The current options for group training and collaboration for remote teams/audiences can be divided in 2 distinct approaches. You can fly your team to a central location for one or more days to collaborate and learn the skills needed or, set a date and time and use one of the many remote meeting tools with video, audio and screen sharing for self paced training and collaboration. The second approach needs far less investment but often results in less engagement. We recently found out that there will soon be a third option that could provide a better balance between these time/cost and results trade offs. You will soon be able to get your audience into a virtual room using your existing devices and VR.
These virtual rooms will allow you to facilitate remote learning and brainstorming sessions in a very personal/engaging way. After reflecting on our recent demo's of one of these Virtual spaces (currently in closed Beta) at meetingroom.io, we came to some interesting conclusions about where a virtual space could fit in with the future of corporate training and global meetups.
The "old" approach of in person meetings and training is still king when it comes to engagement and team building.
In-person training is no doubt the most engaging option, but it can be expensive and very time consuming. When we facilitate workshops at about inbound, we always mix in a number of exercises and group activities. We make use of lots of stationary, such as sticky notes, flip-charts, etc.. A good mix of interactivity and a mix of media helps to get better communication with and engagement from every person that is present in the room. In short, the right use of materials and in-person discussion for learning and development creates high quality results and improves team dynamics. Then there is the team building that happens automatically when you put people together in a room, which adds even more value to the experience.
The main problem that many organisations face when adapting the in-person approach, is the very high cost in time and resources required. Even with the level of result you get, it can be difficult for today's organisations to get budgets, make time for staff to travel, get a room and facilitator, etc.
The move to remote meetings and training using sharing/conferencing tools.
Over the last 25 years, (video)conferencing and webinar software have made it possible to interact a lot more without flying out to meet in person. This has no doubt revolutionized how work gets done. Apart from giving companies a more resource friendly option to deliver training and conduct meetings across their branches, it has also changed the entire worker landscape. More and employees spend less and less time in their companies' office space. People have a higher degree of freedom and are less directly engaged with their peers in the organisation. This makes it a lot more challenging to keep your teams connected to your company culture and to be sure that they receive the education and support they need to help them accomplish your shared goals. To compensate, a high amount of training and meeting time is being booked in to be remotely attended. The sheer amount of these interruptions and the disconnected feel that these types of communications often bring, tends to create a lack of engagement and interest for the attendees. If a conversation involves more then "one to one" while using these tools, it is hard to see what peoples' reactions are as there is no cohesion between the different camera images etc. While there is definitely a use for these kinds of meetings, they tend to fall flat when they are overused for education or project meeting purposes. The tendency of participants in these meetings is often just to put on mute and "switch off" while the current speaker drones on.
It's not surprising then, that the "old" approach of meeting face to face is still very much alive in modern day global business. Any opportunity to meet in person is very much needed. With day to day communications relying very much on voice,video and chat, face to face meetings are key, not only to drive direct results but also to build empathy or the feeling of belonging within the team and wider organisation.
Over the past 20 years broadband and later mobile Internet became widely available and the breath of connected devices became more mobile and diverse. This allowed the online meeting and collaboration experience to become more accessible and cheaper with improved audio, video and sharing capabilities, but there hasn't been any major revolution in what it can do since the start of web conferencing in the mid 90s. So what will bring these types of services to the next level?
The next level. Meeting in a virtual collaborative space.
With the arrival of powerful mobile devices and technologies such as VR becoming more mainstream, we are now at a stage where it becomes possible to take remote collaboration to a new level. We are on the verge of a major VR breakthrough in the consumer market, where devices such as the HTC Vive Focus and Lenovo Mirage Solo will offer standalone room scale VR at affordable prices.
This is revolutionary in itself. A short time ago, having a fully tracked standalone headset that does not need to be wired to a PC and doesn't require any sensors in the room, was unthinkable.
So now that we have access to mobile hardware that can run a 3D/VR environment and allows you to have a presence in a shared virtual space, we are ready for the next level of remote collaboration. At About Inbound we got to play around with one of these next level solutions by Meetingroom.io. They are building a services that provides virtual rooms for use with VR and any many other device with an internet connection. The platform allows you to conduct your meetings in 3D. From your standard desktop or laptop the experience already feels a lot more engaging. Add a VR headset and you can transport yourself into the virtual space, with your limbs and head movements tracked to create a form of 3D embodiment.
This might sound gimmicky at first, but once you experienced a meeting in their virtual space first hand, the value quickly becomes apparent. You are a lot more engaged. You feel a lot more immersed. You simply feel a lot more connected to the people in this room. Have a read of our first impressions and pre beta preview of their product here. What this tool does particularly well, is to mix and match devices to suit the meetings needs. This means that a presenter can use a tracked VR headset so that everyone can be engaged with them while the participants can connect using the device of their choice. The room can incorporate things like streaming video, virtual whiteboards, etc. and allows for all the sharing capabilities of current web conferencing and more.
So will this new level remote collaboration replace the need to meet face to face for training and meetings? We don't think so. even if every person were to ware a VR headset with all tracking possible, the level of connection you have when you are looking a person in the eyes is not replaceable, at least in the near future. Will it replace existing chat and video based web conferencing, webinar and meeting software? We think in due time this might give a lot of the online meeting software a run for it's money but over the coming years it could more likely be a powerful addition to your remote collaboration capabilities.
For sales meetings, project teams, or training and workshops. it will ad a compelling extra dimension to existing remote work and presentation tools. The level of engagement and interaction you get from meeting in one of these rooms can only lead to better quality results.