The past couple of years forced people to work from home and collaborate online. During this period, Microsoft productivity experts observed two things in their workforce; remote employees work more efficiently, and most miss each other. That small coffee talk, fun banters, and hallway moments – all were replaced with a digital screen.
Simply, they miss the in-person interaction that used to build better relationships before. The Microsoft team also found that people feel more engaged in meetings when everyone turns their cameras on. But for some, this option can be awkward.
That’s the very reason why Microsoft is rolling out Mesh for Microsoft Teams in 2022. The feature opens a gateway to the Metaverse, where people can interact with each other through shared holographic experiences or avatars.
What Is a Metaverse?
In the simplest words, a Metaverse is a digital world where people, places, and things have digital representations. This means a digital space with real people but digital identities. It is a broader concept for “enhancing physical interactions” and “bringing people together.”
Metaverse can be used for many things, such as for meetings, hiring new employees, training, visiting any place, or simply just saying hello to a friend. The possibilities are endless!
Now, many companies like Facebook – which recently changed its name to Metaverse – and Microsoft are adopting this phenomenon. Sooner or later, it’s going to be even bigger with every tech company, retailer, and professional services making their way in.
Microsoft Office 365: What’s Coming Next?
In 2022, Microsoft 365 tools, specifically Teams, will see a huge change. The Mesh for Teams feature will transform the way people used to communicate with each other before. It is built on the existing Microsoft Teams features – Together mode and Presenter mode – to make the hybrid meetings more personal, immersive, and fruitful.
According to Jeff Teper, a Microsoft corporate VP in charge of the Microsoft 365 tools, these tools will show the employees that we are one team, with less formality and improved engagement.
Alex Kipman, a Microsoft Technical Fellow, has dedicated a huge chunk of his past 12 years to introducing mixed-reality technologies.
This includes the development of Microsoft HoloLens, which are a pair of mixed-reality smart glasses operating under the Windows 10 computer operating system.
Kipman’s vision was crystal clear – to move people from a solitary world into a more interactive and collaborative one. The HoloLens was the starting point, but Mesh for Teams surely isn’t going to be the ending point.
Metaverse in Microsoft: The Nth Floor
Kipman and his team at Microsoft also collaborated with Accenture to build mesh-enabled immersive digital spaces. Accenture is a global professional services company with more than 60,000 employees catering to international clients.
Even before the pandemic, Accenture invited its employees to a virtual campus from all over the world to gather, enjoy drinks, conduct presentations, and have parties. The company named it the Nth floor, a place which can only be found in the virtual world.
However, things changed significantly after the pandemic. Now, Accenture uses Microsoft Teams to hire new employees.
The process involves inviting new hires and senior management in a virtual office to help new employees understand the company’s culture. The employees also receive guidance on Teams to create their digital avatar and access a shared virtual space, One Accenture Park.
This place is like a futuristic amusement park with a central conference room, boardroom, and monorails showing different exhibits.
To date, Accenture has hired tens of thousands of new employees through Microsoft Teams and One Accenture Park.
Mesh for Teams: What Is Going to Change?
Microsoft initially announced Mesh in March 2021 as a feature that can be used on smartphones and laptops. It allows organizations and individuals to create metaverses and make online meetings more personal. The feature also enables them to connect the real world to the virtual world through digital twins of people and objects.
To understand this phenomenon better, you can think of the metaverse as a modern version of the internet where people can gather, communicate their ideas, share their moments, and enjoy each other’s presence just by sitting at their home couch.
The users can easily start using Mesh for Teams by joining a standard Teams meeting with their customized avatar. You can then take your avatar into multiple digital spaces and interact, collaborate on projects, and find better solutions.
What could be more fun than seeing your avatar hi-fiving your colleague’s avatar?
Organizations can also create immersive digital places, like lobbies and meeting rooms, and invite their staff and clients to come onboard.
Alex Kipman called Mesh for Teams a vision of mixed-reality that his team has been working on for 12 years!
Gateway to the Metaverse: Is It Good?
Metaverse in Microsoft was initially introduced to help people who work with 3D models. The mesh-enabled immersive spaces created through metaverse can allow designers, architects, students, engineers, and teachers to collaborate no matter where they are.
Not just that, organizations can also plan a factory visit, and students can learn the physical experiments, like building a circuit or dissecting a frog.
But that’s just not it. People are already speculating on the downsides of the metaverse concept. Some believe that it won’t be easily accessible to an ordinary person, as the feature requires high graphics and faster internet to work.
The current fiber-based broadband connectivity and 5G internet can’t adequately support metaverse.
So, to entice people to use metaverse, organizations will require to deploy a wide scale of advanced digital technologies.
Many people also believe that the primary objective of metaverse – improving human interaction – is just a marketing gimmick.
According to Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, the metaverse isn’t necessarily the best thing for our society. He also called artificial intelligence (AI) – an essential part of making the metaverse possible – a “giant false god” that can result in unhealthy and parasocial relationships.
Another possible disadvantage of the metaverse is the security risks. People have already been criticizing Facebook for being too intrusive, as it collects users’ data which may or may not get sold to advertising companies or other sources.
If not addressed soon, these concerns will surely open new problems regarding the security and privacy of individuals and organizations as a whole.
But despite all such concerns, let’s see how Microsoft plans to play with the futuristic metaverse approach. But at least for now, 2022 will be an exciting year for Microsoft, as it has exciting metaverse plans for Xbox too!
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