Next year, BlueJeans by Verizon plans to launch a virtual workspace that provides an office-like experience to remote workers.
The product, called Spaces, places employee avatars in a 2D or 3D simulated office. Within the environment, the avatars will have indicators signaling whether they're available to talk and interact.
BlueJeans, which Verizon acquired for $500 million in 2020, introduced Spaces at the Enterprise Connect conference this week. BlueJeans expects to make the product generally available in the first half of 2022.
Peter Verwayen, vice president of product management at BlueJeans, said hybrid work is here to stay. As a result, businesses must develop a company culture that spans in-person and remote workers.
"The things you're missing are a lot of casual encounters at the water cooler [and] the discussions you may have that would build rapport with folks," he said.
Spaces can appear as an overhead, 2D view of an office, with circles representing coworkers. By hitting a toggle, a worker can switch to a 3D view that includes colleagues' avatars. Workers in the virtual office can communicate by voice, video or chat window.
Companies can use Spaces only on a computer monitor. It won't support VR headsets at launch.
BlueJeans is not the only tech company to enter the virtual collaboration space. Facebook put its VR product, Horizon Workrooms, into beta in August. Zoom plans to integrate its video meetings and whiteboard into that environment next year.
Earlier this year, Microsoft launched a preview of its augmented reality and VR platform Mesh, which will compete with the other products in an AR/VR market that IDC projects will hit $73 billion in 2024.
451 Research analyst Raul Castanon said long-term remote work would require companies to tackle the challenge of replicating unplanned office meetings that can bolster problem-solving and generate ideas. He cited a recent 451 survey in which 1,200 IT decision makers rated being "on the same page" as their colleagues as one of their biggest challenges of working from home.
"I don't think [Spaces] can entirely replace the in-office experience, but it does address some of the challenges involved in remote work," he said.
In other news, BlueJeans announced several improvements to its online events platform. The company said it increased the number of supported attendees from 50,000 to 150,000 -- a higher mark than its competition. Zoom Events can accommodate webinars of up to 50,000 people, Cisco Webex Events can reach 100,000 attendees, and Microsoft Teams webinars can have audiences of 20,000.
Two upcoming BlueJeans Events features increase inclusivity. Closed-caption translation will provide live captioning for events in more than 70 languages. The platform will also have five audio channels for language interpreters. Both features will be available in preview in October.
Cisco and Zoom have gone further in building out their events platforms. Zoom will add conferences to its videoconferencing service this fall, allowing hosts to hold events of up to five days and with up to 13 sessions at once. Cisco acquired an event-hosting company to improve its ability to host events that are both in-person and online.
Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily News, Walpole Times, Sharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.