Microsoft launches Mesh 3D meetings for Teams

Microsoft’s metaverse for the workplace has officially arrived with the full launch of Mesh virtual meeting spaces on Wednesday.

Instead of a Teams video call, workers can now don a virtual reality headset and interact with colleagues in a range of three-dimensional environments. Microsoft sees a variety of use cases for this: town halls, social gatherings, brainstorming sessions, and employee onboarding, are among the examples cited.

A VR headset isn’t necessary: Mesh spaces can also be accessed via a regular PC, with users controlling a personalized avatar that can navigate the various settings. For those who want a fully immersive experience, support for Meta’s Quest headsets will arrive on Thursday. (Microsoft declined to comment about availability on Apple’s Vision Pro, which launches Feb. 2.)

Immersive meetings can help remote workers stay connected to colleagues and their wider organization, according to Microsoft — and that can aid in employee retention.

Meetings in Mesh give employees a “feeling of co-presence, even when they are physically separated,” a Microsoft spokesperson said, with features such as spatial audio adding to the sense of immersion.

There are two ways to access Mesh spaces. One is via an option in the View menu in Microsoft Teams; there’s also a standalone app available in the Microsoft App Store and coming to the Meta Quest App Store tomorrow.

Businesses can also customize 3D environments using a no-code editor, adding company logos for instance. For more control over Mesh spaces, there’s as a Unity-based “toolkit” for building 3D venues. 

By addressing some of the limitations of video meetings, Mesh can “play a role in creating cohesion for hybrid working arrangements,” said J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. 

Whether Mesh will gain significant traction among business users remains unclear. Had the application launched in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic spurred an uptick in remote work and investment in collaboration tools, Mesh might have had a better shot at widespread adoption, as seen with the boom in video conferencing tool usage.

“The fact that people are more mobile now means that Mesh’s immersive spaces are unlikely to defray business travel, which has resumed in force,” said Gownder, who suggested a “much more gradual adoption rate than if the tool had debuted in 2020.”

There’s also the key question of whether workers will be happy to meet and collaborate in virtual spaces using an avatar.

The mood around metaverse-related technologies has shifted markedly in the three years since Mesh was introduced (initially as a mixed reality collaboration platform), despite the efforts of tech vendors such as Meta that have pushed the metaverse concept. Meta has its own workplace collaboration tool, Horizon Workrooms, which has been in beta for the past two years.

“Like all ‘metaverse’ related technologies, a great number of people seem to find the concepts unappealing,” said Gownder. “That said, making it a feature of Teams means that those who find it useful can experiment and potentially create gravity to bring others into immersive spaces if they are truly useful. Time will tell.”

Mesh is now generally available to customers on Teams Essentials, most Microsoft 365 plans, and Office365 enterprise tiers. Use of custom Mesh environments requires Teams Premium licenses.

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.


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