Virtual Meetings Are Missing Something

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Zoom fatigue and what’s missing in the world of Zoom meetings.

Prior to Zoom, I spent a lot of time taking meetings in NYC walking around. I’d meet a friend in a park, or at a busy coffee shop. It was nice to take in the scenery and there was always a small chance that I’d bump into another person I knew and introduce them to the person I was meeting. It was also likely we’d see something weird and wonderfully NYC along the way.

The serendipity of these real world experiences is mostly gone from the Zoom meeting world. Every meeting is sterile and follows the same progression. Rarely are there points of connection beyond what each attendee has as a virtual background or what is hanging on the wall in the background.

At one point during the beginning of the pandemic I tried to make a virtual background that was reminiscent of Central Park (using this free city park asset in the Unreal Engine) so I could feel like I was going on walks in the park during my Zoom meeting. I’ve even taken some meetings in Fortnite and enjoyed just running around together on audio chat (though sometimes conversation around the game takes over the meeting).

I wrote recently about some of the “shared experiences” and memories that are possible inside digital worlds like Valheim. So why we haven’t seen a product yet that incorporates some of the “shared experience” components from virtual worlds and video games into a more business friendly meeting environment? And what might a product look like? Well, I’d love to see a product built natively in a game engine that is focused on meetings. It might center around a neutral meeting space (not the turf of either attendee). It might incorporate external factors aside from the attendees themselves into a meeting interaction. This could be via “programmed serendipity” (via interacting with systems in a game engine) or external social factors (overhearing other people nearby in the game environment, pulling in live events from the real world, etc.). An experience like this might also allow participants to bring more of their own identity into the space (not just your video identity) via avatar customization or emotes. The ideal “meeting game” might also give you something to do to fill small talk and keep fatigue low and fun higher - has to be low cognitive effort (you want to still focus on the meeting) like moving around a space together. Finally, the whole experience would need to be joinable via a URL from an email or a DM (perhaps via cloud streaming the game), not by having to download a separate standalone game application.

It’s entirely possible this is a bad idea, but I have been thinking about it enough that I thought I would write something down. I think a product like this could recreate the serendipity of NYC but at global, internet scale. If you’re building or playing around with something like this for your own use, I’d love to chat!