Virtual Work Spaces
Do you work within an office or remotely? How do you communicate with your peers? Is it as simple as walking over to their desk or picking up the phone? Do you accomplish any of this through a virtual world? I’m not talking skype, slack, or any simple chat software… I’m talking about a 3D virtual environment, where you move an avatar around and navigate as you would many MMOs. Ever since the dawn of Second Life, I think we’ve all heard rumors about working and collaborating within virtual work spaces but I had never really seen it implemented… Until now. Ironically enough, this is coming from my Mother who is working for this company called “eXp Reality," who has their employees and clients log into their virtual world. I was pretty curious about how all of this worked, so for today’s post I interviewed my Mom! Today post will be a bit different, I’ll be summarizing her experiences within the platform and what it’s like to work from within a virtual world.
To give some insight, her job is sort of like a “help desk” type person. She acts like a conduit between specialists and the customers coming in for questions. There’s a sort of “Meet and Greet” area where she works. It’s a bit like a store, when someone walks in there’s a little “chime” like a bell on a door opening. As most customer service employees, if someone new walks into a store, you walk over to greet them and see if they have any questions. If they do, you bring them over to a table, that has a little highlighted ring around it. Once someone approaches one of these tables, you immediately enter a private chat and are free to talk about your business without everyone in the “store” listening in. It’s interesting to note that, when all of the agents are busy, they naturally start to form a line in front of one of the tables. There’s no official “rules” for this, but it seems like human behavior kicks in and people line up. What’s also funny about the natural “line” that forms, is that people start to become sociable with each other while they wait. There are different “emotes” in the world, allowing the avatars to perform specific actions, and I guess it’s pretty common for people to start “dancing” while they wait in line. I couldn’t imagine calling a service line and striking up a conversation with someone else on hold… yet here it feels pretty common.
Much of the success of this world seems to hinge on personal relationships and human behavior. Many of the conversations start a bit awkward at first due to technically hiccups, and problems controlling the characters. While there isn’t any clipping on characters, people get paranoid about other avatar’s “personal space” and apologize profusely if they happen to accidentally go through another person. Most of the conversations feel pretty light, by talking to another “face” it seems as though people are less inclined to be aggressive and more inclined to be personable. They are virtually talking “face to face” to another person, and it feels more personal than talking over the phone or sending an e-mail. Even for someone who is a bit technically challenged, it’s not hard to ask a question and get immediate feedback. Overall this world seems to grant people the feeling that they are being taken care of immediately, than through traditional means.
The world itself is a large island featuring buildings for different departments, recreational facilities, and offices. They truely try to mimic everything you might encounter at a real-world business complex… with a few more liberties. I had to ask a bit more about the “recreational facilities” that were featured on the island… apparently there’s a Soccer Field, where teams sometimes have meetings to instill a sort of “team spirit,” or if you want to kick a ball around. There’s a beach with beach balls, long chairs, etc. My Mom talks about bringing her avatar there for when she’s on lunch break. There’s a lighthouse in the distance and even a Pirate Ship. I got very excited about the Pirate ship, but I guess you can only visit it… Yet there are jet boats that you can drive around. Some areas have pinball machines, and there’s even a Piano lounge. I asked more about flying or if there are other vehicles in the world but I guess the Jet Ski is the only real vehicle and you can’t fly like you can in Second Life, yet you can teleport to different areas instantly. There’s a large auditorium where big meetings can be held, and that prompted more questions from me about what meetings are like in this world. As you might imagine, it’s pretty standard. Most of the meeting rooms are setup like lecture halls and the presenter can show powerpoint slides that are projected onto a surface in the front of the room. Participants can raise their hands, ask questions, and there’s even a private chat area where users can ask a question privately during a presentation.
With all of this in mind, the question you have to ask is… “Is this a Game?” Ironically enough, when you login the prompt is “play,” versus “enter” or “next.” Although there are a lot of recreational facilities, vehicles, and balls to kick… it doesn’t really feel like a game. You can explore the island but without any layers of quests, score, or objectives… it doesn’t quite fit into a “game.” Granted the question of “What is a Game” is heavily debatable, in which case there could likely be an argument that any virtual world could be considered one… Yet this one would have light links at best.
With the success of eXp Realty, it does beg the question of if more companies would go this route in the future? I would have never assumed a Real Estate company doing anything like this, it makes me wonder what other sectors could and should be taking advantage of a virtual environment. Does this work best for customer/client outreach, or could this work as a replacement for a virtual office? I’ll be very curious to see how other companies are working remotely in the future, and how they are using virtual environments to their advantage.
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.