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The omicron infection rate upset Productsup's plan to hold an in-person employee meeting earlier this year, so it assembled its staff in the metaverse. The e-commerce firm, which is based in Berlin, used a platform developed by Party.Space, a technology company established in Ukraine.
The metaverse was a positive experience for Productsup's HR manager, Meike Jordan, chief people and culture officer. Instead of a Zoom-type mass meeting, employees gathered at virtual tables in a conference room, not unlike a physical space, she said.
Employees were assigned different tables, and while "seated," they could talk to one another and not hear the conversations of people at another table. The entire room could also hear a presentation. Employees used photos or avatars to identify themselves. The system, which doesn't require VR headsets, also supports live video streaming from the user's computer, instead of avatars and photos.
The platform provided some of the advantages of an in-person conference, Jordan said. Employees could see co-workers at other tables and virtually "go the next table when you felt that you haven't seen a colleague in quite a while," Jordan said. "It was quite a lot of fun. You were also more engaged, walking around going from table to table."
"It triggered some nice conversations," Jordan said. "It was more easy going."
Productsup, which has more than 300 employees, helps companies promote, advertise and sell products online. Party.Space is not a client.
Jordan said she doesn't believe metaverse applications can replace in-person events "because people love to meet in person." But she does see the metaverse as an addition to video conferencing and filling a need for other types of communication.
Party.Space was created by a team in Ukraine and raised $1 million in new funding in October. The firm is now based in the U.S., but the development team is mostly in Kyiv.
Party.Space CEO returns to Ukraine
Yurii Filipchuk, Party.Space's co-founder and CEO, had relocated to California but has since returned to Kyiv due to the worsening situation with Russia.
"The short answer is that I am here to be with my team and my family," Filipchuk said in an email Wednesday, just hours before the Russian invasion.
"We are a remote-first company, and we have employees from Russia and Latvia, but the majority of my team is in Kyiv, and I need to be sure that we have all the contingency plans and actions in place."
His co-founders Arthur Ostapenko and Dmitry Zvada "are from the east of Ukraine and they were forced out of their homes in 2014," Filipchuk said. "We discuss internally how it's important to support our people if they are willing to relocate to a safer place. Some team members are already out of the country.
Yurii FilipchukCo-founder and CEO, Party.Space
"Our clients are U.S. and European tech companies, so I had a lot of calls from them since they were worried about us and the stability of our platform," he wrote. "The cloud nature of our business and contingency actions allows us to continue delivering the metaverse events for our beloved customers no matter what."
Filipchuk said that "the level of stress this situation is putting on people is enormous, but we made sure that everyone is well informed on how they should act in a case of a full-scale invasion and threat to their lives. We will take care of the relocation expenses and provide legal support so that the team can work from safe places."
A different dynamic from Zoom
David Creelman, an HR analyst in Toronto who has spoken with Party.Space officials, said the metaverse company would be fine no matter what the Russians do. Party.Space's platform is cloud-based, and they have some employees who aren't in Ukraine, he said.
Creelman has piloted Party.Space's platform with business contacts, and "what's very clear is that it has a different dynamic than Zoom," he said. The most important point is that employees can move around and freely meet with other people.
"Where I would use it the most is when I want people to mingle," Creelman said. For instance, meetings where many small group discussions might take place. That may include HR recruiting events, where job candidates could go to different areas or rooms where they wanted to meet with people for more information about a specific type of job.
Creelman said he believes a business could establish a metaverse platform as a permanent or social activity for a firm, where employees can mingle casually at work.
Getting metaverse adoption at a company "would be kind of a natural thing for HR to champion," Creelman said. HR should want to have a way to "facilitate good communication and interactions between the employees, and we want to create an environment to do so."
Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.