To work in the metaverse, you will have to have a strong stomach

Will a number of us be working in the Metaverse in a few years? In any case, this is the scenario on which Meta and other specialized providers are betting. And a large part of the Swiss population would imagine working in a virtual universe according to a recent survey from Microsoft.

Working in the metaverse

The advantages are not lacking. Extension of the telework to which the Covid has accustomed us, the metaverse would make it possible to have a tailor-made workspace from anywhere and to meet colleagues in an enriched environment. From the point of view of the work itself, virtual reality also opens the way to new interfaces allowing access to multiple layers of information that can be manipulated with a simple glance. Thanks to its plasticity, the metaverse is also the possibility of instantly changing the environment and finding oneself in a calm forest cut off from the outside world to concentrate on a task. With this in mind, researchers from Zurich have even developed a concept for “replay” on demand the interactions that would have escaped us while we were focused on our virtual office.

While many scientific works attest to all these potentials of virtual reality, experiences are generally limited to brief moments spent in a VR headset. But the ambition of the metaverse is not that we spend a few minutes here or there to exchange with a colleague, display instructions or follow a training course, but to work on a regular basis with a device in front of our eyes. And that’s another story.

As you might expect, the experience of virtual reality struggles to match that of reality itself. Images, sounds, touch sometimes are quite degraded in terms of quality and latency. Not to mention the discomfort of wearing a device on your head for a long time. It will be understood, working for hours in virtual reality is not necessarily pleasant. But how much?

16 guinea pigs work for a week in VR

To quantify this discomfort, researchers invited 16 participants to work in virtual reality for an entire week, i.e. five eight-hour days (Quantifying the Effects of Working in VR for One Week). To make the experience more realistic, they equipped them with off-the-shelf devices (Oculus Quest 2 headset and Logitech keyboard) and let them decide what work they wanted to do. For comparison, they then had them repeat the experiment for a week, this time with a physical workspace, taking care that the two environments were similar.

Throughout the two weeks of testing, the 16 guinea pigs had to answer questions at regular intervals – felt fatigue, possible discomfort, feeling of being productive, etc. – and the researchers measured physiological aspects, such as their heart rate.

Fatigue, productivity and “motion sickness”

After analysis, the researchers find that the differences between the normal work experience and that in VR are significant. During their work week in virtual reality, the participants had the feeling of a higher workload (35%) and they felt more frustration (42%), anxiety (19%) and eyestrain (48%). Even in terms of concentration where VR is supposed to be an asset, participants report a feeling of reduced flow (14%), the same for perceived productivity (16%) and well-being (20%). The researchers also note that the participants felt strongly “car sickness” (see end of article). The experience also had two additional participants who abandoned the adventure for this reason on the first day.

Questioned at the end of the experiment, the 16 participants nevertheless indicated that they could imagine using virtual reality for their work, provided in particular that the devices improve (weight, resolution) and that it is not only for limited periods. “In virtual reality, I had 45 minutes of high performance followed by 3 hours of headaches,” said one of the participants.

What is cyberkinetosis?

This “motion sickness” felt in virtual environments, for which the term cyberkinetosis is sometimes used, is a known phenomenon, especially among professionals training on simulators. 20 to 80% of people suffer from it according to one article on the subject. The many symptoms (ocular disturbances, headaches, paleness, sweating, dry mouth, feeling full of stomach, disorientation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting) mean that some airbases require pilots who have used a simulator to spend up to 24 hours on the ground before being able to take control of an aircraft. Various factors would contribute to this discomfort, linked both to the characteristics of the person and to the experience offered (technical imprecision of VR systems, rendering “too” realistic, movements decided by other participants, etc.), not to mention the duration and the frequency with which people are exposed to virtual environments.

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To work in the metaverse, you will have to have a strong stomach

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