (VR) and mainly thought: “Goh …”
Working together in VR
VR enables you to work together with others in the same virtual space from – for example, your living room. In our performance, you will find the same tools in that room that you also encounter in a standard meeting room. There are whiteboards and markers for drawing and writing, post-its to comment on documents, interactive presentations, Kanban boards with overviews of current projects and reports that are jointly worked on.
VR can even go one step further than an ordinary meeting room. With the help of all kinds of tools, 3D objects can be jointly designed, dismantled and adapted. Abstract issues, such as processes and complicated data structures, are also converted into 3D maps and then viewed and edited with VR.
To be able to meet in VR you obviously need VR glasses, but also a program to meet in. You can have such a plan built by an ICT developer, or you use the existing programs. In our pilot, we opted for the latter.
When evaluating the programs, we have taken into account the following:
- How user-friendly is the platform? Are the operation and navigation natural, or does every action feel like a huge struggle?
- Can you do the things on the platform that you can do in an IRL meeting? For example:
- Can you give presentations using, for example, PowerPoint or Prezi?
- Can you open documents and use them together efficiently?
- Are planning tools such as Kanban or scrum signs available on the platform?
- Does the interaction add something?
- Do the avatars not distract from the interaction?
- Does your avatar show mimicry when you talk based on your intonation?
- Is it easy to express something clearly with your hands?
- Does the platform add anything extra?
- Can you draw or build in 3D?
- Can you simulate other environments, including environments that do not yet exist (such as a new building)?
By the above criteria, we have tested ten different programs. This did not appear to be an absolute favorite: none of the programs was an all-rounder. We did, however, find three programs suitable for their own specific use case. These platforms are Facebook Spaces, vTime and rumii.
Consultation and presentation (platform: rumii)
Rumii is an ideal platform for consultation and presentation. Voice communication and the presentation of documents and PowerPoint works well. Also, scrum tools, such as JIRA, are available on this platform. You can already get started with this.
There are also negatives. Documents can be edited on the platform, but this is inconvenient and slow. Practically working together on ‘something’ is limited to being able to draw on a whiteboard. The drawings that have been made can not be saved yet.
However, Rumii is still in an early stage of development. Given the ambitions of the developers, rumii is expected to develop into an excellent platform for collaboration, presentation, and consultation.
Consultation and streaming (platform: Facebook Spaces)
Facebook Spaces is not the most formal platform. But what it does does it well. This platform is firmly focused on communication, but to a lesser extent on cooperation. It is very user-friendly, it offers a number of good options to share the session with others.
It is also good with cross-platform functionalities. Editing or presenting document or object is, unfortunately, a lot less useful. With a beta function, you can share your desktop, but we still found it quite cumbersome.
A significant limitation is that having a Facebook profile is a prerequisite for working with this platform. With a large-scale application, this can cause problems, since Facebook is often used privately (and therefore not for work).
Conversations, recording, and broadcasting (platform: vTime)
vTime is similar to Facebook Spaces in many ways. It is mainly focused on communication and is also somewhat limited in the features. Distinctive are 1. the slightly more businesslike character and 2. the possibility to record VR sessions (this will be available soon). This allows meetings that take place in a small company to be shown to a broader audience both live and at a later time.
Future of cooperation in VR
This pilot about meetings in the virtual space started with the idea that VR can be the next step in The New Way of Working. Will that happen? It is too early for us, but we certainly do not rule it out. At the moment we see that VR works well for specific use cases, but the existing platforms are not yet ready for large-scale use. Especially the editing of documents in VR leaves much to be desired and makes the unconventional operation that it is more of a hassle than a face-to-face meeting.
That said: the developments around cooperation in VR are speedy. There are more and more platforms available with increasing functionality and user-friendliness. The big chance that these applications will not only become better but also cheaper and therefore more accessible in the future!
In short: meeting in VR is still in its infancy, but we can not wait for this development to mature!