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VR a Leveler in Meetings

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There cannot be many who have not enjoyed the benefits (or pain!) of Zoom, Facetime, or Teams over the last few months but how many people have met up in Virtual Reality? How does it really compare to the new norm of Video Conferencing?

Well,, an Irish-based tech company, in partnership with the Bank of Ireland has done some research pitching Virtual Reality head to head with Video Conferencing. They wanted to gain insight into the difference between communicating via Video Conferencing and Virtual Reality (VR).

The research-based experiment was about seeing how people interacted in the two different environments; it measured and compared the various responses and reactions that people had, across a variety of variables when dealing with both technologies … as one of the authors puts it, we simply wanted a more structured way of asking “How did it feel?”.

Their research was based on the 1994 Bradley and Lang and the 2010 Wissmath et al Model and looked at Valence, Arousal, Dominance, Presence, and Closeness in the interactions between participants.

Summary of Research Findings1

In summary, the results of the research highlight the benefits and challenges of both VR and Video Conferencing; for VR there were increased feelings of Presence and Closeness, greater levels of Arousal or excitement, and a reduction in Dominance.

The exciting thing for me, despite already being an enthusiast, was the identification of a couple of areas that I had not thought of.

Firstly, contrary to what I had first assumed, VR uses less bandwidth than video, about 90% less. This immediately led me to test this theory and head straight out with the dog, the headset, and a mobile phone to the local common to see if VR can work through my phone – and, despite being stared at by bemused dog walkers as I stood in the open with my headset on randomly waving my arms around, it worked well … really well. Now, this opens up more possibilities for the application of this technology that I had considered.

The second new finding for me, and probably the more interesting finding of all, was that participants reported that the VR environment made them feel safer and more at ease to participate, there was a reduction in any feeling of dominance. VR is a leveler. In VR it appears that people feel less intimidated by others, and it is harder for people to intimidate. You simply cannot make judgments about people based on their appearance in a virtual world; so do we conclude that we are more equal in a VR meeting?

My sixteen-year-old daughter (a sample size of one alert!) independently made a similar observation after her first experience; she said that it felt like an “amazingly safe place to contribute”, she went on to say that “It wouldn’t matter what you looked like or whether you were male or female”. And knowing the image challenges that the young face today, perhaps this offers a different platform for people to get involved and leave their inhibitions or prejudices behind.

So in VR you can only be judged on the quality of your contribution. So does VR create a safe space where people can feel comfortable to interact and contribute freely? Will this result in better quality dialogue, more effective meetings and higher value outcomes? If true, big tick for VR.

Of course, a slight twist to all of this is that one of the beauties of VR is that you can actually choose to look like whatever you want – you choose your avatar.

So my journey continues and my next stop is to get some colleagues to join me in a VR experience and help me decide if my enthusiasm for this technology is clouding my commercial judgement. Do VR meetings really have legs?

In the meantime, I will leave you to read through the research and perhaps think about who you think wins in the battle between Video Conferencing versus Virtual Reality Meetings; probably they both have a role.

You can find the research paper here.

1Research Document: Uses of Virtual Reality for Communication inFinancial Services: A Case study on comparingdifferent Telepresence interfaces : VirtualReality compared to Video Conferencing

Researched by: Abraham G. Campbell, Thomas Holz, Jonny Cosgrove, Mike Harlick, and Tadhg O’Sullivan (School of Computer Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4)

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