Elijah Butterfield, Evelyn Eastmond, M Eifler, Vi Hart, Andrea Hawksley
May 2015 – Ongoing
We’ve come at the idea of a virtual office from two opposite directions:
1. The office as it exists, by copying the existing physical space and putting it in VR, available for webVR here.
2. The office as a place where work gets done and coworkers meet, which may look vastly different when not constrained by physical buildings.
3. The office as a place to work and collaborate with coworkers, but in a way that matches the physical space, requiring an overhaul on how physical workspaces are designed.
1. Virtual Office 2015
The first, more literal approach, began as part of our VR video research. We wanted to be able to compare real video of a real space with virtual renderings of that same space, and as spatially tracked headsets became available, we wanted to be able to compare that experience as well, and of course, compare all that to our real life experience of the real space.
So Elijah made us a model of our office and rendered out a high quality spherical still, which we put into a headset placed in the corresponding real life spot, to compare.
Then we stuck the model into webVR, and populated the rooms with representative objects. You can see it here, using WASD and the arrow keys to explore in a normal browser. It was originally designed for use with the Oculus DK2 and using arrow keys for movement.
We even arranged it so that in our real office, you could go into the virtual office, and then within the virtual office go into a rendered still of the fake office or a video of the real office.
Obsolete webVR version for DK2, pre-webVR1.0: http://vihart.github.io/office/
Web version navigable with arrow keys and WASD: http://vihart.github.io/office/flat.html
As the Vive devkit became available, we adapted it for spatial tracking. This was well before the Vive webVR 1.0 API and it is long obsolete (perhaps to be resurrected someday?), but we have a video of me playing “Lego Chase”, which puts a simple Lego brick in our Vive space that scoots away when you get too close. Surprisingly compelling.
One of the unexpected features of having a virtual space that matches your real space is that when you want to work with a particular object rather than a world, it helps for your virtual surroundings to match your real ones. It eases the transition and disorientation that might distract from the thing you’re actually working on, especially if you expect to be going in and out of the headset frequently to make changes.
Having a virtual office was also handy for some computer graphics experiments for VR video, allowing compositing like the following:
You can read more about how that was made in Elijah’s CG for VR series, part 3.
This version of the Virtual Office is also referenced in our post on VR collision techniques.
We moved from that office, but now have a model of our new Vive space to play with as well! Primarily this was made to be used in Unscannables, but we’re finding other uses for it as well.
From our old webVR office, we are also considering the future of web design, with the idea that our group’s web page should simply be our office, where one can come see what we’re working on in the same environment the work lives in. More on that later.
2. Virtual Office 2016
We’ve been holding team meetings in various VR apps such as: AltspaceVR, Anyland and SurrealVR, making those places our virtual office by virtue of how we use them. Now we are building ourselves a more permanent virtual space to meet in, using Anyland.
Early meeting tests in AltspaceVR.
Our imagined virtual office as an island in Anyland.
Our imagined virtual office gets some new furniture and toys.
3. Virtual Office 2017
Our current virtual office is a networked webVR copy of our real office, where the team can meet in VR from across the country.
We’ve discovered that in order to collaborate productively in our virtual office, we also need to take care to have the real version be comfortable and supportive of headset use. Working in headset for long periods of time requires something better than standing in an empty space or sitting in a swivel chair. Beyond the ergonomic nightmare of chairs and beanbags, M is developing a setup that allows and encourages a variety of body positions, using foam floor mats, yoga blocks, and yoga cushions.
Since we frequently work from home, we have been exploring how to bring our home offices onto the networked web, to see how it feels to work from home while joined by others, or to work from home while away-from-home. M has built a replica of their home in Anyland, and we’ve brought it out into the networked web using Networked A-Frame: