Virbela: A Light at the End of the Virtual Tunnel
Imagine your team members looking forward to their next meeting invite.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of many areas of our lives; a major one being the workplace environment. Remote work has led to a lot more time on virtual conferencing platforms (Teams, GoToMeeting/GotoWebinar, WebEx, Zoom…we are all familiar with a wide array by this point). While these tools are great for communicating with people and sharing screens, they are not as engaging as in person meetings and interactions.
Imagine walking (virtually) onto a campus, entering a conference room, and having the ability to converse directly with other people. Within this Virtual world you can talk directly to people, send IMs, post “stickies” on the wall that everyone can see, plus share your screen for more in depth communication.
Of course, engaging in these activities within the real world would be ideal, but this virtual reality provides the next best option. I recently attended a virtual conference which used these enhancements, and it was a significantly more interesting and engaging experience than any I’ve had since conferences have gone entirely remote.
The VR platform used was Virbela: founded by organizational psychologists in 2012, the company has developed a virtual environment which provides the presence and connection of being together in person. Virbela’s virtual worlds create the social spaces that have been painfully absent when working remote, learning online, or attending virtual events.
To address the issue that some team members may not have access to a machine that supports the enhancements mentioned above, with Virbela you can simultaneously host the meeting in the traditional web conferencing tools. That way, nobody is left out. (However once your team members witness the benefits of a more engaging experience, they will be hooked.)
An Enhanced Virtual Conference Experience
I started off the morning of the virtual conference by powering up my laptop in usual fashion. Once I put on my headphones and launched the Virbela Client I’d installed the previous night, I was back – at least virtually – on a campus.
After walking around for a bit (in avatar form) to check out the campus, I jumped to my conference. I walked into the conference room, looked around for an empty seat, and sat down.
The standard conferencing options allow attendees to submit questions – but, imagine being able to see the questions from all your conference peers in the order they are presented to the meeting organizer. With the Virbela: interactive experience you know when your question will be addressed, so you will be much more interested in sticking around to hear the response.
During the presentation I entered my questions in the Slido app, open in a browser in the secondary monitor of my computer. It was nice seeing the questions submitted by everyone else, so I wouldn’t submit the same questions that other people did (thank you to whomever invented the ability to have multiple monitors).
After the presentation was done, I stayed for the Q&A session. I watched and listened to the speaker answer all of the questions that were submitted. It was great to be able to see the order of the questions that would be addressed, so I knew when mine would come up.
After the Q&A session was done I got up and walked outside the conference room, and ended up running into a former colleague who I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years! We sat down and talked on the virtual couch for 15 minutes – actual talking, not typing! It was wonderful to catch up with my friend who I hadn’t talked with in a while.
After our conversation, I decided to look around to see what vendors were set up in the different rooms. After exploring for a bit, I walked into the room of one that looked interesting. I was greeted immediately, and we talked about what I was interested in. The vendor asked me to sit down, and he showed a presentation on the virtual rooms wall. Instead of simply watching a canned presentation, he switched to sharing his desktop screen on the wall and I received an interactive demo on how their product worked. I was there for 30 minutes, but I still had more questions – plus I wanted to share this with my colleagues at work, so we exchanged email addresses via chat before I left the room. I quickly walked back to the conference room, so I wouldn’t be late for the next presentation.
I went through this process for 3 presentations, each with Q&A sessions and networking between the presentations – just like an “IRL” conference experience!
After the presentations were finished, instead of simply turning my computer off, I stuck around for a virtual quiz and prizes. The presenter was asking questions which were displayed on the wall for everyone to see, and using Kahoot on my second monitor I could answer the questions. After answering the first question, I realized that the faster you answer (with the correct answer of course) the more points you would win. Since it was a competition, I wanted to see how good I could do – plus of course I wanted to win whatever prize I could! I came in 3rd and won a $50 Amazon gift card, which will help with my Christmas shopping. (Nice!)
That night I reflected on this new experience for remote conferencing.
This was so much better, I was looking forward to the 2nd day of the conference.
Before turning the computer off, I checked my email. In my inbox was an invite from the vendor I spoke with earlier, for an expanded demo to which I could invite my colleagues.
The new Covid-19 reality undoubtedly changes things – but could potentially lead to better and positive innovations in how we can connect and interact! I highly recommend the experience that Virbela and the other technologies I’ve mentioned in this article provide – for a virtual conference environment, and beyond.
Enjoy, and stay safe!