Telecommuting in the precursors of the metaverse already a reality

  • By Julie Jammot / AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

Depending on his mood, Jeff Weiser settles down to work in a Parisian café, a mysterious cave or above Earth, thanks to the nascent metaverse.

Weiser lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, but his workplace is in a fake realm accessible using a virtual reality headset.

Though still science fiction to most people, the precursors to the metaverse vision of the internet’s future are already de rigueur for a handful of people beyond the gaming and tech crowds. hipsters.

Photo: AFP

Weiser, founder of a translation startup, spends 25 to 35 hours a week working with Oculus virtual reality (VR) gear on his head at home.

A VR app called Immersed allows him to sync screens such as his computer and smartphone with his virtual world, eliminating distractions around him at home.

Along with “increased focus,” the ergonomics are “perfect,” Weiser said.

Display screens hover where they are easily visible and can be changed to any size.

Weiser taps on his keyboard without seeing it and appears from the outside to be talking to himself, but in his virtual world he interacts with avatars of colleagues as far away as Argentina and Ireland.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred the use of telecommuting technologies that allow colleagues to collaborate as a team despite being in different locations.

The Holy Grail is to replicate the kind of personal contact possible in offices.

Florent Crivello co-founded Teamflow, a start-up that designs custom software so workers can collaborate virtually from their computers.

“We’re building the Metaverse for work,” Crivello said, adding that VR headsets aren’t quite ready for “prime time.”

“All of our collaboration tools are always computer-based; we want to meet people where they are,” he said.

Teamflow virtual offices look like on-screen game boards with meeting rooms, sofas and more.

Workers are represented by round icons that feature their photo or a live video footage of their face, and can initiate discussions with co-workers by bringing their “pawn” close to that of a co-worker.

If the person approached virtually has a microphone plugged in, they can automatically hear themselves as they could in real life.

The key to the experience is “persistence,” the fact that the virtual environment exists whether or not a particular worker is there, Crivello said, adding, “That’s a defining characteristic.”

For example, Teamflow users who “write” on a virtual whiteboard in a fake meeting room would find it when they return the next day.

About 1,000 people use the Teamflow app every working day.

VR app Immersed, for its part, said it gained tens of thousands of users after a tough time in late 2019 when the company nearly disappeared. “

The adoption curve was in the disillusion phase, it was the bottom of the valley and we ran out of money,” said Immersed co-founder Renji Bijoy.

“When I told my team they could go get jobs, all seven said unanimously, ‘We’re not going anywhere,'” Bijoy said.

The pandemic has fueled a trend towards remote working, rekindling investor interest in start-ups that are innovating in the sector.

At the same time, virtual reality itself has been gaining momentum, thanks to investments from Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc, in its Oculus unit and in the metaverse at large.

“We’re trying to build a world where anyone could live anywhere and put on a pair of glasses and feel like they teleported into their virtual office,” Bijoy said.

Missing links, for Bijoy, include realistic avatars instead of cartoonish animated characters, and body tracking that allows movements or gestures to be reproduced in virtual worlds.

“It’s not that far away,” Bijoy said of such technology, adding that we can expect it to be seen “much sooner than five years.”

Some users worry that working in VR will be misinterpreted or misunderstood and prefer to remain anonymous, like a New York graphic designer who spent six hours a day working from Immersed during the pandemic.

He customized his Oculus headset for comfort and built his own bedroom in Immersed – a virtual reproduction of his favorite library with rustling pages and soft footsteps.

The New York resident said his productivity soared, but his health suffered.

He forgot to take breaks, losing track of place and time.

“I was taking the helmet off and it was kind of shocking, it was just kind of like a slap in the face, being back in reality,” he said.

A blood test showed he was lacking in vitamin D, and he suspected part of the cause was spending so much time out of the sun and in virtual reality.

“I just stopped using it,” the designer said. “I don’t think it’s healthy to replace reality with virtual reality.”

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