A Business Perspective on VR: The Power of Being Present
Updated: Nov 1, 2022
There are some elements of doing business that have nothing to do with business at all but are in fact so fundamental to success that it's folly to attempt business transactions without addressing these fundamentals.
I'd like to talk about one of these fundamentals. This fundamental has nothing to do with how well you can present, or how much knowledge you have about your technology or product, or how well you can manage your balance sheet, or inspire your team, or capture hearts and minds, or even how well you can spin a vision. No, it has nothing at all to do with those things and I'll go so far as to say none of those things matter if you don't have a plan for this fundamental.
The fundamental I'm talking about is simply this: Being Present. Being with other people.
To be successful in any business venture you must have a plan on how you are going to be with people who are important to your business. Plans to physically go meet your customers, have off-site meetings with your team, actually visit key internal stakeholders. Business fades without the ability to meet with key people in person from time to time. It's a fundamental aspect of human nature that we need to be present with each other in order for relationships to move forward, business relationships included.
As the world comes through covid we've had a long time of being apart, more than two years. Now we are trying to figure out how to get back together - how to be present with each other - again. But not everything is working the way it used to: flying remains expensive and not as reliable as it was, there are lockdowns that continue to pop up in various places. And it seems the world is now heading in an economically challenging direction. The costs of most things are going up significantly while budgets remain depressed.
To sum it up: the need to be present with customers, partners, team members, after being apart has never been more important, while the cost of being present has never been higher.
So do you travel and pay a ridiculously high price in order to meet in person with people, or do you stay home, attempt to continue video conferencing and pay an even higher price in lost influence and declining business?
It's a dilemma that VR for Business provides an intriguing solution to. There are many compelling reasons VR for Business is a great solution for this cost vs presence dilemma (you can find my thoughts on that here), but in my opinion the leading reason is a powerful sense of presence. VR for Business lets you BE PRESENT with customers, partners, team members without having to pay the travel and personal absence costs.
Businesses can leverage the presence of VR as a way of being present while at the same time realizing significant cost reductions even below the already downsized post covid travel and expense budgets. It's possible to save money even with minuscule T&E budgets most companies have these days. Think what it would mean to your business if you had 25% or even 50% of your travel budget still in your pocket at the end of every quarter AND you were able to connect in a meaningful way with all of your customers and stakeholders. And btw, you actually ended up having more time available for work.......and for your friends & family. That would have a tremendous impact. A more detailed cost/benefit analysis is here.
All of that may seem like pretty big words and more than a little exaggeration, but I don't think so.
I don't think so because VR for Business has a secret superpower. We call it "The Power of Being Present." VR is able to achieve a sense of presence much like the sense of presence you have when you sit down in a conference room to discuss strategy with your team, or when you sit down with someone to have a cup of coffee. You are present with them. In that very same way you are present with someone in a VR for Business setting.
Here's why VR is able to communicate a real sense of presence.
1) When you open up a VR for Business application you actually ENTER the application as opposed to simply opening up an app on your laptop. Though you know it is a fictional space, there is an undeniable sense of being INSIDE a three dimensional space; the same sense you have when you walk into a room in the real world. You can literally get up and physically walk around the space, for example, a conference room. You are able to interact with objects in the room: pick things up, look at them, move them around. You can stand, sit, make presentations from your laptop, draw on whiteboards - all things you are used to doing in a real world office setting. There are even laser pointers, different colored markers for the whiteboard, and sticky notes to jot things down on. The fact that this is all simply an application has disappeared from your mind. You are IN a conference room having a meeting, just like always.
2) Another key feature of VR for Business applications that gives a strong sense of being present with someone is spatial audio. Spatial audio is just a fancy way of saying what everyone knows: that sound sources are all around you and at different distances. That means some sounds are fainter/farther away than others, and can come from any and all directions. When I hear the birds in the trees I hear sounds above me and somewhat far away as compared with someone talking right next to me. If you think about how you hear conversations in a conference room, you hear and are focused on the person in front of you who is talking to you because it's the loudest, but you also hear people conversing in the background who perhaps are behind you and in the far corner of the room. But their conversation is much quieter because it's farther away. That is exactly how it is in VR for Business apps. It's completely natural sounding. And........you also hear the real voice of the person talking with you, as well as the real voices of everyone in the room. That lends significantly to the sense of being present with those particular people.
3) Avatars, though they are clearly not real, are surprisingly effective representations of the real "you". I say this with the caveat that the current state of the art is some VR apps do avatars very well and some do not. But the applications that do avatars very well allow you to do detailed customizations of your avatar. Not only can you select highly specific attire (business casual, for example), you can also put on glasses, choose eye color, nose shape, skin tone, eyebrow shape, put on earrings, and more. The end result is you have an avatar that reminds people of the real "you".
And here's the really important thing about avatars - they mimic your actual gestures. You can wave, point, make a fist, fold your hands, and lots more. And your avatar does it when you actually make that gesture. Not to get too far into the technical weeds but there are small cameras on your VR headset that watch the gestures you are making and recreate those gestures in VR. The part that most people miss is that each person has unique gestures which people associate with you. The VR headset captures those unique gestures and recreates those unique gestures so when you see someone in a VR conference room pointing or moving their hands, it's not just a generic gesture that every avatar makes, it's a gesture that is specific to an actual person......to "you", and recognizable as your gesture - just like in the real world. It's shockingly realistic.
We all know intuitively that being with someone gives a sense of presence that isn't possible on the phone or a video conference. And I believe it's also self evident that the most effective connections and communication happen when you are with someone in person. In business we always strive to have the best communication experience, but we have to balance it with the cost of communicating. Being physically present is the most powerful way to communicate, but also the most expensive.
VR for Business introduces an intriguing alternative choice. A choice where you can be "present" with another person at a fraction of the cost of physically being there. It's a powerful alternative. We call it "The Power of Being Present" because it really does give you the feeling you are WITH someone.
If you've never had the chance to experience VR for Business, please reach out - I absolutely love to introduce people to the world of VR and specifically VR for Business.
You can find me at: firstname.lastname@example.org