Why Metaverse in Teams is going to make a difference

While there isn’t any new information about Mesh for Teams it is good to already think why and when you would be using immersive meeting instead of 2D (traditional / normal) Teams meeting. The end of H1 / 2022 is advancing rapidly and in Microsoft Ignite 2021 they stated that Mesh for Teams preview would be available at the end of this half – and there is but two months left. Of course changes in the roadmap are always possible (and they do slide forward very often), but I think it was a good time to write this post about why and how Metaverse Teams makes a difference on how we engage in meetings and collaborate. Unfortunately I have to speculate here based on information released by Microsoft during 2021 – since there isn’t really new information – but as the time for announced preview is becoming shorter it is all very interesting to see what the experience will be.

TLDR; is that we will have experiences and memories while we collaborate together in the virtual space and Mesh for Teams enables a new kind of hybrid meetings.

Depending on your interests, we can expect people to join Teams meetings in different ways in the future:

  • Some people might be there camera on like in any other meeting – they might be joining with their computers, mobile Teams, Surface Hub or via Microsoft Teams Room. I don’t expect they would be forced for 3D meeting experience. In short: nothing changes for people unless they want it themselves.
  • Then there are people joining with 2D experience but using their avatar. This way they can have camera off, but can still be more alive for others in the meeting. My guess is that we will be seeing quite a lots of avatar use, especially in the beginning. Using avatar should not replace video on meetings, but it can bring much more to video off meetings. Many also get more meeting fatigue when they have their camera on – using avatar can make the meeting much more enjoyable to others – instead of seeing just persons initials in a bubble. Avatar may become the most used capability from Mesh for Teams.
  • The immersive meeting without a VR headset. This experience will be very like using AltSpace VR today – or games you might play. It will be immersive to the point and allow interaction in a new way. Most people are not going to be using a VR/XR Headset because of various reasons (cost being one of those) so we will be seeing a lots of people joining immersive meetings in “2D viewport mode” using Teams.
  • And finally the immersive meeting with a headset. This is going to change the way we feel and interact with others during the meeting because you are going to be “immersed” in the virtual meeting space. If you haven’t, I strongly recommend to try out any good-enough (or state of the art, if possible) VR experience to have some idea how you will be “there” with others. Despite limited graphics (compared to state of the art games today) the immersivity can be surprisingly strong.

Why to use it in an immersive way

First of all – we “go” or enter the meeting. Instead of just joining the 2D meeting we take a step further an join the virtual meeting room (or space). The meeting will be something where we are with others. We will see meeting content on walls or displays there – similar like in a real meeting room.  And we will see other people – depending on their avatars we might know them by just looking at them and we can move towards others to greet them, or to engage in conversation. This means we will have new ways how we interact and collaborate with others. We might be even forming up instant small groups there just by being in a specific area with a few others attendees. This is replicating what we do when we are the physical meeting room.

Depending on our headset we could be using our hands as well: add expressiveness to our presentation when we can use our hands and move around the room. Point out specific points in the presentation – or perhaps we want to interact with the whiteboard in the room. Comparing to 2D meeting you can use hands when doing the presentation, but speaking from my experience is that if you sit by your computer when presenting you don’t’ wave around that much. Of course if you have a meeting room with, perhaps, Surface Hub or Microsoft Teams Room, you can stand and walk around much more freely (or you have a really good home studio for meetings). Of course – most people won’t be using a headset so at the beginning we are very likely seeing less hands waving. In time I vision that Microsoft would use image recognition from live camera to match person’s hand movements to avatar. Since Zoom has introduced a raise hand & thumbs up recognition I am putting my bets that Microsoft will be adding similar actions to Teams meetings and Mesh for Teams will be expanding them even more: all the way up to tracking hand & arm movements without needing a headset with controllers (or hand motion sensors). Meanwhile some hardware, like Hololens 2, are already replicating hand movements to avatars in Mesh Preview app: we can expect that come to Mesh for Teams sooner or later.

Since Microsoft Teams meetings are persistent, it would make also sense that the virtual meeting spaces are persistent also – and that you can join them again later on to continue working there. Filling content to the whiteboard or Loop components either when in the immersive metaverse with others (innovating / ideating together) or perhaps you have filled and updated documents and content separately and just continue innovation process with others  – or alone – in the metaverse. I don’t know if Loop components will be in Whiteboard on day 1 of Mesh for Teams Preview (or will even Whiteboard be there on the first day!) but looking at longer term I see lots of good and benefits for having a new kind of hybrid meetings. Adding dictation support (speech-to-text) and potentially text-to-speech will open new ways to make meetings more accessible and inclusive as well.

New kind of Experiences

If you have been using Surface Hub with Microsoft Teams Room in hybrid meetings you know it is a powerful combination. Using Whiteboard along other attendees (in the room or online) makes a strong feeling of “we are doing this together” and everyone in the room can see what others online are doing. This will get a level up with Mesh for Teams – when online attendees can be in the virtual meeting space and see each other’s via live avatars and also seeing people in the physical room via meeting display in the metaverse – that is truly hybrid. Using Whiteboard, PowerPoint Live or other tools (whenever these will be available in Mesh for Teams) adds the missing link between two realms: online and physical room.

Just think about expanding Mesh for Teams experiences from meetings to gatherings / town halls, onboarding or training scenarios. You can meet real people, who are virtually there. Instead of staying quiet in Teams meeting you might want to find a few people you know (or familiar topic) and talk in smaller groups. That is also easier for many of us: you may not want to speak up when 200+ people are listening, but instead when you are talking only to 1-3 other people the situation changes. How details and features will eventually surface – I don’t know. But I do suspect and hope there will be different modes for these Mesh for Teams experiences:  hybrid meeting might want to make sure people in the real room (or attending traditionally) here everything people say and meetups or social events need to respect the distance and spatial audio.

Are you seeing & understanding the Mesh for Teams & Metaverse same as I do: why and how immersive meetings are different and beneficial compared to traditional online meetings?
If you do then I am very happy because I was able to convey correctly my expectations and assumptions how Mesh for Teams will change the meetings for better. If you are not – let me know that as well! Put your thoughts to comments and let’s engage in a conversation!

And yes, I am really looking forward to enter my first Mesh for Teams meeting and take more steps forward in the Metaverse- fingers crossed we can do that already this summer!

Metaverse with Mesh for Teams will enable to have meeting experiences and memories in a very similar way as real, physical, meetings do.

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