Picture: University of Münster
That’s Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s big bet: VR meetings will one day surpass traditional video meetings – and maybe even live meetings. What is the progress?
Since Corona, there has been a worldwide boom in online meetings and web conferencing in everyday life at school and at work. Since most of these meetings take place in two dimensions, for example via Teams, Webex or Zoom, scientists from the University of Muenster pose the following research question: does virtual reality make meetings more productive and the results teams better with VR headsets than with Teams? , Zoom and other 2D meeting platforms?
Real-time multi-sensory interaction
Virtual reality allows, as the researchers say, multi-sensory social interaction in real time. VR users act and communicate with other people in real time through avatars that see, hear and feel, for example through the vibrations of VR controllers or by visually conveying a sense of space. The virtual encounter that you know from Zoom and Co. is thus extended by other sensory perceptions in virtual reality.
Marketing professor and virtual reality researcher Thorsten Hennig-Thurau and his colleagues at the University of Münster wanted to find out whether virtual meetings in a 3D environment moved the participants more emotionally, whether the teams were more creative and to what extent they were working together. Test subjects were encouraged to work together productively and creatively and to watch movies together.
300 students test meetings (VR)
The researchers randomly selected more than 300 business students from the University of Münster and divided them into three groups of about 100 participants each. The first group encounters VR headsets in social VR apps Glue, Altspace VR, and Bigscreen VR.
In an interview with MIXED, Professor Hennig-Thurau speaks somewhat ironically of a “logistical masterpiece”. Since the university only has 30 Meta Quest 2s, the team first sends the VR headsets to some of the first group. After cleaning, the devices are then distributed to the next group of test subjects, and so on.
The second group meets in 2D via Zoom and Watch2gether. The third group uses social VR apps like Altspace VR in 2D on the normal monitor.
The study authors emphasize that all participants are meeting from home. Conditions should be as realistic as possible and include all possible difficulties, such as poor internet connection.
VR has a better sense of presence, but is less productive
The first observation is hardly surprising: in VR, the perception the social presence of the participants is more pronounced than in 2D meetings, which has a positive impact on meetings. Participants reported that in virtual reality, they had the feeling of being together in the same place and a sense of closeness.
Another positive factor is the mobility in virtual reality, which does not exist in this form in 2D meetings. It brings more fun and engagement to meetings and makes them more creative, participants said.
However, looking and walking around the 3D environment also distracts participants, the researchers note. The static environment of classic 2D meetings increases concentration.
The researchers also looked at the exhaustion caused by session variants. Here, virtual reality did the worst, and exhaustion was particularly high in participants wearing VR headsets. Among the reasons cited by students were the weight distribution of VR headsets and poor graphics in some cases.
At the start of the study, Hennig-Thurau’s team still expected virtual reality to outperform Zoom and Co. in all areas. But in the sum of the effects examined empirically, VR Meetings Didn’t Beat 2D Meetings. Zoom and Co. are more productive. 3D rooms visited on the monitor generate the lowest social presence.
Why aren’t VR Meetings working yet?
Why VR meetings don’t work yet is the subject of future research. The Muenster scientists suspect, among other things, that there could be negative effects due to the less realistic depiction of participants as avatars. Some people also felt too isolated from the physical world in VR meetings.
Researchers cannot yet provide empirical evidence on this. Researchers still disagree on whether better technologies can improve the productivity and quality of virtual reality meetings. It’s much more important to improve the functionality and design of VR meetings, says Hennig-Thurau.