Futuristic Work

Is it better to talk to a blank screen, a photo or a 3D avatar of the person when in a virtual meeting?

A research question that may need answering soon. At this point, from a presenters/meeting controller perspective, I can only guess that it is better to have a 3D avatar engaging with you with some body-language feedback, than an array of black video screens with no visual or auditory feedback.

Microsoft have just announced their introduction of 3D avatars as part of their strategy to dominate virtual meetings within the Metaverse.

From a participant perspective, we do know that the creation of a better looking avatar in VR can improve a person’s overall self-esteem. Named ‘The Proteus Effect’ and ‘The Ideal Elf’, having an avatar that is better looking than your real self, can give you more confidence in the VR world. This confidence gained in VR then translates back into the real world – giving the person behind the avatar more confidence in offline situations.

What does this mean for virtual business interactions?

– It may help to increase levels of self-confidence for less confident colleagues.

– It may reduce the number of black screens – as we don’t have to appear constantly engaged for the entire meetings, the avatar can do that for us

– It may be easier for the presenter to engage with others on the call, especially if they are getting more regular body-language feedback – even if it is from an avatar.

– It could even reduce the amount of zoom fatigue that is created by ‘the mirror effect’ of having to constantly self-adjust when seeing a reflection of self on-screen, potentially leaving to lower levels of exhaustion at the end of a workday.

I do have a few concerns though.

– If the avatar’s actions reflect the authors tone of voice, we will have to constantly mentally adjust our tone of voice to ensure the avatar is reflecting (or potentially not reflecting) our current feelings.

– Will this technology further alienate those who have lower levels of confidence when it comes to tech uptake? If you are not familiar with the new tech, having to learn how to use it in order to fulfil your job function, or keep up to speed with other members of the team, can add a lot of additional stress and anxiety to your role.

– For those having to already switch between multiple video conferencing platforms, such as freelancers, consultants or the self-employed, learning multiple complicated meta-based 3D virtual meeting platforms can become a real barrier to business productivity.

For Microsoft, this is another step forward towards a more 3D virtual work environment. They do, however, needs to go some way in developing easier to use augmented reality technology, if they are to create good up-take in the metaverse environment amongst business users. Although they seem to be head-to-head with Facebook (it may be some time before I can call them ‘Meta’) in the race for the metaverse domination, I do wonder if a smaller, more dynamic, tech company may just pull the meta-rug out from under their very large extended-reality feet.