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Facebook joins the virtual office space with Horizon Workrooms

The new productivity and collaboration app combines virtual and physical elements and will test the “future fitness” of employees.

A Horizon Workroom can hold 16 people in the virtual space and 34 more people can join via video conference.

Image: Facebook

There’s a new place for Oculus Avatars to visit: Horizon Workrooms. Facebook announced the open beta release of the product Thursday as a new way for people to collaborate at work via the Oculus Quest 2. A user can share files from her desk and brainstorm on infinite whiteboards. People can talk with colleagues in the virtual room or people who have joined via video call. 

The Workrooms app uses mixed-reality desk and keyboard tracking, hand tracking, remote desktop streaming, video conferencing integration and spatial audio. According to Facebook, It’s the first time these technologies have been combined to create a different kind of productivity experience. The app works with the Oculus Quest 2 and the web.

The virtual rooms can hold 16 people and up to 34 more people can join via video call. People participating via video show up on a screen similar to a video call. Workrooms has a number of interactive features, including:

  • The ability to join by VR or video call.
  • A new hand-tracking function.
  • A mixed-reality experience that combines a physical desk and a virtual room.
  • Spatial audio technology.
  • The ability to use a VR controller as a pen.
  • The ability to pin images from your computer to the virtual room’s whiteboard.
  • A connection to Outlook and Google calendars.
horizon workrooms mixed reality

The new app for Oculus uses mixed reality with elements in a virtual setting as well as objects from a user’s actual desk in addition to keyboard and hand tracking.

Image: Facebook

According to Facebook, the experience was designed to use a person’s hands as the primary input, instead of the VR controller. This makes it easier to switch between physical tools like a keyboard and the controller. 

The hand-tracking and spatial audio features are available now for developers to use in third-party apps. The company plans to make avatars, Passthrough, the mixed-reality desk and tracked keyboard capabilities available as well. Developers can use the Passthrough API Experimental to build and test apps that blend the real and virtual worlds. Oculus announced this news in July 2021 as part of the v31 SDK release. The API will be available for Unity developers with support for other development platforms in the future. 

SEE: One company’s virtual reality approach could end the debate over working from home vs. at the office (TechRepublic)

In a blog post, Facebook pledged not to use work conversations and materials to inform ads on its platform. Also, the “audio contents of meetings are processed on Facebook servers but not stored “unless someone records and sends a clip as part of a report.” The company also said that Passthrough processes images and video of a user’s physical environment from device sensors locally and that Facebook and third-party apps do not view those images or use them to target ads. 

In order to use the app, users need a Workrooms account, which is separate from both Facebook and Oculus accounts. Facebook has a VR code of conduct which sets expectations for behavior in the virtual world, including a ban on impersonating a Facebook employee. Workrooms is available in 22 countries.

Virtual offices could combat Zoom fatigue

Virtual offices are not as far away as you might think. In a new report about virtual offices, Forrester analysts describe Accenture’s “Nth Floor,” a virtual space that connects the company’s 500,000 employees and customers in virtual meeting rooms and event spaces. The report, “Your Virtual Office in the Cloud,” also describes the mixed-reality experience that Sophya’s employees enjoy at the virtual reality vendor’s office. They order food in a virtual cafeteria that is then delivered via DoorDash and charged to the company.

In the report, Forrester analysts explained that creating an office in a virtual setting could be an antidote to Zoom fatigue. Benefits could include:

  • Replicating in the in-person office experience.
  • Creating a shared experience and reinforcing corporate values.
  • Developing a shared culture.
  • Ending the open office plan vs private office debate.

VR offices face a few barriers that include both humans and hardware. The Forrester report describes one of these hurdles as the “future fitness of employees.” This is a combination of the mental readiness and the action-oriented mindset required to adapt to this new way of working. The authors note, “Understanding the future fitness of your employees will be a key prerequisite to determining how fast and how deeply you can go.” A company’s robotics quotient (i.e., the ability to use and drive business results from emerging technologies) is another element to consider. 

Finally, there are device access limitations and a lack of security expertise among vendors, according to the report. 

horizon workrooms virtual whiteboard

Horizon Workrooms include endless whiteboards for brainstorming as well as the ability to share information from a computer desktop with the entire group.

Image: Facebook

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