Tips And Tricks On How To Manage Meetings In Virtual Reality

A sketched out scene of a person desperate while managing distracted participants during a VR meeting

This is the second part of an article that tackles the challenge of onboarding newcomers to VR collaboration remotely. In the first section (that you can find here) I discussed in detail some general principles to help you during the REMOTE onboarding process up to the moment all participants join the virtual space (set up and shipping of the HMDs, unboxing, hardware introduction, and wearing the headset). While doing that I tried to be hardware and software agnostic as much as possible so that you can adapt the process to your own need.

In this article I will instead talk about:

  • What to expect and how to manage a group of people in a VR environment
  • How to learn the basic controls while having fun
  • Icebreaker activity for VR sessions
  • How to deal with (hardware) diversity

You made it in VR… now what?

Now that you are in VR it’s time to have some fun (finally). Managing the attention of people in VR is VERY different from the real world. When you invite someone in your house, you wouldn’t expect them to wander to your bedroom, open your cabinets or move the furniture around. Well… that is exactly what is going to happen if you don’t plan properly the space in which you welcome your guests. The first suggestion is to use an enclosed area. Many platforms nowadays offer various environments and you can also use some tricks to give the illusion of an “enclosed space”. In the example below you can see a custom Mozilla hub space, after losing people in my own environment, I decided to put a curtain without a collision box to give people the impression that part of the room would be inaccessible. You can visit this specific space on your browser following this link 👉 GRTalk Lobby

A virtual meeting room
A virtual meeting room

Many VR collaboration platforms support images so you can also import a wall texture to achieve a similar result. The other suggestion is to leave in the room only the elements you would be fine for people to interact/play with. This sadly means that very often you will not be able to “prepare” the whole scene in advance. 3D Models, post it, videos etc need to appear later on during the session or you will need to repeatedly ask people to “wait” leading to some unnecessary “frustration”.

Let’s learn VR like kids: one step at a time while playing

Now that the welcome space has been “child-proofed” it’s time to guide every user through the basic commands. The first thing to cover is movement. I will not get into the old story about motion sickness and I assume by now everyone that is reading this article is fully aware of this issue. Regardless of the locomotion and comfort options offered by your platform of choice, remember to explain clearly how to move and how to snap-turn. Do not forget to ask questions and be patient if people have a hard time. You will see that all the hard work you did at the beginning while explaining the buttons on the controllers will pay off. At the same time remember to acknowledge the participants when they succeed at their tasks.

Depending on the crowd or the purpose of your meetup you might consider having a suitable ice-breaker. What I found works very well is a VR variant of the game called “Stop & Go”. This simple ice-breaker gets people to stand up, move a little and laugh. The moderator (probably you) will state aloud in sequence a series of 3 couples of commands: stop-go, hands up-hands down, name-cheer. You start with the first couple of commands and after a few seconds of alternating between the 2 tasks you will announce that the meaning of the 2 words is switched (stop when you say “Go” and walk when you say “Stop”). You will repeat the exercise with the 3 couples of commands, stand up from your chair, have a laughs and get everyone ready for whatever is to come.

VR icebreaker Spatial.io

While moving to more “advanced” tasks make sure to associate the explanation with some sort of exercise. An example could be the 3D drawing that is supported by many of this platform. Show people how to draw and ask them to guess what you are drawing, then have everybody draw and try to guess each other’s “masterpiece”.

I love diversity (but in VR might sucks)

I see some sort of race between VR collaboration platforms that are trying to support as many devices as possible: desktop, 3DOF VR, ALL possible HMD on earth, mobile, tablet, cardboard, AR headsets etc. This poses a very complex challenge when participants join using different hardware. Let’s take the simplest example: the participants join from a mix of Quest and HTC Vive. The first and most obvious obstacle is that you would need to know, remember and repeat the basic commands for the 2 different devices. The second problem is that the UI and/or functionalities might not be the same. For example, if you want to host a meetup in Mozilla hubs, Quest users can type directly from their headsets while HTC Vive users need to access their physical keyboard (do not ask me why but that is how it works). The third problem is that the visual experience might differ substantially. I am not referring to screen door effect or shadow quality, I am talking about major changes that developers needed to adopt in order to have the experience run on a mobile device. In Engage for example only the avatar of the host is present with a full body representation. In hubs instead, lights and shadows basically disappear making everything look more flat on mobile devices.

So far I mentioned only when people join from 2 different headsets but what happens when someone joins from desktop while someone else is in VR? Well, all the points mentioned above hold EVEN more true AND you get even less understanding about what they are doing. Let me explain. One of the great benefits of VR collaboration is that everyone is engaged and isolated from the distractions of the real world. You can read body cues and understand if people are struggling, happy, frustrated, curious etc. When everybody is in VR it is like if you play on the same field. When someone joins from desktop you cannot know if their avatar is not moving because they are clicking somewhere else or if they just switched tabs and are writing emails.

But enough with complaints! What can you really do to solve/mitigate these issues?

  1. The easiest way is to design the event and provide access only for people joining from one type of device. I know this might sound “racist” and against all the efforts to make VR more inclusive, but it might be your best bet to provide a great experience for everyone.
  2. If this is not possible (or you just feel braver) think and develop the activities around the strengths and weaknesses of each device. People from desktop for example can easily find stuff online and type, while people in VR are much better at positioning objects in space. Assigning specific tasks to the different groups will make everyone feel special in their own way and might lead to some interesting collaboration opportunities.
  3. Last option is to just admit in advance that you’re human. You cannot know the button configuration for every HMD on the market and just being polite and clear about your lack of knowledge will not be seen as a weakness. Moreover, sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, some people will not have a good experience for factors that are outside your control (wifi connection, a missed update etc). Just learn to deal with the losses and move the experience forward for the sake of the other participants.

I hope you enjoyed this article and, if you found it useful, share it with anyone that is trying to find new ways to connect and collaborate in #virtualreality. If you have questions, would like to know more or just need some help do not hesitate to get in touch.

Gabriele has a technical past and a creative heart. He is now building a community of designers to democratize XR creation