2021: How games will inspire innovation for collaboration tools

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More than 50 percent of the business trips and 30 percent of the days in the office are gone forever, according to Bill Gates. With him, many trend studies confirm the same future scenario. You don’t have to be a great predictor to declare 2021 the year in which rapid developments and associated investments in the home workplace environment are rampant.

Predicting what the most successful innovations in this domain will be is a lot more difficult. The great lack of working from home is the lack of “presence” besides of the ‘effective’ video calls. The spontaneous creativity and serendipity that arise when random team members bump into each other in the office are under considerable pressure. The multi-billion dollar industry of games, larger than the film and music industry, offers a solution for home working 3.0. As if the virtual world of Second Life that was launched seventeen years ago, is given a second life. But in a new unique way.

The Virtual Office

Many startups are now working hard to build new virtual environments where people come together to work and spontaneously meet each other. Branch is such a startup. They provide a virtual headquarters for remote teams. The virtual software company has already raised $ 1.5 million to deliver a mix of video calling and gaming. All with the aim of enabling “presence” and serendipity. An important distinction from Teams, Slack, Zoom and Discord is the addition of a digital space. As if you are sitting in a large office space, meeting each other, walking and talking.

Branch offers a virtual 2D environment for the home workplace. Momentum 3D adds an extra dimension. Last November, more than 1,600 citizens, companies, government agencies and universities gathered in this virtual 3D environment to work together on issues surrounding the energy transition. This so-called “online mass collaboration arena” is a game-like setting where you fly through, enter and exit different spaces and meet each other spontaneously and at the same time work together in a team. The challenge that is being worked on is projected on large TV screens around the platforms. The proposed solutions are also displayed in this way. Offering a large virtual space in which people and things have a real place is also the big difference in this solution from the well-known Teams, Slack, Zoom or, for example, Google Meet.

Client meetings in a digital space

Before the corona era, the office offered little room for some shooting, chaos and car racing. Now that is a welcome change for many in the midst of the monotonous tsunami of Zoom and Teams calls. A number of directors describe this in an interesting article in the New York Times. They talk about how they meet customers in games such as Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2. MediaMonks CEO Lewis Smithingham explains that one game is not the other: different games suit different types of customers.

He is a fan of Animal Crossing: New Horizons himself. A game that was released last March. Participants end up on cartoonish colorful private islands where they decorate their homes, catch fish and search for other beasts. It often takes a long time in this game to gather flowers, furniture and bait for fishing. Smithingham saw his chance and bought virtual bait on eBay: “The first time I met this one customer, I gave her 100 bait. That is an incredibly extravagant gift.”

The article in the New York Times lists all kinds of cases with which professionals share their experiences from the virtual world. From business relationships that rob banks in Grand Theft Auto, brainstorming sessions in Minecraft, to teams that gather around a cozy digital campfire in Red Dead Redemption 2. “All much better than Zoom”, one of the directors said. Yet there are some technical problems. For example, the conference table is not always visible to everyone. There is also a button that is intended both to sit on a tree trunk around the fire and to strangle your nearest colleague.

Promising inspiration

These developments are reminiscent of the great promises surrounding Second Life, which was born in 2003. A new virtual world in which people walked around as avatar. It was going to change our lives completely. The digital Linden Dollars could be converted into real money and all kinds of multinationals such as Philips, Nike, Coca-Cola and ABN-AMRO opened an office in this virtual world. At the time, Second Life was even bombed into a new economy that would take a giant flight. Despite the 20 million registered users in 2010, Second Life never really broke through. So it would be naive to say that we will all meet each other in games in 2021.

At the same time, almost two decades have passed since the beginning of Second Life. During this period we have experienced a rapid digitalization. The infrastructure is significantly better and technological resources are accessible to everyone. Moreover, the corona era has accelerated digitization even more (Salesforce just announced they jumped on the train by buying workplace app Slack for 27.7 billion). Add to that the widespread frustration surrounding the current home working tools, which indicates there is still a great need for improvement. Thus it seems that some ideas and ingredients of the flopped Second Life are getting a second chance, or at least serve as inspiration for new solutions. In any case, the current gaming market offers enough inspiration for the home workplace of the future.

Thijs Pepping

About

Thijs Pepping is a humanistic trend analyst in the field of new technologies. He is part of the think tank within SogetiLabs and in his work he continuously wonders and analyses what the impact of New Technologies is on our lives, organizations and society. He specialized in Humanistic Counselling and Education at the University of Humanistics in Utrecht and worked for five years with autistic children. His background in psychology and philosophy drives him to find meaningful answers to business related questions and to provoke whenever necessary. He is co-author of multiple publications on the impact of new technologies, such as ‘The FrankensteinFactor’, ‘AI First – Learning from the machine’, and ‘The Pursuit of Digital Happiness’ series. See labs.sogeti.com/research for his previous and current work. VINT provides practical insight into the likely impact and innovative applications of new technologies for organizations worldwide. This valuable intelligence helps public and private sector enterprises to anticipate and plan for the complex dynamics of the future. The use of new technological developments is aimed at generating value that anticipates future developments.

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