As it is with almost everything, people looking at the future of their work-life all want different things. Many want to continue to work from home, others want to return to the office full-time, and some still want a little bit of both. Choosing between in-person and remote work is seemingly imminent for companies as vaccination rates rise in most countries. However, the Delta variant has caused companies like Apple to delay their return to the office until the beginning of 2022.
Some companies like Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan plan to have all employees back in the office and at their desks in their post-pandemic strategies, citing collaboration as a deciding factor. Some have gone so far as to call working from home an “aberration”, as Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said recently. Other companies like Apple and Uber want to bring their employees back into the office for at least part of the week. For others like Twitter and Facebook, fully remote work, either part-time or full-time, is now a permanent option.
In a likely response to collaboration challenges for remote workers, Facebook recently unveiled a solution: Horizon Workrooms. The free application available on the Facebook-owned Oculus Quest is a virtual reality meeting room for employees to meet and discuss work with cartoon avatars of themselves. From the description on the Oculus Store, “Horizon Workrooms is the VR workspace for teams to connect, collaborate, and create. Meet teammates across the table, even if you’re across the world — and transform your home office into your favorite remote meeting room.”
This is the first step Mark Zuckerburg and the Facebook team have taken in the company’s transition from a social media platform to a metaverse company. For many, this may be the first time the word ‘metaverse’ has come up. In the earnings call that preceded the announcement of Horizon Workrooms, the Facebook founder offered his definition of the word that stems from Neal Stephenson‘s 1992 novel “Snow Crash.” On the call, he stated, as reported by The New Yorker:
“The metaverse is a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces,” he said. “It’s an embodied Internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at. We believe that this is going to be the successor to the mobile Internet.”
Horizon Workrooms has been used for the past year at Facebook to bring employees together in the virtual space. The app allows users to view their physical computer in the virtual reality room with a desktop app and attempts to replicate the sounds and acoustics of a physical room through the headset audio. It is a more immersive attempt at the virtual meetings most people have had since the beginning of the pandemic.
The product is still in beta as Facebook works out the finer points of the application. The need for development was evident to CNN when they interviewed Andrew Bosworth, VP of Facebook Reality Labs, and he froze mid-sentence and then disconnected from the app during a conversation about Horizon Workrooms.
Since the launch of the Oculus Quest 2 in October 2020, the technology has grown in popularity. There have been an estimated 1.87 million units sold throughout the world, according to Statista. However, the issue for this new app and the progression toward the metaverse lies in the difficulty the VR experience has had in building a dedicated audience. For those that use it already, this will be an easy sell if it works properly. For those that do not, the $299 price tag may hold it back.