Last week, Meta multiplied numerous announcements about working in the metaverse, suggesting that it might now be possible, and even beneficial, to turn to these virtual worlds for this important part of our daily lives. However, there is reason to remain skeptical.
At a time when hybrid working has become essential, Meta, or rather its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, wants to push us to work in the metaverse, this concept with a still vague definition that he sees as the future of the Internet. At its annual conference, Connect, last week, the American giant made numerous announcements about work in this universe of virtual worlds that we will access in particular thanks to virtual, augmented and mixed reality headsets.
Despite these announcement effects, the reality about Meta’s metaverse is not so good and one wonders if it’s really possible to work on it… and if we’re ready for it.
Among other things, the California group is working in the metaverse using their new mixed reality headset, the Meta Quest Pro. He claims this device “is designed with the goal of improved collaboration and productivity”. It allows users to find themselves in virtual worlds without being cut off from the real world, leaving peripheral vision unobstructed. This allows them to see their immediate environment, on which 3D elements are superimposed, and to use their physical keyboard and mouse to work on virtual screens.
The Meta Quest Pro also features an eye and face tracking system that allows avatars in the metaverse to replicate users’ facial expressions. That is according to the company “a much stronger sense of presence than traditional video calls” during virtual encounters, with avatars that can express non-verbal signals. Specifically, when a person smiles, winks, or raises an eyebrow, their digital version is supposed to do the same.
Meta also announced a partnership with Microsoft – one of its metaverse competitors – to offer the company’s services in its virtual universe. For starters, the company’s software suites (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) will soon be usable with Meta headsets. In addition, the Teams collaborative communications application will be integrated directly into Horizon Workrooms (virtual workspaces), allowing users to participate in immersive meetings and later join a Teams meeting directly from these spaces. And from 2023, users will be able to join them via Zoom.
Meta also focuses specifically on architects, designers and other makers. From next year, the American giant will allow them to view 3D models in Horizon Workrooms. The company works together with Adobe and Autodesk, which publishes 3D creation software. Finally, Meta is working on a project called Magic Room, “a mixed reality experience (…) that allows any group of people, some gathered in a physical space and others remotely, to work together”. It could be available as early as 2023.
Between pros and cons
So Meta sells us dreams, especially since the benefits of working in the metaverse are many. In addition to improved productivity, virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) reality can prevent employees from being distracted, especially if they are working in an open space. The first allowed them to stay focused by being in a personal virtual office. This would also be the case with the second, with the integration of “virtual separators” in the physical workplace. In addition, being able to adjust your working environment in VR is a way to reduce stress, for example by simulating spaces filled with greenery. Researchers who wanted to investigate the effects of long-term working in VR explain this in an article that appeared in June.
They conducted an experiment with 18 participants who worked one week in a virtual environment and one week in a physical environment, for 8 hours a day, with a 45-minute lunch break. In contrast, performed with the Meta Quest 2 helmet, this experience showed the drawbacks of virtual reality, such as the harmful effects of this technology on health. Indeed, two participants had to drop out on the first day because of nausea, migraines and anxiety. The rest reported a 48% increase in eye strain and a 42% increase in frustration levels during their VR work week. They also reported a 20% drop in well-being and felt less productive compared to their work week in a physical environment.
Besides this research that shows that working in the metaverse does not only have advantages, the virtual platforms of Meta are far from ready. Earlier this year, employees, including Andrew Bosworth, Meta’s CTO, who traveled to Horizon Workrooms for a meeting were forced to switch to Zoom due to technical issues, the report found. New York Times early October. Horizon Worlds, the company’s main VR platform, has many quality issues as the media recently revealed. The edge. “Feedback from creators, users, testers and many of our team members point to the weight of frustrating little things, stability issues and bugs that make it impossible for our community to experience the magic of Horizon”wrote Vishal Shah, vice president responsible for the company’s metaverse, in a Sept. 15 internal memo that got hold of the media.
Worse, even Meta’s own employees aren’t enamored of his metaverse. According to a May poll of 1,000 of them, 58% don’t understand the company’s reverse strategy. Many of them also spend little time there. “For many of us, we don’t spend much time in Horizon (…) Why don’t we like the product we’ve created enough to use it all the time? The simple truth is that if we don’t like it, how can we expect our users to like it? »asked Vishal Shah. In another memo released 15 days later, he announced the development of a plan “making managers accountable” so that their teams use Horizon Worlds at least once a week.
The equipment to get to the metaverse can also be problematic. A Bloomberg reporter who attended the company’s conference with the Meta Quest 2 headset cited facial pain due to the weight (503 grams) of the device. An issue with the battery integrated into the helmet, while on the Meta Quest Pro it is housed in the bow or at the back of the head. Despite this design, weight remains an issue as the company’s new helmet is heavier than its predecessor (722 grams). After 2 hours of testing, a journalist from Washington message said the device had left marks on his forehead, but also that he suffered from headaches. Another issue: The Bloomberg reporter reported that the headset ruined her makeup, making her wonder how many Meta employees work in VR and wear makeup every day.
If Meta bets heavily on the metaverse and wants us to work in this virtual universe, leading us to believe it would be practical for hybrid work, the reality is far less pretty. Given the many problems, we are still far from the day when working in the metaverse will only bring benefits.