Spatial conversations in your virtual video chat HQ
These are interesting times for office real estate, the model where every employee comes to the office daily is under serious pressure. The work-from-home model might be COVID-induced, but the evolution towards a more distributed workforce seems to be an irreversible trend. More-and-more companies are extending the work-from-home decree indefinitely and scaling down their physical offices. But an even bigger threat to office real estate might be silently building up. Software engineers experiencing the challenges of working remotely are building tools to solve the problems which they now experience themselves. For years now “Software has been eating the world”, and it is growing an appetite for office real estate…
Branch is a software tool built to replace your physical office. It recognizes the central role offices play in building a great company and tries to facilitate the spontaneous interactions that result from people being together in the same building by providing a digital office that mimics a physical building.
imagery courtesy branch.gg
You are represented by an avatar, signaling status and availability, just like you do in the physical office, sitting at a desk, or presenting in a meeting room. Branch includes integrated audio and video conferencing tools, adding a spatial effect that only allows you to hear and/or see someone when you are nearby.
By now the consensus opinion is that work from home is missing something. The main goal of Branch is to make the informal interactions happen, that make working fun, ignite inspiration, and let you catch up with what other departments are working on. Branch can be a good way to increase engagement and improve team communication.
Zoom meetings are a horrible way to organize an informal company gathering. Over a certain number of participants, video calls are either reduced to an awkward dance deciding whose turn it is to speak or turned in a harsh clashing mixture of voices. Spatial audio enables everyone, just as in real life, to self-select into smaller groups coalescing around topics that are of interest.
👎 Why not?
Many of the impromptu office interactions happen as a response to biological urges: on the way to the toilet or the coffee machine, actions that seem unlikely to take place in the virtual world. ( I couldn’t find any restroom in the virtual office I visited while researching this post, plenty of watercoolers though.)
Branch was founded by Dayton Mills and Kai Micah Mills in March 2020.
They raised money from an impressive list of investors including Joshua Browder, Sahil Lavingia and Naval Ravikant and were met with great enthusiasm from the tech scene.
Now they already have a team of 11 and still, run everything from their digital HQ.
🕵️♀️ Who else?
Gather is a similar solution to Branch. They take the concept wider and don’t only try to serve companies, but also want to be a solution for social gatherings including embedded games.
Workadventure is also very similar and provides the source code should you want to host the software yourself.
Another online office experience provider is Sococo. They allow you to integrate with existing teleconferencing software like Zoom or Google meet.
Teamflow also offers a digital HQ with spatial audio. The look-n-feel seems a little bit more sophisticated and less gamey. You can see a demo video here.
Spatial.chat is a solution specifically aimed at trying to host a meeting or a networking event virtually. This solution isn’t specifically targeted at replacing the office so the status part is less refined. They have a live demo.
Another spatial video solution is Wonder, which allows you to create rooms that fit up to 1500 people and 15 people can be in the same conversation at once. For the early adopters, their product is free.
Kumospace is another free spatial video chat option.
Reslash gives you a spatial video chat option on top of a picture of your liking, it gives you the ability to add giphys to the room which adds to the eclectic feel of the application.
People are also looking to replace the office with a 3D Virtual Reality environment. Facebook is testing a virtual reality office space platform named Infinite Office which should arrive in general availability somewhere in 2021.
But if you want to experience a virtual office earlier, then Spatial.io might be a good option. They are building a VR meeting platform that enables more immersive meetings and is supported in the browser or with your VR headset of choice.
Another interesting option for immersive VR meetings is Frame.
Meetinvr touts itself as “Business meetings better than in real life” and provides virtual VR meeting rooms.
📚 Further reading?
5 unique video chat apps for remote working
The future of transportation is no transportation
✨ Things happening
Andrew Beebe wrote an interesting piece on how we are entering the climate decade… Not proptech related, apart from being a commentary on the state of classic real-estate centered commerce, but this recap on a historic moment in finance… The offices of the future might be empty, but they sure will be clean… Next week we have a post scheduled from Wouter Schoofs, CTO at the popular workspace management solution Zapfloor…