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Virtual Reality versus Video Communications for Collaboration

We’ve been working on the idea of virtual office space and where it fits in the currently visualising metaverse, corporate collaboration and the future of work-life.

Since forming the company in 2017, we’ve worked with hundreds of teams in companies with employees in over 50 countries to build our first generation of immersive workspaces with our virtual meeting rooms.

Abey at the Future of Information and Communication Conference 2019
Abey at the Future of Information and Communication Conference 2019

In March 2019 things came full circle – our work was published in Springer! Dr. Abraham Campbell, one of our co-founders, presented our research at the IEEE Conference in San Francisco, which is set to be published in Springer in January 2020.

This article will provide a preview summary of our research:

Uses of Virtual Reality for Communication in Financial Services: A Case study on comparing different Telepresence interfaces : Virtual Reality compared to Video Conferencing.

Credit: Gartner 2019
Credit: Gartner 2019

Immersive workspaces are not only possible, but they’ve also just made Gartner’s Hype Cycle. We started at the pioneer/early adopters stage, and as we enter the age of fast followers in with immersive workspaces and virtual meeting rooms, we want to share what we have learned so far.

TESTING our HYPOTHESIS

Screen shot of the Virtual Room used for the experiment
Screen shot of the Virtual Room used for the experiment

We worked with a great partner in Bank of Ireland to test our assumptions and answering the obvious question in the immersive workspace area – why virtual reality over video communication?

We performed an experiment to test the difference in communicating via a video call and a virtual reality call – we knew that existing conference call solutions have the potential to really suck but we wanted to put it to the test.

It was right at the beginning of our journey and the results really opened our eyes to the huge potential of the future of digital meeting spaces and promoting a better way to work.

The research hypothesis was that the VR experience would have been more positive, make the users feel more in control, be more present with the other user, and more enjoyable than the video link-up.

INTRODUCTION

The Reality-Virtuality Continuum
The Reality-Virtuality Continuum

The research conducted was a comparison test between different interfaces using Telepresence techniques.

Two participants at a time met using either VR or Skype. Following that experience, the users met again using the alternative method and were surveyed about both experiences.

To control for Bias, just over half tried with the conditions in the opposite order.

The participants were then surveyed using a media experience survey along with a questionnaire asking them which they preferred.

They were asked their age (not specific, within a 5-year range), sex and a short section allowing them to write any feedback about the experience.

LOCATION and SETUP

Photo of the First setup within the Bank
Photo of the First setup within the Bank

We conducted the research in the Bank of Ireland Workbench in Grand Canal Square, Dublin, Ireland; the space was open to all member of the general public and members of the bank who visited the space over the period of time that the study was conducted.

As the bank is L shaped, both setups could be positioned at the far end of the bank at a distance of 15 meters apart and with no line of sight achievable. Basically, at any given point the participants could not see or hear the other participants in either video call or VR experiences without using the headphones and displays available.

The two primary interfaces we tested were Voice/video over IP (using Skype for Business) and Virtual Reality using a commercially available Virtual Reality headset HTC VIVE to conduct an immersive VR experience via a modified Alpha version of meetingRoom.

Several versions of the virtual room were tried; to make sure that people did not feel enclosed in the room we also added external windows.

The physical setup was the following:

  • 2 Desktop PCs (VR).

Specs: Intel Core i7 6700K, GeForce GTX 1070, 32 GB DDR4, 2 X HTC VIVE.

  • 2 Laptops (VC).

Specs: 13-inch displays, Intel Core M 5Y10, 4 GB of memory with integrated graphics cards.

SURVEY

The Manikin test we used
The Manikin test we used

This experiment used Bradley and Lang, 1994 and Wissmath et al., 2010, with the novel inclusion of a closeness Manikin as the experiment was fundamentally about subjects interacting rather than just mere presence in the environment.

You can read more about the survey format at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7962581

In few words, we basically measured and compared the various responses and reactions which people had, across a variety of variables, when dealing with both technologies…simply a more structured way of asking “How did it feel?”

VARIABLES and RESULTS

These box plots illustrate a comparison of Valence, Arousal, Dominance, Pres- ence and Closeness reported by the participants
These box plots illustrate a comparison of Valence, Arousal, Dominance, Presence and Closeness reported by the participants

Presence

Presence was highest for male participants interacting over VR (MM VR = 7.83), followed by female participants interacting over VR (MF VR =7.80), female participants interacting over Video (MF Vid = 5.84) and male participants interacting over video (MM Vid = 5.46).

Valence

As Valence is not a commonly used term it can defined in psychology as the intrinsic attractiveness of an experience. According to the ANOVA, Valence was highest for female participants interacting over VR (MF VR = 3.19), followed by male participants interacting over video (MM Vid = 3.16), male participants interacting over VR (MM VR = 2.9) and female participants interacting over Video (MF Vid = 2.23).

Control

Similar to Valance, dominance was highest for male participants interacting over video (MM Vid = 6.8), followed by female participants interacting over Video (MF Vid = 6.23076923076923), male participants interacting over VR (MM VR = 6.13333333333333) and female participants interacting over VR (MF VR = 5.80769230769231).

It appeared that people prefer the system that they know so felt in more control using the video conference.

Arousal

Arousal was highest for female participants interacting over VR (MF VR = 6.03), followed by male participants interacting over VR (MM VR = 5.68), female participants interacting over Video (MF Vid = 3.69) and male participants interacting over video (MM Vid = 3:51).

Obviously, the novelty effect will play a factor here. However, over 50% of the participants had used Virtual Reality before this experience…so that should partially counterbalance the results.

A FEW THINGS WE NOTICED

These box plots demonstrate how with the exception of Valency, the partici- pants sex did not effect any of the results
These box plots demonstrate how with the exception of Valency, the participants sex did not affect any of the results
  • Participants did find the Virtual Reality meeting more Exciting than the Video Conference. Exciting yes but not necessarily positive experience. Majority choose the VR Meeting room above the Video conference but when examining their questionnaire results, we found an interesting paradox, they rate the Video Conference above the VR Meeting room.
  • Despite this, many participants in post interviews also stated how video teleconference normally suffer problems with connectivity. We expected that this would have not been an issue for VR as VR can alleviate some of these issues due to the lower bandwidth requirements of simply sending transforms for the VR avatar location and limbs. Generally speaking, this reduction is on average 1/10 the requirements of sending Video.
  • The experiment limited movement of the avatar so they could not invade each other personal spaces. A female participant reported that she felt that the other Avatar was not able to intimidate her as would have been possible in a video call. A separate male participant reported that he disliked the Virtual Reality world as he felt was not able to intimidate the other participant which he was able to do using a video conference.
  • Women also remarked that they felt the Virtual Reality meeting allowed them to not be judged by their appearance, this also led to request that the female avatar have a more feminine appearance. This is a long shot, but could VR be used to de-bias interviews and meetings in the future where VR meeting may actually become a legal requirement to help promote gender equality and neurodiversity?
  • In one case during the experiment, one set of participants needed to be briefly stopped as they were discussing personal issues within their workplaces due to the fact they were so immersed that they did not remember that they were in the bank with multiple members of staff and several members of the general public around them within earshot.

So, that’s that…hope you enjoyed the read. This was only the first in many tests we are currently working on to that we look forward to sharing in the future. If you’re interested in running a study with us or trying out our solution, send us an email to info@meetingRoom.io

If you want a copy of the full study published in Springer you can request it here https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330832155_Uses_of_Virtual_Reality_for_Communication_in_Financial_Services_A_Case_Study_on_Comparing_Different_Telepresence_Interfaces_Virtual_Reality_Compared_to_Video_Conferencing or you can get in touch directly to info@meetingRoom.io

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