Like the potential for sharing virtual work environments continue to be prevalent, a local law firm recently introduced a browser-based system to improve the hybrid work experience and to streamline video conferencing and other communications. It’s oddly compelling.
BaxterIP is an intellectual property, patent and trademark law firm with attorneys in Sydney and Melbourne. The company began collaborating through a bespoke virtual desktop in the browser-based application Gather. The application is used to streamline internal company communications through a proximity-based video calling system.
Set in a 2D pixel art environment reminiscent of handheld Pokemon games, the gridded virtual office includes offices, meeting rooms, private chat areas, a garden, and even an office for a full-time receptionist. An external designer was hired to design the virtual space after consulting with staff on its characteristics.
Employees move their own customizable character and can chat with co-workers by walking directly up to their characters. Proximity chat has a range of six squares, which means a person’s audio and video input will appear and disappear as your character approaches them and then moves away.
BaxterIP managing director Chris Baxter said the system helps employees feel connected to each other, even in offices in Sydney and Melbourne.
“The intangible benefit is that when we’re here, it feels like we’re in the office. You feel like part of the team, especially seeing the team working around you or in meetings,” Baxter said.
“When you walk around the office, within reach and out of reach of your colleagues, it fosters conversations, collaboration and opportunities to discuss the things we are working on together.
“We have the team giving it an average rating of nine out of ten or a bit more, and for us it’s been really transformative in terms of how close we are and the feeling of working together, especially across different offices.”
Baxter said that before Gather was implemented, employees working remotely struggled to ask quick questions due to uncertainty about availability. With the new system, colleagues can set their availability by moving their persona between their virtual office, a private space, which limits proximity chat functionality, or a more casual location.
He added that the ease of access to other colleagues improves the efficiency of the work performed.
“Because you’re interacting with different people all the time, things happen a lot faster. For the administrative team, this has been very useful in obtaining ultra-fast access to the lawyers they support and for the reciprocal access of lawyers to their administrator.
“You can still send an email or message in lax mode, but just jumping straight into a videoconference may be faster. A lot of general communication is still done via email, but that being said, it’s often much easier to pick up the phone or join a video conference and talk about something complex. »
Gather is a US-based company with a monthly subscription of $7 per user for up to 500 concurrent users. Small groups or those wishing to test the software can do so for free, on customizable environments hosting up to 25 concurrent users.
Other potential features include accessing web pages from Gather, using shared whiteboards, accessing shared documents, and games.
At first, Mr. Baxter invited the team to test Gather for an hour. This quickly led to another trial over the course of a morning before turning into days, and now a full-time feature of the working day.
The company is exploring the possibility of including a link on its website for anyone to visit the office through their web browser. Baxter said an outside intellectual property lawyer visiting the virtual office enjoyed the experience so much that he walked around the entire office.
“Obviously she was having fun, but it was a bit awkward because one of my colleagues was chasing her,” Mr Baxter explained.
Asked about the risk of “zoom-bombing,” Baxter noted that even if an unwanted user entered the virtual office, there was little they could do except disturb team members. There is also a function to eject users from the desktop if needed.
Dr Catriona Wallace, executive director of AI research consultancy Gradient Institute, said the use of shared virtual environments in Australia is in its infancy but could become mainstream within five to ten years. Gradient is working with the New South Wales State Government to produce a metaverse strategy.
“As far as Australia is concerned, there are no clear statistics on how many Australians are using or experimenting with the metaverse, but what we do know from a World Economic Forum research paper is that 44% of Australians know about the Metaverse and 36% of Australians who know about the Metaverse have a positive orientation towards it. That’s a bit lower than the global average,” Dr Wallace said.
For Dr. Wallace, the metaverse is a concept defined as a fully immersive virtual world where people go to make social connections, which does not necessarily use virtual reality or 3D graphics. In the years to come, Dr Wallace believes it is important for the government to support capacity building in this area to ensure that Australia does not miss out on the potential benefits of metaverse technology.
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