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Engaging virtual worlds. Will you soon work from the meta jungle?

Pieter Van Leugenhagen is one of the founders of yondr, an immersive media agency focused on VR content production. They have been in business since 2014, which is an eternity in the VR landscape: "We were pioneers and grew quickly. The service offering has broadened to a more immersive medium, but always with a storytelling-driven approach in mind where brand experience is at the forefront." Today, yondr is the reference for metaverse and digital experience in general. Hologram, anyone?

Marketing virtual and augmented reality in Belgium is no picnic. But when Facebook bought Oculus in 2014, 360-videos were suddenly everywhere and everything accelerated. VR video would become the next big thing. The question of whether it mattered to yondr was rhetorical, because it allowed them to really break through and score with big brands. Technological experiments, trade fairs and inspirational trips to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco followed.

Looking for the virtual grail

Today, the hype around 360-videos has died down: “The technology was not ready for it: overheated devices and dead batteries were the order of the day. Besides the fact that looking around in a 360-video is fun, the holy grail of VR is the social aspect: the fact that you do things together.” And let that last aspect be just applicable in the metaverse. The term has come to the fore since Mark Zuckerberg of, yes, Facebook, renamed his company Meta. “Since the pandemic broke out in 2020, we have been developing virtual worlds for companies from America and Canada to Switzerland and the UK. So for us, the name change from Meta was actually a confirmation of what we had been doing for years.” Yondr started metaverse workshops: two-day bootcamps where people are immersed in WEB 3, metaverse and NFT and we also offer tailor-made courses. “The goal? To let people go home with a blueprint of all the possibilities.”

The holy grail of VR is the social dimension: the reality of doing things together.

Metaverse is a very broad concept. Pieter summarises it as follows: ” To me, it is a virtual world that you can explore and where you are represented by an avatar who can interact with other avatars. You buy virtual goods that preferably also become your property. In time, you must be able to take these goods with you to another virtual world. For example, you can buy a Gucci jumper via Roblox, but you cannot wear it in Fortnite. At this stage, you have to look at it as the three dimensionalisation of the internet. Looking at a screen and scrolling is no longer reality. Soon you will put on glasses and see everything around you.”

Besides workshops on metaverse, Yondr also creates the virtual world. “When you think about virtual reality, you think about where you want to be but can’t. Travelling, collaborating with colleagues, … These are all things the metaverse facilitates and the reason that we were allowed to organise the Science Is Wonderful event for the European Commission. We rebuilt the European Quarter in 3D where people could walk around with their avatar, make video calls in private meeting rooms with +50 manned exhibition stands of companies where you could download leaflets.

Working from home at the office

HR will also have its share of the metaverse: “At the HR level, you have to take a lot of things into account in the metaverse: the older generation is not so tech savvy.”

For companies, there is certainly a great advantage in the metaverse in terms of hybrid working. If you move to the other side of the world, it will be easier to stay in touch because virtual collaboration will be stimulated even more.

After all, a Teams call is always one way communication and not the best way to work together. “With VR, many-to-many communication becomes a reality. If there are 20 people, I can join every conversation. In group discussions, I can perfectly point at someone and distinguish who is talking thanks to 3D sound. I can also look straight at someone; in Teams that’s a pipe dream.”

Virtual reality is also much more efficient: it is cheaper because you don’t have to fly, takes less time and is more ecological because you emit less CO2. “We have a customer with a decentralised workforce across Europe who is working on the circular economy. They are looking for the best solution to travel less and they meet every Friday afternoon in their metaverse. That way, they have a connection with each other. Coca-Cola even invites its partners to their metaverse. To keep all that organised, perhaps we will soon be talking about a Metaverse Facility Manager?

Welcome to the metateam

Onboarding will also look completely different. New colleagues will be introduced and shown around the digital twin of your office. “For Gen Z, a population that grew up in games, it is normal to apply for a job in a game. According to research, they can also be more themselves than in the real world. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you to decide.”

The metaverse offers many opportunities for companies to think out of the box. A company that is stuck in an ugly grey building can think about where to build a meta-office, on the moon, in the jungle, etc. This is how you invest in employer branding. “If you want to be the best in the world, you have to have the best talent. If you want to recruit talent from Brussels, then that talent will not come to Amsterdam.”

When asked if this is going to be the reality for the average SME, Pieter answers confidently: “Absolutely. Eventually no one will escape the metaverse. It will be affordable because a lot of templates are provided to which we can add a company logo.”

One thing is certain, the metaverse has no limits and the best is yet to come.

Are you interested in taking your first steps into the metaverse but don’t know how? Pieter has the answer to your questions. His book “Welkom in de Metaverse” will be launched on 24 September and is for sale at HRTECH.