Topics in this blog

• Home office and tools for meetings, collaboration and presentations
• Making products, projects and services virtually available with digital media
• Physical Distancing and Social Closeness instead of Social Distancing
• Virtual Reality as a digital alternative to on-site face-to-face product and project presentations
• VR software as a complementary online tool for education and training

Peter is a sales representative for a large industrial company. He has to coordinate with his colleagues to understand a current technological innovation. He usually goes down one floor and sits down with his colleagues. Now everyone is in the home office. Peter and many other employees face a number of challenges due to actual global events. No trips, no customer appointments, no trade fairs, no congresses. How can we clearly communicate knowledge and change processes in the company? How can we explain and sell complex products to our customers. How can we work together?

Current global events are forcing Peter and his company to rethink how they will work and communicate in the future.

In this blog post, we present tools to show Peter and all other decision makers alternatives. We show ways to ensure the company’s ability to function in such crisis situations – and for the time afterward.

“Nothing will ever be the same”

This is a quote from the futurologist Matthias Horx [1]. He is not the only one who has recognized that we are all experiencing historic moments in our lives in which the future changes direction. The corona virus has become a serious challenge for our entire society. A state of emergency exists worldwide because of its spread. Self-employed people, micro-enterprises and global corporations are looking for new ways to find their way in this new world. Many business models now have to reinvent themselves, communication is increasingly taking place via traditional and social media, away from face-to-face contacts. Processes are being digitized to enable employees to work efficiently and from home. It is all about securing their existence.

Home office
Tele- and videoconferencing is now not only proving to be a reasonable alternative to face-to-face meetings, but is also proving to be quite practical and productive in the home office. The corona virus has suddenly forced us to exploit the possibilities of the digital world and to implement remote work approaches such as home office and video conferencing in a collaborative environment very quickly. Despite the absence of face-to-face events, however, we do not have to forego real interaction, we do not have to cut off the social and business relationships between provider and customer, between student and teacher, as will be shown below.

After all, the distance rules do not mean that we should maintain SOCIAL Distancing. What is meant is PHYSICAL Distancing. On a social, interpersonal level, we must try to use digital media to maintain physical distance, to strengthen solidarity with others, the Social CLOSENESS.

The classic tools for telephone meetings and video calls [2], which facilitate collaboration and project management from home, can contribute to this [3].

Video tools like Skype, Webex, GoTo Meeting, BlueJeans, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, Slack are well-known representatives here. Almost all providers have a free version, with which you can already solve many tasks and challenges.

Very important functionalities of these tools, besides the video options, are the possibility to dial into the conference via phone number and simple screen sharing to be able to share the screen contents of the individual participants. Project management tools [4] help to replace direct communication channels with innovative planning and coordination tools that can be used for productive collaboration with team members and business partners.

Tools for Education and Training
The corona pandemic is forcing schools, universities and further education providers with great challenges in maintaining research and teaching operations while reducing contact times as much as possible. Teachers and lecturers must switch to Internet teaching. With the help of e-learning and digital tools, online offers and online events are used to continue school and university teaching and to replace face-to-face teaching [5]. Several virtual universities already use relevant digital tools [6]. The European commission recently has launched a selection of online resources and tools for learners, teachers and educators during the outbreak of corona virus [19].

Digital tools and the missing sense of presence
Work when and where you want. That sounds good. The digital tools help and make working from home comfortable and flexible, ensuring the ability to act at work. While manufacturing professions are generally not suitable for working from home for obvious reasons, many of the classic “desk jobs” offer better opportunities. But like almost everything else, the current pressure to work from home has its downsides.
Apart from the necessary self-discipline and the forced adaptation of one’s own biorhythm, there is a lack of daily exchange with colleagues at work, for example, that there is no one left to chat with in the home office. At least not face to face. That can get to the heart of the matter. After all, we humans are social beings and chatting in the coffee kitchen strengthens social bonds and promotes innovation. Occasional phone calls or video meetings with colleagues are no substitute for all that. At all peace and quiet to work: The home office encourages loneliness and can lead to demotivation, especially for people who lack direct communication. In the worst case this can even lead to a career break.

Virtual Reality and the „new“ presence feeling
When using virtual reality glasses, the user experiences a so-called „immersion“. If the degree of immersion is particularly high, this is also referred to as a feeling of „presence” [7]. This means that one has the feeling of really being there and experiencing what is happening. This is the new thing about VR, in contrast to all previous presentation possibilities. Experiencing this feeling of presence is almost always accompanied by a feeling of enthusiasm.
In times when concerns predominate, the shared experience should not be lost. For this reason, an American teacher in quarantine has decided to teach his class in mathematics from home and at the same time immerse himself in a lively world of the VR game Half-Life Alyx by immersion. This game and the VR medium offer a previously unattained level of detail, so that the teacher was able to use his own avatar hands to convey the learning content to the students in a very expressive and convincing way using pens, sponges and blackboards [8].

Even without VR glasses, such presentations offer great potential for increasing learning efficiency and generate unexpected persuasive power [12].

A further increase in efficiency can be achieved by working and presenting together in virtual rooms. The joint virtual experience of 360° media, 3D objects or three-dimensional learning environments under VR glasses enhances the “social” closeness to all participants, so that the feeling of presence can become very intense and in certain situations also very emotional, e.g. when you fly through a 500-ton stone crusher as a stone particle together with your customer or when you look at the latest diagnostic device from the inside together with your business partner to understand the functionalities. The experience of meeting together with other real people in virtual conference rooms with your own voice and avatar to exchange Powerpoints or 3D simulations promotes the idea of collaboration and learning efficiency.
Virtual learning environments therefore have several advantages in terms of learning psychology and didactics:

• Strong relation to reality
• Experience instead of consuming
• Spatial learning
• The “new” social closeness (not to be alone)
• Understand faster and remember longer

“I hear it, and I will forget it. I see it, and maybe I will remember.
Let me do it (and experience it), and I will know it.”

Confucius

In a business context, for example, you can convince your business partners of your own competence with a virtual tour of your company or product presentation without the need for a personal physical meeting. The company, the product, the service, the project can be presented very realistically from any location, even from home. With VR the user gets the possibility of teleportation, of “beaming”, and can invite his customers or business partners to a place of his choice, the virtual meeting room, the virtual exhibition stand, the virtual product world, the virtual showroom, the virtual construction site.
The setting up of virtual fairs and conferences is currently taking place at a rapid pace. Trade fair operators and companies are trying to use virtual platforms to exploit new marketing and sales channels [9]. The majority of these online events still take place in the 2D world on a flat screen or tablet. Not only since Corona, various providers have developed innovative applications to lift such events into the virtual 3D world [10][11].

Virtual project meetings, e.g. about a planned trade fair stand, simplify communication through their natural and easy navigation in the booth locations. Virtual insights into your company or “to experience” your products strengthen trust through unlimited transparency. The lost personal contact caused by Corona can be reanimated. In contrast to two-dimensional video conferences and webinars, virtual reality can help you to regain the feeling of presence and social customer closeness.

The home office of the future will remove geographical barriers. VR has the ability to effectively make real location irrelevant. People like to meet in person. They spend billions of Euros each year (between travel, time and physical office space). With VR, users can interact virtually face-to-face with personalized avatars from any location. This gives group dynamics several advantages over traditional video telephony.

Advantages and added value of Virtual Reality applications for meetings and presentations

• Independence of location
Customer meetings, consultations and presentations can be held from any location

• Visit remote places
Inaccessible, dangerous, safety-relevant places

• Intense sense of presence
Experience live chats with personalized avatars in virtual rooms

• Higher learning efficiency
Scientific studies have shown that knowledge transfer in VR significantly increases learning efficiency [12]

• Sales increases
Emotionalization of product presentations

• Cost reduction
Saving travel and process costs

• CO2 reduction
Contribute to the sustainability concept of the company

• Process efficiency increase
Collaboration of project teams in virtual rooms or project locations

• Image improvement
Emotional company presentations

• Risk reduction & better decision making
Spatial experience of 3D objects and spatial locations anytime and anywhere

We, the present4D team, have made it our business to provide our customers and business partners with new digital tools. To create own virtual worlds intuitively and easily, that was our goal.

The VR-Suite is a presentation software was originally designed for B2B applications. To provide marketing, sales, personnel departments, training centers, development and communication departments with a tool to create their own virtual presentations. Following the example of PowerPoint: without programming knowledge, intuitive and easy to combine different media. Quasi “Do it yourself VR”.

Workspace-VR is the logical next generation development to transport real-time 3D applications and new types of communication channels with mechanics of the game world into the digital working and learning world. Collaborative 3D presentations, interaction and strengthening of group dynamics are the focal points here.

Both tools, the VR-Suite and Workspace-VR address different methods of virtual meetings and presentations and use different VR content. In the VR-Suite you can “only” look around within 360° media, within Workspace-VR you can move around with your own avatar and interact in a real-time 3D environment [13].

Do it Yourself VR – The VR-Suite [15] [16]
With the VR-Suite, users get a very easy access to the Virtual Reality technology, through which they can create and distribute VR presentations themselves, without having programming skills.
The built-in conference or multi-user mode allows users to experience and discuss 360° VR presentations together, even if they are not in the same place. The visual communication of rooms, places and products is thus made much easier and at the same time more emotional than ever before.

The creation of the VR presentations, i.e. the linking and arrangement of the media, takes place via an intuitive drag & drop system to integrate conventional 2D, novel 360° panoramic media, and 3D or CAD objects in the VR application. The 360° photos or 360° videos can be created with easy-to-use and now also inexpensive 360° cameras [18]. The presentation is controlled without an additional controller by simply turning the head and aiming at buttons – the so-called “VR click”.

All configurations can be made with the integrated VR editor. The user therefore arranges the presentation immediately under the glasses. This method of working is more fun than using the mouse on a PC monitor, and it is even faster. With just one click, finished presentations can be loaded into the cloud and distributed to an unlimited number of devices via the free VR-Suite app. Presentations can then be made individually or with several participants under VR glasses or even without glasses on the home computer or tablet.

Application fields
During our journey through the business world of industrial customers and the implementation of more than 100 VR projects, we have identified exactly 10 cross-industrial key applications in the past 6 years in which the VR-suite can be used [15].

Workspace-VR [15] [17]
Workspace-VR is a tool for the next generation of collaboration in VR meetings and for the collaborative presentation of CAD projects.

Service and product in one complete package

  • We convert your 3D planning data into a suitable format in an efficient workflow and we design your individual 3D environment
  • We design avatars according to your specifications
  • We integrate the 3D objects and CAD data into Workspace-VR

VR Meetings

  • VR meetings are the digital alternative to face-to-face meetings.
  • Use individually designed avatars with lip-synchronous Voice-over-IP.
  • The feeling of presence helps to conduct conversations naturally with real group dynamics.
  • Present PDF documents and real-time 3D objects during your discussion.

Highlights
• Easy to use VR navigation through 3D scenes
• Avatars enhance the sense of presence
• Notes and annotations (exportable)
• Conference mode for more efficiency in communication incl. Voice over IP (VoIP)
• Project portal for direct access to new projects on all devices

Application fields
• VR Reviews
• Joint meetings in remote locations
• Inspection of inaccessible machines and products
• Marketing & Sales
• Education & Training
• Alternative to face-to-face meetings

Added values
• Save travel time and travel expenses. Reduce CO2 emissions with VR meetings
• Offline and online options
• Conferences and distribution are done via the Internet or via local connection to ensure data security

Main application areas of the VR-Suite and Workspace-VR
For digital distributors: Virtual product presentation and virtual product consulting
For digital project teams: Virtual project presentation and project meetings
For digital communicators: Virtual factory tour and company presentations
For digital trainers and teachers: complementary tool for learning and training

And for Peter, who can now explain and sell complex products to his customers even in times of Corona.

References:

[1] Matthias Horx „The post corona world
https://www.horx.com/en/48-the-post-corona-world/

[2] Review of video conferencing software and services
https://www.zdnet.com/article/best-video-conferencing-software-and-services-for-business/

[3] Home office guide of t3 editorial staff
https://media.t3n.de/redaktion/homeofficeguide/t3n_Homeoffice_Guide.pdf
The home office guide may be distributed free of charge unchanged under the Creative Common license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

[4]  Home office tools
https://readdle.com/blog/remote-work-apps-services#communication111 Free Tools to Help You Through the Coronavirus Pandemic
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/347840

[5]  Tool collection for teaching online (German)
https://hochschulforumdigitalisierung.de/de/Toolsammlung-Corona

[6]  Digital tools at online universities and schools
https://open.edx.org/marketplace-category/technology-partners/

[7]  Explanation of terms Immersion and Presence
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immersion_(virtual_reality)

[8] School teacher in quarantine is using VR to teach maths
https://thenextweb.com/shareables/2020/03/26/half-life-alyx-math-teacher-vr/

[9] Virtual conferences in response to the corona pandemic
https://ryanschultz.com/2020/03/17/more-and-more-conferences-are-going-virtual-in-response-to-the-coronavirus-pandemic-heres-a-list-of-events-for-the-rest-of-march/

[10] Events and conferences in VR environments
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mkmfU3NU72V7_3qZestpA 

[11] Platforms for multi-user conferences and events
https://www.forbes.com/sites/charliefink/2020/03/11/vr-takes-the-stage-as-conferences-cancel/#14e5b1df1dbe

[12] Research study on the learning efficiency of VR in school classes
https://uploadvr.com/chinese-vr-education-study/ 

[13] Decision support – integration of conventional 2D and new 360 ° media, and of 3D or CAD objects in VR applications (German)
https://present4d.com/blog/2019/08/28/360-or-realtime-which-vr-type-is-right-for-you/

[14] Cross-industrial use cases and their added value analysis are described in the VR Business Report
https://present4d.com/en/vr-business-report/

[15] www.present4d.com
present4D GmbH is a full-service provider of virtual reality solutions for strategic consultancy, turnkey projects and software development. With the unique VR-Suite software, users can easily create their own professional VR presentations for many different business applications without programming knowledge. present4D has implemented over 100 VR projects for industrial customers worldwide for marketing and sales, trade fairs, company presentations, training courses and other areas of application. In 2016 present4D won the SAMSUNG GearVR Killer App Award with the VR-Suite [16].

[16] Image video VR-Suite
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNboOgY3fpA&t=101s 

[17]     Workspace-VR
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pA48CZ_urjg  

[18]     Overview 360° cameras
https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/best-360-cameras/  

[19] A selection of online resources and tools for learners, teachers and educators during the outbreak of COVID-19
https://ec.europa.eu/education/resources-and-tools/coronavirus-online-learning-resources_en


Sources Images
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© bunditinay – Adobe Stock 334653550
© Andrey Popov – Adobe Stock 33259653