The Future? Mixed-reality headsets in I.C.U.s

Facebook’s virtual reality service Horizon Workrooms, announced this month, will allow users to don a VR headset, create an avatar and sit among colleagues in computer-generated corporate settings. It’s not the only company betting on enterprise VR. You can host virtual fireside chats (using Roomkey); navigate through a gamified office space (on Gather); or put on an entire virtual expo event (on MootUp).

The research firm ARtillery Intelligence expects the sector to be worth about $4 billion in 2023. But not all experts are convinced that meetings in the “metaverse” will catch on quickly. Here are three reasons:

Content is king, even in virtual reality. Florian Couret, the head of the immersive lab at the property broker BNP Paribas Real Estate, used VR headsets to hold some meetings with colleagues across five European countries last year. But the experiment petered out. “You can have the best tools in the world to meet in virtual reality, but if the content is not interesting, nobody cares,” he said.

Employee resistance will be a major obstacle, said Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Gamers might already be living in the metaverse, but workers are creatures of habit, he said. Virtual reality may be too “far afield from our regular forms of interaction” to make it into the workplace anytime soon, West said.

Better broadband infrastructure is needed. “Connectivity is actually still a big challenge,” West said. If companies want realistic virtual office spaces, they, and tech companies, are going to have to invest a lot more money in infrastructure, he added.

Despite the hurdles, some industries are already embracing the technology. Alexandros Sigaras, an assistant professor of research at Weill Cornell Medicine’s [Englander Institute for Precision Medicine], said mixed-reality headsets were piloted in I.C.U.s during the pandemic to bring additional expertise into the room without risking exposure to the virus. He regularly hosts meetings in VR and believes there’s potential for the technology in all types of workplaces.

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The above article originally appeared on The New York Times website on August 30, 2021.