Virtual reality has been around for a while. However, it wasn’t until recently that technology evolved enough to make VR experiences truly immersive and realistic. Today, VR is popping up everywhere, especially after Facebook’s rebranding as Meta that turned the public’s attention to the metaverse.
Even though some believe the true metaverse is still years to come, the metaverse has existed for some time for online gaming. But, apart from online leisure activities, the metaverse also offers a game-changing opportunity to hold meetings and collaborate with remote teams in a whole new way. But how can small businesses (SMBs) not necessarily related to tech get started in the metaverse and run their first virtual meetings? This blog post will provide an overview of the different available options and give you a step-by-step guide to setting up a true virtual office to hold meetings in the metaverse.
Why should SMBs set up a virtual office?
Remote work is becoming a trend, so holding virtual meetings on platforms like Zoom, Meet and Teams has quickly becoming the new normal. However, anyone who has been in any such meeting has experienced its many caveats first hand. For example, you will usually have to take turns, you can’t see each other and there are countless distractions.
Virtual reality offers the opportunity to set an immersive meeting experience with virtual workstations that are fully interactive. It’s even better because you can see body language and hear space audio, so you can talk over each other rather than alternating turns. You may use your hands to communicate, which is a big component of how we interact with one another, and then lean in to alter your attention based on posture, which is another important aspect of communication.
Additionally, attending a VR meeting (headset and all) completely blocks any distractions from your surroundings, with the added benefit of not having your cat walk in front of the camera.
3 general options to choose from
There are three basic options for setting up a truly VR office space.
Option #1: Build your own virtual world.
The first option is to literally create your virtual world and build the office within it. You’ll then need to host it on a server so your coworkers can access the platform remotely. New tools and technologies like Unreal Engine 5 can make building the office itself a snap, free of charge, but hosting your build on a dedicated server can be expensive. Plus, there are many technical issues you have to deal with that won’t be easy to overcome on a budget.
Even so, some companies have already done this successfully. One example is ZOAN. This company teamed up with leading VR headset manufacturer Varjo to create a one-of-a-kind realistic VR experience for all of its employees. Of course, it helps if you’re a company whose core business is creating VR environments. This is usually not an option for your average startup or small business.
Option #2: Pre-built virtual offices in the metaverse.
The second and third options are to dive into the existing metaverses and set up shop there. When going down this path, one option is to choose platforms specifically designed for office meetings and VR collaborative work like Microsoft’s Teams/Mesh integration and Meta’s (formerly Facebook) Horizon Workrooms.
There are plenty of other companies doing a great job of competing with these tech giants, and any of them would be a good option. However, even though they are optimized for office work and are integrated with existing workflows, these are mostly paid services.
Option #3: Build your own office in an existing metaverse.
The other option is to take advantage of more decentralized virtual worlds like Sandbox, Roblox and Decentraland, which are already up and running and can be accessed from anywhere in the world. This is the middle ground between the first two options. It has the added benefits of being free (apart from an initial investment in virtual land, which may not be a meager sum) and completely customizable.
The rest of this post describes how SMBs can use Decentraland as a metaverse platform to build their virtual office and hold their meetings with remote teams.
Setting up a true virtual office
The following is a step-by-step guide on setting up, building and deploying your own virtual office using Decentraland as an example. As a disclaimer, Decentraland is a virtual world, but it’s still not compatible with VR and VR headsets. You can only access it through a web browser. However, the platform is developing VR functionality, which is set to release in 2022. When that happens, the price of its native cryptocurrency, Mana, and therefore the price of a plot of land and other assets, will likely rise, so it’s a good idea to go in early.
So, without further ado, here are the steps to setting up your virtual meetings in the Decentraland metaverse.
Step #1: Set up a virtual wallet for your business.
Decentraland is an Ethereum-based virtual world where anyone can create and explore experiences built by other users. This makes it perfect for creating an office for virtual meetings.
Creating an account in Decentraland requires a crypto wallet that will serve both as your bank account and payment method within the platform and as a sort of passport or ID. There are several crypto wallets you can choose from, some of which will let you open a business or institutional account. Considering this is a browser-based virtual world, a browser-based wallet like MetaMask is the ideal option.
Step #2: Buy some crypto.
Some features in this metaverse are paid, and some transactions are free but require you to pay fees to the miners in the Ethereum blockchain. This means that you’ll need to have a positive balance in your wallet to get started. If you’ve never bought cryptos before, then you’ll have to download a crypto exchange that lets you buy cryptocurrencies using your local currency or another one you have access to.
Some popular choices include Coinsmart, Coinbase and Binance. You can choose whichever you like, as long as it is compatible with your chosen wallet (most are compatible with MetaMask, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check).
Once you have your exchange account set up and linked to your wallet, you must purchase some Ether (to pay Ethereum blockchain gas fees) and some Mana (Decentraland native currency). Don’t worry about amounts for now, but you should have at least $100 worth of each, ideally 0.05 Ether and around 20 to 30 Mana.
It’s a common mistake to think of using an online trading platform to buy cryptos like Ether or Bitcoin, but those platforms don’t work like that. While you can buy and sell different cryptos on some of them, you won’t be able to transfer your crypto to a wallet to use them in the metaverse.
Step #3: Create an account on Decentraland.
This is a simple account opening process. Go to the Decentraland website, click on Get Started to create an account, and you’ll be prompted to link your wallet. Once that’s out of the way, you’re ready to start customizing your avatar. There’s no need to be a perfectionist at this point. You can always go back and tweak it later.
Step #4: Choose a unique name for your avatar.
In Decentraland, you can come in as a guest with a random guest number and explore the surroundings, but to become a true resident, you’ll need to register a unique name for your avatar in the blockchain. This process costs 10 Mana, worth around $27, as of writing this post.
Step #5: Go through the tutorial to get acquainted with the platform (optional).
As with most online games, you start in a tutorial mode to learn how to navigate and do things in Decentraland. I encourage you to complete the tutorial. It’ll make everything else clearer.
Step #6: Buy a plot of land.
Plots of land in Decentraland are NFTs, which means they are unique digital assets you can buy and own like if you were buying a plot in a suburb. When you buy a plot of land, it’s yours for life to do what you like, including building on it.
Virtual real estate works just like real estate in the real world, only without taxes, maintenance fees, regulations and the pesky laws of physics. You can find available plots of land for sale on NFT marketplaces like Opensea. However, this virtual land is expensive, which is the single biggest entry barrier in Decentraland. Even so, it may make sense both as real estate to build your virtual office and as an investment that may capitalize over time.
If you don’t have that kind of cash lying around, you can always rent a virtual office instead.
Step #6: Build your office.
Decentraland offers a drag and drop 3D builder that’s incredibly easy and intuitive to use. You can use free or paid 3D assets available in the builder library, but you can also create your custom 3D assets in third-party 3D modeling software and import them into the builder. This gives you the power to create a personalized space that fits in with your company image and that your coworkers and employees can easily relate to.
You can even hire specialized architects who design assets specifically for Decentraland and other metaverses.
Step #7: Have your coworkers and employees create accounts in Decentraland.
You’ll need everyone that wants to join a meeting to create an account in Decentraland as described above. They don’t need to register their unique names, but it’s advisable.
Step #8: Meet up.
You’re all set up. All you need to do now is schedule your next meeting and give your employees the number of your plot of land so they can get there. The rest is up to you.
The bottom line
Creating an office to hold meetings in the metaverse is easy, and it’s a great gateway for startups and small businesses to enter this revolutionary space. While Decentraland’s biggest drawbacks are, without a doubt, the price of land and that it’s not full VR (yet), it offers the opportunity of easily creating your customized space and owning it through the power of NFTs. The good news is that, if you ever want to close your office, you can sell it to the highest bidder and recover part of your investment or perhaps even make a profit out of the transaction.
So, if you’re running a small business or a startup with a remote team and are wondering how to jump on the metaverse bandwagon, this is one of the best options to choose from.