Since the beginning of the pandemic, millions of office workers have been working remotely from home, their only contact with colleagues and managers through emails, daily Zoom meetings, and conference calls. As much as employees initially welcomed the freedoms remote work afforded, such as relaxed clothing during meetings or spending more time with family, many now find themselves missing a physical space with their colleagues.
Amid COVID-19 restrictions, virtual reality (VR) technology offers a fascinating opportunity to safely return to the office and provides a sense of camaraderie that was missing due to isolation and social distancing.
“People have valued the fluidity of working remotely, but what’s really lacking is the culture aspect. It feels isolating because the only time you’re interacting with your coworkers is during formal meetings,” said Niall Carroll, Chairman of CG Tech’s The Virtulab, the creators of Virtuworx, a virtual platform that hosts virtual remote conferences created by CG Tech’s The Virtulab team.
Carroll further described VR as a “silver lining” arising from the pandemic, since companies are using it to recreate physical events and conferences, allowing employees the possibility to enter a virtual office where they can socialize in a way akin to real life.
“[In Virtuworx] you have the sense that you’re in a real meeting, you can meet as avatars with your other coworkers, and you can collaborate on projects in a spontaneous and informal manner,” Carroll asserted.
From Concept to Actuality
The idea of VR began in the 1960s, but it was in the last decade that technology such as smaller CPUs, powerful game engines, and AI-image rendering software has finally allowed VR to assert its dominance as a practical tool.
Between 2016 and 2017, combined venture investments in VR, AR, and mixed reality (MR) exceeded $1.25 billion, and attracted around 90 million active users. The user base nearly doubled to 171 million in 2018 and investments increased threefold to more than $4.1 billion, with expectations that within the next few years the VR market will reach $44 billion.
There are numerous benefits in developing this virtual world, especially after the pandemic. The financial sector, in particular, is considering how VR can save money by moving events and training online, in addition to the benefits arising from cutting carbon emissions from reduced business travel.
A study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s largest professional services network firms, found that advances in immersive and VR technology could save banks as much as $1.5 trillion by 2030, and virtual reality applications alone could save nearly $500 billion.
Moreover, VR is increasingly viewed as an efficient trainer for new employees. In early 2019, Walmart experimented with around 10,000 employees through VR-based skills management tests, and they discovered that learning modules that once took 45 minutes only took a fraction of the time. A year later, Walmart expanded this training to a million employees, with reports that it has improved employee performance by at least 10 percent through the help of VR.
The VR experience is still not affordable for everyone right now, although the growing interest in using VR for the work environment will likely accelerate improvement in technology, encouraging more competition, and creating cheaper products. Numerous industry experts suggest that even after the pandemic, an immense part of our working experience will revolve around virtual worlds.
It is as part of that trend that The Virtulab’s Virtuworx seeks to make its mark.
Enter into Virtuworx’s Metaverse
The story of Virtuworx would not have been possible without its parent company, CG Tech and its chairman, Niall Carroll.
CG Tech is an investment holding company focused on industrial and event-related services, with a growing list of portfolio companies, creating and managing cutting-edge solutions for complex projects across Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the United Kingdom. Niall Carroll, CG Tech’s chairman based in London, brings with him three decades of expertise in the financial services and natural resources sectors, and since 2012, he and his partners have gradually built a portfolio of industrial services businesses, now housed in CG Tech, that includes The Virtulab.
Through Carroll’s support and funding, and with an eye on market needs arising from the pandemic, The Virtulab team rapidly adapted their in-house, avatar-based software to build Virtuworx, an immersive avatar platform that can connect remote teams through captivating metaverses. The platform is particularly relevant for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), remote office work, and education and training.
In its current form, The Virtulab’s Virtuworx is not your usual VR tool since users do not require headsets nor gloves, rather the platform is viewed and used through a screen on a desktop or tablet, tapping into the “gamification” of the remote-work experience.
This combination of customizable worlds and “gamification” proposed by the Virtuworx’s creators to induce an enriching experience and ferment creativity for employees is quite inspiring.
“The gist of the platform is that it allows you, through a digital avatar, to move between conversations just as you would in real life,” explained Wayne Strydom, Virtuworx’s chief innovation officer. “So if you have a group of more than eight people, for example, you can split off into different groups and move between the conversations just like you would walking around.”
Moreover, due to its customizable nature, a user can find themselves playing a game of football or flying among the clouds during their breaks, or conducting a meeting on Mars or within a lush jungle. Virtuworx’s possibilities, like the virtual worlds within it, seem endless, with the limits based on what the clients desire and what The Virtulab’s team can build with current technology.
Aware of the platform’s immense potential, CG Tech recently announced further funding to buttress the Virtuworx’s capabilities, including further “gamification” features like voice recognition capabilities and rewards systems, further customizable environments, more robust server capacities, as well as features to compress the download size of the platform to allow more commercialization and better accessibility to users worldwide.
CG Tech reports thousands of users from across the world have used Virtuworx, and more are likely to join over time. Moreover, this past November the platform successfully hosted TEDx’s first virtual-reality event to showcase its capabilities to the world.
It is very clear, through platforms like The Virtulab’s Virtuworx, that virtual reality is on the cusp of being a real, practical, and revolutionary tool for our future. One key question still remains, how soon will we all plug in?