You’re working from home. Your colleagues are too. Facebook wants to bring you together — sort of — with virtual reality. The company is launching “Horizon Workrooms,” a VR app aimed at reinventing virtual office spaces.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated the product Thursday in an exclusive interview with “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King. Both Zuckerberg and King wore headsets for what Zuckerberg said was his first interview in VR.
Zuckerberg said that as far back as middle school, he thought about how to create an immersive system where people could feel like they were together playing games or exploring – part of something called the “metaverse.”
“So I think of the metaverse as the next generation of the internet,” Zuckerberg said. “So you can kind of think about it as, instead of being an internet that we look at, right, on our mobile phones or our computer screens, it’s an internet that we are a part of, or that we can be inside of.”
With “Horizon Workrooms,” you can enter and experience a virtual reality office as personally designed avatars. In the workroom, you can see your computer screen and keyboard, interact with your co-workers, brainstorm and give presentations.
“It basically gives you the opportunity to, you know, sit around a table with people and work, and brainstorm and whiteboard ideas,” Zuckerberg explained. “For people who can’t be there through virtual reality, they could just video conference in. So you can include everyone. But it’s this pretty amazing experience where, you know, you feel like you’re really right there with your colleagues.”
Workers can design their avatars’ looks and use hand gestures, which will appear in the virtual room. Facebook began testing the idea before the COVID-19 pandemic, Zuckerberg said, and uses the product internally.
To get started inside “Horizon Workrooms,” you’ll need to buy an Oculus VR headset. The “Quest 2” currently starts at $299. Once you have the headset, you can download the free “Horizon Workrooms” app, which will allow you to join your own virtual workspace. You can invite other users with an Oculus device into the conference room. Don’t have a headset? Team members without Oculus equipment can still join the room through a conference call link that displays them as a video call inside the room instead of an avatar.
The project is a part of Facebook’s attempt to be more than a social media company. It also owns Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, which has led to criticism that it has too much power.
Facebook said Wednesday that it has taken down more than 20 million posts related to COVID-19 conspiracy theories. That’s up from the previous count of 18 million and was released after Zuckerberg’s interview with CBS News. President Biden said last month that Facebook and other social media platforms were “killing people” by enabling the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, but later said that he meant the misinformation itself was causing deaths.
Zuckerberg said the company removes harmful information found on the platform, butto say how many people viewed the misleading posts before they were deleted.
“Right now, I think people think about us as a social media company, and understandably,” Zuckerberg said. ” But I think, you know, five years from now, if we do our job well here, people will think about us primarily as a metaverse company.”
For now, the concept of metaverse is foreign to most people. Could it be like the iPhone, asked King, where people at first couldn’t grasp that you could play music, send emails and take photos all from a phone in your pocket – and then one day, it’s completely natural? “Yes,” replied Zuckerberg. “And I think that will be the case in the next five to ten years.”
King noted that she and many workers across the nation were missing the atmosphere of working in a collaborative office space. A CBS News poll in Junethat 81% of workers were optimistic about offices reopening safely, with 43% saying they would prefer to work in an office and 31% saying they would prefer to work remotely.
Zuckerberg said “Horizon Workrooms” would serve as an important tool for those seeking a hybrid or fully work-from-home situation without sacrificing the connection of office-life.
“There’s an important place for offices for people to come together, but I also think that there’s an important place for people who may not want to move to an expensive city, may want to stay with their family or where they grew up, but also wanna get access to opportunities that maybe historically would have only been in New York or in L.A. or in one of these bigger cities,” Zuckerberg said.
The CBS News poll also found that nearly a quarter of workers would consider moving, with 64% saying the move would be based on financial considerations.
Facebook is one of several large companies that recently pushed back return-to-office dates to 2022, as the Delta variant continues to spread across the United States. Zuckerberg previously stated that some Facebook employees would have the option to permanently work from home.
“So, you know, all these tools, whether it’s video conferencing, or, you know, eventually being able to collaborate better in the metaverse, in products like Workrooms, what we built here, I think is all just part of this progression of giving people more freedom to live where they want.”