Facebook unveils VR ‘Workrooms’ for immersive remote collaboration

Facebook & Oculus beta platform allows remote employees to collaborate in a VR meeting space.
19 August 2021

Facebook is already using Horizon Workrooms internally to connect with remote staff. (Photo by Amy Osborne / AFP)

Training and collaboration tools across industries have taken a step forward post-pandemic with more immersive, gamified coworking experiences being introduced with the aid of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and in concert with combinations of other tech. This week, Facebook got in on the enterprise collaboration action by unveiling technology for  “Workrooms,” allowing remote collaboration for people using its Oculus VR gear.

The “Horizon Workrooms” project allows users to switch back and forth from virtual reality to web conferencing to adapt to different situations. The Facebook VR initiative is a marked departure from the realms of gaming that the Oculus headsets and related technologies are normally associated with but, at the same time, the same sense of immersion can be leveraged for new use cases in workplace collaboration and training.

Facebook & Oculus beta platform allows remote employees to collaborate in a VR meeting space

Facebook head of social VR Rachel Franklin showing a virtual space and avatar. (Photo by JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Developers are now targeting enterprises, focusing on creating solutions that are tailored to their specific needs while, at the same time, large-scale production is making equipment both lighter and cheaper, making the technology more accessible for a wider pool of work, not fun, customers. Walmart for instance acquired 17,000 VR headsets from Facebook-owned Oculus in an enterprise-wide move to boost training for a million of its employees, in what was a landmark VR application.

“Workrooms is our flagship collaboration experience that lets people come together to work in the same virtual room, regardless of physical distance,” the company said in an Oculus blog post. “It works across both virtual reality and the web and is designed to improve your team’s ability to collaborate.”

This enables participants to join a meeting as an avatar in virtual reality or by video calling from a remote location. “Workrooms brings some of our best new technologies together for the first time into one experience on Quest 2,” the blog elaborated. “Using features like mixed-reality desk and keyboard tracking, hand tracking, remote desktop streaming, video conferencing integration, spatial audio, and the new Oculus Avatars, we’ve created a different kind of productivity experience.”

The announcement comes as the social media giant moves to blend its hardware, gaming, and virtual reality units to build an immersive digital world known as the “metaverse”, borrowing a term coined by sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson. The Oculus division has largely been used for gaming but is gaining traction in other areas as virtual reality is adapted for tourism, remote work, and other applications.

The project is seen as central to Facebook’s future by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who is seeking to diversify the company beyond social networking and digital advertising. It also comes at a time when more people are working remotely during the pandemic and companies seeking new ways to enable collaboration among scattered employees.