How New Tech Tries to Make Video Meetings Fun

No more sleeping on Zoom

Key Takeaways

  • Video conferences may be the new normal, but some companies are trying to shake up the game with unique features designed to keep you engaged.
  • Zoom is rolling out a video background feature called Immersive View that lets you interact in a virtual space. 
  • The internet phone company RingCentral has a new feature called Team Huddle, billed as "always available meeting space."
A screen of multiple people on a video call.

Alistair Berg / Getty Images

Video meetings might sometimes be boring, but there are new ways that could make them more engaging. 

Zoom is rolling out a video background feature called Immersive View that could make video calls more engaging. The feature lets you join a virtual room with friends or colleagues. It’s part of a growing wave of new tools designed to make video meetings feel less like a chore. 

"One of the major reasons that hosts fail to make a Zoom meeting fun is that they try too closely to emulate in-person experiences," Michael Alexis, the CEO ofTeamBuilding, which runs events for companies like Apple and Amazon, said in an email interview.

"For example, you might struggle through a round of icebreaker questions since participants don’t have the same visual cues they would in a room."

Zoom’s immersive tech, while emulating in-person connection, may help to reverse that trend, Alexis said. "Since participants will feel more as if other people are 'in the room' with them, the otherwise stilted in-person styled interactions can feel more natural," he added. 

Rooms With a View

Immersive View lets video participants stay in a single virtual space. Hosts can choose from one of Zoom’s immersive virtual scenes and embed video participants within that scene.

To ensure your scene is as natural as possible, hosts using Immersive View can move around and resize a participant’s image to look like they are sitting on a chair in a classroom or conference room. You can also set a custom background.

"We have all been on Zoom meetings where folks go on mute, turn off their cameras, and work away while passively listening to the meeting," Alexis said.

"One of the major reasons that hosts fail to make a Zoom meeting fun is that they try too closely to emulate in-person experiences."

"Instead, with Immersive View, participants will have the social pressure of being displayed on a panel. This pressure could result in more attention, participation, and engagement for meetings—which is a net good for collaboration."

Zoom is not the only one trying to shake up the video chat game. There’s also the app, Around, which takes the approach that video calls need to be less immersive. Too much realism causes Zoom fatigue and that feeling of having eyes on you and nowhere to hide. Around uses a floating layer of faces with colorful "anti-fatigue filters." 

Lee Gimpel, the founder of the company, BetterMeetings, said in an email interview that he likes to use a collaborative whiteboard like Mural or Jamboard to change the pace with video meetings. 

"Even though there are tons of different software to ostensibly improve video meetings, the reality is that technology is usually just a tool, and it depends on who’s wielding that tool and if they know how to use it," Gimpel added.

"That is to say that if your boss runs a tedious meeting in person, it’s still probably going to be a tedious meeting online—and different technology is often only changing things at the margins."

Reintroducing Spontaneity

Remember random office interactions? That’s what some companies are trying to bring back with various online solutions.

A group of adult friends sitting on the couch with a laptop.

Westend61 / Getty Images

Internet phone company RingCentral is introducing a feature called Team Huddle, or the "always available meeting space." Rather than scheduling meetings far in advance, Team Huddle lets coworkers get together for ad-hoc meetings, alerting other team members who might want to join. 

"Research with users tells us that this experience feels much more organic and fun than a scheduled meeting, which in turn, promotes creativity and helps people feel more connected, not just busier," Michael Peachey, a vice president at RingCentral, said in an email interview. 

There’s also Kumospace, a video chat software that allows you to interact in a virtual environment in your browser. 

"Virtual environments range from simple virtual coffee shops for catching up with your friends to elaborate virtual escape rooms designed for remote team building," Brett Martin, co-founder of Kumospace, said in an email interview.

"Folks have been working on immersive environments in VR for years, but they have always required expensive and costly headsets, to which few have access."

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