Does Meta’s Horizon Workrooms Deliver? Customers Say Yes … and No

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It’s a rhetorical question, but LeBeau’s statements when we met in Workrooms for an interview several weeks ago suggest he objects to the premise. For one thing, people don’t spend their lives in VR—typically sessions last 15 minutes to an hour, rarely more than two, he says. The cost is on average less than many smartphones, having come down considerably since the first-generation Oculus Rift debuted in 2016 for $600

And although LeBeau declines to share specific figures, he says it helps retention among remote teams who want to talk through problems together, seemingly face to face. Updates planned for 2023 will make Workrooms more attractive to hybrid teams, he says. These include an option to view 3D models and a mixed reality experience, known as the Magic Room, which will let on-site and remote workers collaborate in the same shared space. Integrations with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Windows are also on the way in 2023.

Early testers have mixed views as to whether the offering is ready for prime time. Trevor Ainge, a media and content specialist at s2s, says the first-person perspective of Workrooms—the feeling of occupying the same space as one’s colleagues and having to physically turn your body to meet someone’s gaze—is a marked improvement over Zoom or WebEX. 

“One of the things I struggled with, in particular, is the performative aspect of communication when you’re looking at a screen and seeing yourself, and Workrooms absolutely squashes that for me,” Ainge says. “I find it much more natural to connect.” 

Others are less convinced. “The thing that you’re missing is the emotional part, because nobody recognizes your face,” said Sergey Toporov, a London-based partner at the investment firm LETA Capital, which trialed the software this past summer. “They have a pretty good lip-sync feature that looks natural when you’re talking, but when you stop talking, you start to smile a little bit, which is weird.” 

The virtual blackboard has also drawn complaints from early testers. While s2s plans to continue using the software, LETA Capital dropped it after finding users couldn’t interact with financial models in Google Sheets, while they were at the virtual blackboard. The digitally rendered board, which must be set up before entering Workrooms, can be written on by flipping one of the two Quest controllers upside down and using it like a pen. But anything you write on the board, or the sticky notes you can attach to it, are just overlays; they don’t alter the native file being displayed. 

“Your first movement is to take your finger, or take your Oculus controller, and put something in the cell,” Toporov says. “But, in fact, you have to return to your laptop, even if you see the picture, and use your keyboard to change the value.”

Typing in Workrooms can be a bit of an adventure, too, says Ari Lightman, a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University, who trialed Workrooms with graduate students in his Measuring Social class. 

“I don’t remember what the string of text was, but imagine the worst autocorrect ever. It was all crazy and blurred,” he says. As a workaround, Lightman ended up removing the headset to type notes on the Meta Remote Desktop App using his physical keyboard.  

Before any work can get done, there’s the rather laborious process of charging the headset (the battery takes about two and a half hours to charge and lasts roughly that long), connecting the headset to a Meta Quest smartphone app, creating an account, and going through a lengthy series of authentifications. To avoid crashing into a nearby wall or armchair, users also need to set up a laser-like 3D point cloud called a Guardian that appears when they’re close to preestablished room boundaries. All this begs the question as to whether the investment is worth it for a 30-minute or hour-long meeting, when other videoconference platforms allow users to enter without an account in matter of clicks.